Father was not the talking type but those little times he talked to us were so precious to us. This was because they always carried weight. They were words of wisdom, words to remember but then father got sick and we stopped hearing those words. Inside each and every one of us we missed them. We would always stick by father’s side on the hospital bed, hoping that he would open his eyes, blink his eyelids and mutter something but that never happened.
Day after day, I and my brother would take turns sitting beside him. We would clean his body, his mouth hoping, just hoping that a miracle would happen and he would open his eyes and talk to us. It’s been a month now since father went into coma.
None of us had expected that this sickness would befall him because on that particular day he was eccentric as ever. In fact it was the first time I had seen him that much happy. That was the same day he was struck with this illness. We never expected it neither did he. He had just finished eating his dinner and then called us and started talking about the Biafra war many years back and their quest to get their freedom back when suddenly he fell from his chair and that was all.
A month later, he was still not stable, neither was he talking to us. Then one hot afternoon it happened. It was my turn to take care of him. I had picked his hand to clean when I felt it move, I was taken aback and was in a state of shock, when I saw his eyes flutter until they opened and he began to stutter. I shouted to the nurses, I called on my brother and mother but mother wasn’t around. She had gone home to wash father’s dirty clothes and prepare our dinner.
My brother rushed in, excited and apprehensive. A nurse got to him , checking his temperature and pulse. She was doing everything possible for him to be stabilized. Soon he was out of the life support.
“He’s stable now,” one of the nurses said to us. We were in a state of euphoria, we were smiling from ear to ear as we circled him on the small bed.
“Father!” we called in unison, looking at each other apprehensively. He raised his head and stared at us. It took him sometime to recognize us but then he smiled.
“Ijenwa, Obinna,” he called. We smiled as we answered. “I am sorry for making you two go through this.”
“It’s alright, father,” I started to say but he stopped me.
“You don’t understand,” he began. “Always remember this, live a life that speaks good of you. Never you envy anyone. In whatever you do, keep your hands clean and always speak the truth. Just know that your goodness will always vindicate you at all times…” He wanted to go further but then mother entered.
She was still on the faded wrapper she has always had on her since father started ailing. ” I am not changing it till my husband gets better,” she would always say when pressurized for a change. In spite of the fact that mother was always on that wrapper she made sure she kept it clean always. I had always wondered how she did that not until the night I woke up to pee and saw her washing the wrapper at the hospital bacony. She had changed into a nightie and by morning her wrapper was dry before any of us woke up and she had already changed into it.
When mother came in and saw us making little conversations with father, she was irked .
“No, no, no!” she screamed. “He needs space to gather his strength. I brought food for two of you. Go outside and eat it so that he could rest,” she said but father tried to stop her.
“No Mma, let them stay. I have to talk to them,” father coerced.
“Not now, Obi m, you need rest. You are not dying today. By tomorrow, you must have recovered your strength then you can talk to them all you want.”
Father didn’t struggle. He obliged. While he allowed mother spoon-feed him, we carried our own food and went outside to eat.
Two minutes after, we heard a loud scream from inside father’s ward. Sharing a frightened look, we threw our plates of food away and raced towards the ward. By the time we got there, mother was on the floor crying and the nurses were about covering father up with a white linen.
“No,” we screamed running towards father’s bed.
The nurses let us mourn. They left the room. I couldn’t believe it. Why now? I asked the thin air. I let the tears flow freely. Father knew that he was dying. He knew. It all made sense. I looked towards mother, she was whimpering now. I stared at Obinna and my heart ached terribly. He was suddenly going to become a man at fourteen. I took father’s hands in mine. Cold.
But I held it nevertheless. How was I going to get into the university now? Who will register Obinna for the Junior WASSCE examination? Finally, I had no reasons not to marry Ikenna the carpenter. I bit my lips till I tasted blood. I clapsed my hand tightly against father’s.
I closed my eyes to remember his last words.