Oct 4, 2022 | Blog, News | 0 comments

By Ketrina Damazio

H collects his first batch of happiness at 6:05 am. He disentangles from the furls of their bluish thick bedsheets, his head first, then his hands, then his legs. A whirlpool of wet winds embraces his chin making his goatee to propel south and west and north and east. His wife Dinnah is still stuck in the bedsheets, her eyes open but she is not ready to start a new day yet, not eager, not enthusiastic to face the world just yet.

H has to wake up.

‘Wake up boy,’ an inner voice occurs in his ears.

H guides happiness to his agile nose which charges forth and tears into the flesh of happiness and the bulk of happiness implodes but it’s not enough, nothing has been enough.

Potato swallows, swimming escapades, bicycle skirmishes, football tales, Lake Malawi views.

Nothing feels enough; even happiness, scarce as it has been, is not enough. H smiles at another smile, someone’s smile, his wife’s smile, a crack across her jaw. That smile draws happiness at 6:06 am, it clears his sense of restraint that has come to paint his stony face these days. His eyebrows fly, his temples flicker, his ears shudder and then, sink. His happiness, for proper measure, is enough but then, still not enough.

Dinnah has a week in which to die.

‘Make sure people come for their last respects,’ she says, almost a whisper, before she signals to H with her lips what actually she means. She means she will be fine even in death, even when she finds her soul haunting, unsettling. She also means she cares even if she does not care what is left of her forlorn bosom.

‘Yes, I love you,’ she says, ‘Why would I not?’

H, rather than cry, masks his revulsions and holds her scale-filled hands, hoping his tight grip lasts forever. He studies her resigned eyes with the probe of a surgeon who must carry out a prognosis, and then, he investigates the terrain of her frail eyelids which could well close forever.


He does not like the clicking of the word forever. Forever bites his intestines and there is a knot that is tied—and he feels the billowing sound of his stomach. Forever is an elixir of immortality, forever pumps hope for life, his wife’s life but forever also sparks his sense of death, he smells death. Dinnah will die and she will die forever.

‘I will be alright,’ she says but there is no conviction in her words which clatter on the brick walls of their bedroom. The bedroom is almost a prison, has been a prison for weeks; H is the one that is imprisoned, his wife is the one that is not sure who she really is.

Dinnah says she can’t imagine herself in the comfort of a coffin. She forces a beam that spills up for a guffaw, she finds the talk of a coffin refreshing, funny, that is to say she loves the idea of someone locked in the coffin, she herself loves to go into the coffin, she herself loves the powers of the coffin that take someone away from their loved ones, take her away from him. If his wife means this for a joke, H doesn’t like her joke at all. Normally, he will chastise her for inviting death which is a taboo in Mwafulirwa Location, really. Normally, he will sit her down in a cold night and he will talk like a husband who has the authority to own a wife and she will listen like a wife that loves to be called a married woman. Normally she will apologise for discussing death, such a heavy load for a tongue but right now, there is nothing normal, there is nothing to make sense, H is not here to water his own emotions. His wife will die soon, that’s the issue to accept, not to stop.

Her dreams?

‘What happens to our love?’ H asks, such a stupid question, such an insensitive rebuttal. Dinnah prefers silence for a few moments. When she speaks, she does not even speak, she lets her throat dance, and then a guttural rumble erupts. He knows what she wants, she can take water, not anything else. She has not eaten in weeks, only drank. Some juice. Water and more water. She coughs and she coughs some more. Her chest rises. She needs more water.

‘Now. Please water.’

H’s palms take purchase of her once-tender neck, her temperatures are high, her fever as usual: burning a world. Dinnah says she will be fine. H wishes her lie was not a lie, wishes her lie was something else different but he knows his wife will not be alright, she is a hell of a sick wife and it will only get worse, she will die and she has a week in which to die.

Must be oxygen that is simmering in the timber rafters in the roof. Or must be carbon dioxide that is heating the transparent window panes. Their fan is turning and flapping, of course but it’s better off not. He has a patient that needs no cold, no hot but the patient is a finished patient. Doctors have connected her nose to oxygen supply before, have led her to surgical theatre before, have looked at her naked body before, have tested the feasibility of her survival before, have shaken their heads before, have spoken words that were biting before, have said, ‘We wished we had ways to give you happiness,’ have advised H about going abroad but then, have ruled out going abroad because, the doctors said, her sickness is beyond repair, is for God to heal.

A drizzle of morning light penetrates through metallic eaves; and the illumination strikes H’s eyes so that he blinks, not once. He blushes Dinnah’s succulent ears and he hopes she is able to hear the impatient beating of his heart. He then kisses her forehead to reaffirm her softness in the emptiness that has become of the both of them, he and she, the couple. Dinnah looks too old for someone in twenties. Her twenty-fourth birthday is next month but by that time, she will be reduced to a pack of reminiscences.

‘She was a good girl,’ some will start a conversation that will graduate to a debate, a casual one and then, a fierce one. There will be others that will talk all good things that suits a good woman: ‘she went to church,’ ‘she woke up before the sun woke up,’ ‘she listened to her husband.’ Then, they will ruin everything with their buts: ‘but school destroyed her,’ ‘but trousers turned out to be what we remember of her.’

For the first time in weeks, Dinnah manages a confident gaze that invites H’s marvel—and for an instant, he loves her indifference. If only she had the asset of strength, if only she had the requirements of appetite. She has none, so there is no man on top, there is no woman to say, ‘That spot, keep up, baby.’

In the last few weeks, H has become used to days he calls empty days and he defines empty days as days that come with feelings which are useless. And boring.

‘A man subtract sex is equal to a man who convinces himself that he is married when he is half not,’ H says, he does not complain because there is no one to tell, even his brothers and his sisters, even his friends. They visited him and they gave him hope and then, they took away some hope and then, took away all hope.

So right now, his sister and his brother and his friend is his wife Dinnah and there are no other people to tell his worries.

There are memories, of course. Unspoken.

Sweet memories: H was the boy in a black suit; Dinnah was the bride in a white veil and in a ponytail and their mothers were full of tears. H, now ready to be a full man, said, ‘Until death takes us apart’ and Dinnah was not supposed to yawn, was not supposed to laugh too much even if the sun was scorching.

There are other memories, too, not memories to be fond of.

Two years after their wedding.

They were a happy couple together, H to watch Tottenham Hotspurs versus Arsenal, they were together; Dinnah to New Apostolic Church choir, they were spotted together.

And then, there was a small matter of a bend. A blip.

Two years after their wedding.

There was a phone text line that said, ‘Sweet, be assured, I will give you my hole’ and his wife demanded answers and H explained himself and then, explained himself until he confessed there was another woman.

‘Sorry,’ was all he could say.

When Dinnah said nothing, H added that it was the devil but the devil, too, said nothing. This, let’s agree, is a recipe for divorce but theirs was love and theirs was forgiveness and the couple had to patch up. Words, containing vicious venom, were lost between them. Like pollen transfers from anther to stigma, Dinnah migrated from their manufacturing bedroom to the guest room.

‘I can’t stand looking at someone that is a betrayer,’ she said.

However, when H did not come back after a certain midnight, the pollen unraveled and shriveled like a parched maize cob and Dinnah wore a face of concern. Constable Kaduku of Mwafulirwa Police Station said a man as old as H was would not go missing; Dinnah thought otherwise and she cursed what had brought her to the corruption-infested Mwafulirwa Police Station in the first place. When H said this thing of running away with pollen should not happen again, Dinnah nodded her oval head and the couple returned to being a happy couple again, not a perfect couple, however, because one of them or both of them  could never stop being human.

This is a past, anyway.

In this past, there was no unusual clarity and alacrity in his wife’s demeanor, there was no back pain to tingle on her upper limbs, no back pain to flow with the verve of a snake poison.

It wasn’t a pain to think of too much. It started with Dinnah watching Prophet MK Geoffrey on  Our God TV and ‘there is something walking here,’ she said and the way she rolled her brown eyes told how much it was a joke a woman would pass to her husband. And H did not like her joke but that’s my wife, he thought.

It was four years after their wedding—in fact, it was June, this year ( by the way, their four-year wedding anniversary was in April, this year).

The pain.

The pain ate her small piece followed by another small piece. Panados and bufens became her friends and she hoped the pain would go.

When the pain could not subside in the next few weeks, H decided this thing, this thing that was making his wife to cry all night, was something bigger than what he first thought. It was not malaria, not even just pain.

Mwafulirwa Location Hospital gave her white circles of tablets and she threw them in her mouth and she lifted a cupful of water up in the air and guided the water in the mouth so as to push the tablets past her throat. Then, she took more, and she was even admitted at Mwafulirwa Location Hospital for days, then, checked in and checked out for more days. She felt fine and then not fine.

One Monday afternoon, Dinnah was sitting on a wooden armchair, reading

Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart, when H entered the house in absolute flash. He was coming back from work and he was supposed to be tired but his muscles tightened when his wife asked him where he was coming from. She was supposed to know, she had been with him for four years, long enough to know every fabric of his life. Asking where your husband is coming from is disturbing but asking who your husband thinks he is actually is repulsive. At first, he thought she was making her usual joke, a random joke about a woman that forgets her bridegroom and people are reduced to stitches of laughter. He wanted to be angry, to take offence. H realized, though, that Dinnah’s memory was waning when she argued that her name was not Dinnah but Dianna.

Was she going mad? No, I am not like that, I am fine, she said, her usual line was very millitant but it lacked sincerity. Mwafulirwa Location Hospital doctors, because their laboratory was finding nothing to report, referred her to Karonga District Hospital whose doctors looked at Dinnah’s sweaty forehead and then, spoke many things that were doctor things and said, ‘This is for Mzuzu Central Hospital.’ Mzuzu Central Hospital kept her for weeks but this thing was too much for an underfunded, public hospital, their doctors said. Mwambi Private Hospital was the closest H had come to a proper hospital and a proper answer but it was there where the word tumor was first pronounced.

‘Her brain is at risk,’ a youngish female doctor said.

The tumor had to be removed but surgical procedure was not for their hospital, the doctor was quick to clarify.

‘Perhaps, India,’ a dark nurse offered.

‘But even Indian hospitals cannot recover a brain in Stage IV,’ the doctor said.

What do you mean, Stage IV? H, who had been quiet for quite some time, could have asked but this was not a lecture theatre in any way.

Instead, H let out a deep sigh before he quipped, ‘What shall we do then?’

‘Chemotherapy is nearly impossible.’

‘What then?’

‘Go home and rest and hope for the best,’ the doctor said, ‘She has about a couple of weeks to live if I can be blunt.’

They went home and they rested and then, they hoped for the best when Prophet Isaac Bunga said, ‘God is healing someone. Will you receive in Jesus’ name?’ and there was a chorus of ‘I receive’ in Synagogue of Jesus church. In his one-to-one interface deliverance, Prophet Isaac Bunga received his cheque payment that he called God’s blessings and then, he poured his holy water on Dinnah’s back, and rubbed, ever so softly, so that the love of heaven and the love of hell fought for supremacy and then, he declared that Dinnah was free. Dinnah was free and the pain was gone even at the dead of the night and she said, ‘God of wonders, thank you’ but when she woke up in the morning, the pain was mild and then, swirled.

They were home and they rested and then, hoped for the best when Doctor Moffat Ephraim told them that Dinnah’s grandmother, who also killed Dinnah’s mother (her own daughter she stored in her womb for nine full months) last year, was the one who flew in a night aero plane and delivered a bag of pain on Dinnah’s back. So, when Dinnah’s grandmother, who was grey-haired and old enough to be a witch, was slashed to death and her house torched to ashes, H secured a packet of happiness but still, this happiness was not enough.

This morning Dinnah’s grandmother’s death is three weeks old. Dinnah is fine, sometimes, but she has not been fine, sometimes. And she is not fine right now. She has a dishevelled skeleton of a frame and she may do well without her fragile weight.

And soon, she will be a dead body.

In this morning hush, H fully wakes up. He dashes to the bedroom window and pulls the white curtains a yard open. On the clay path that passes through his clan’s graveyard, he sees a woman walking without someone’s support, not even her husband holding her trunk, not even her husband listening to the melody of her dying wish. The woman, with an inch-perfect booming body, smiles and H calculates the value of her infectious smile even if he does not like the location and the direction and the magnitude of the smile. And then, because he wants to keep all happiness for himself, he makes-believe himself that the woman may be his dying wife and he makes-believe himself that his wife is not dying after all.

She will live forever, he says.


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