It was a cool afternoon and Sharon walked in the park with her mother. She enjoyed moments like this – just the two of them walking and talking. But that was then. Now it was more of a silent walk for both of them. Things haven’t been the same since she lost her father. Somehow Sharon blamed her mum for his death.
“If you had not been so busy with work, maybe dad would still be here,” she shouted one day.
Annabel couldn’t understand why she should be blamed for her husband’s death. On several occasions she tried to explain but Sharon never gave her the chance.
One day as she lay on her bed reading a book, Sharon walked in. This was the first time she had entered the room ever since his death. She entered the room and sat on the edge of the bed. For the first time in a long while both mother and daughter looked at each other. No one said anything. Sharon noticed how lean her mother had become; she noticed how wrinkled her face was. She looked around the room and suddenly memories flooded her mind. How she had walked in on her parents having a dance; how she always rushed into the room each time she came home for the holidays; how her mum had dressed her up for her first prom; how her dad carried and danced with her; and how she had walked in on her dad unconscious. She closed her eyes to hold back the tears. Her mother took hold of her hands.
“Can we take a walk like we used to?” she asked. “I need to get some air.”
Annabel smiled. It was what they both needed. “Let me get dressed.” She replied.
It was a quiet walk. Neither one of them said anything. Annabel wanted to say a lot, she wanted to hold and cuddle her daughter but she feared that any impulsive behaviour would send Sharon back into hiding. She didn’t want to ruin this moment. She was okay with just having a walk with her. Sharon on the other hand wanted to be held; she longed to talk to her mother – to tell her how her day went, to cry to her, to laugh with her.
“I never got to understand what happened until dad explained it to me. Once he took ill you changed and I hated you for it. But dad made me understand it was difficult for you.”
She looked at her. “What did your father tell you?”
Sharon sighed. They walked until they came to a bench. “Let’s sit,” she said.
As they sat a couple strolled past them. They held their hands as they walked and talked. Annabel reminisced about her strolls with Jason. He always held her hand like he never wanted to let go. They had been married for 15 years and each day felt like it was their first time. He understood her like no one had and ever will; he was her soul mate and best friend. But then he took ill one day. It started as something little; he had been complaining and she urged him to go for check-up but Jason wouldn’t budge. “I’m fine,” he kept on saying. Some years passed and it deteriorated. She was in her office when the call came. It was their family doctor. Apparently James had collapsed at work.
“This is bad,” the doctor said. “We shouldn’t have allowed it to get this stage.” He looked at Annabel. “We need to start treatment immediately.”
“What’s wrong with my husband?” she asked.
“He has cancer and as we speak it has slowly eaten into his system. We need to commence chemotherapy immediately….”
“What are his chances of survival?”
“I’m afraid madam but at this stage we can only hope and pray for the best. If we start immediately we can still save him.”
Annabel clutched the chair; she was shaken. Her whole world was about to end and all he could say was ‘hope for the best.’ “I want to see him,” she said.
He nodded and sent for a nurse to take her to his ward. Was she about to lose her husband and best friend? What will she tell Sharon? Why cancer? How come no one noticed? She tried to hold back the tears; she was going to be strong for her family.
James was asleep when she entered. “I’ll wait till he wakes up,” she told the nurse. “Thank you.”
He looked so pale. She took his hands into hers and prayed silently. A few minutes later he opened his eyes and smiled.
“Darling,” he called, “How are you?” He took a closer look and asked, “Have you been crying? Your face look swollen or do you have something in your mouth?” He laughed.
She smiled. “I’m surprised you can still find time to laugh despite what you’re going through.”
He said nothing.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked.
“I wasn’t sure myself; I thought it was something minor. But hey, I’m going to be fine. You just wait and see.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m hungry dear, can you get me something to eat.”
She nodded and left.
“Mum,” Sharon called. She shook her back to reality. “You were completely zoned out. What happened?”
“How long was I gone for?” she asked after regaining herself. “Don’t mind me dear; the couple that just passed reminded me of moments with him. I still cannot believe he is gone.”
“I thought as much. You and dad were the perfect couple.”
She sighed. Sharon was right; she and Jason were what you would call ‘a match made in heaven.’ She missed him so much. “You mentioned your father explained things to you; what did he say?”
“After dad took ill I noticed how different you had become. You came home late, you spoke little, you were irritated most of the time and most shocking of all you started drinking. You did a good job hiding the bottles but I could smell them a mile away. I needed to talk to you but you were never around. Each time I stopped by the hospital, dad was alone. I couldn’t understand why.”
Sharon wiped her eyes and sniffed.
“I hated you; I wanted to look you in the face and tell you how disappointed I was in you and how I wish you were never my mother. Dad talked me out of it.
“Each time I saw you all I wanted to do was scream at you so I tried at all cost to avoid you. I came home one day to meet dad alone. It was on a Saturday so I expected you to be home but you were nowhere to be found. I was really mad. Dad could tell I was angry. He told me how long he had been battling with cancer and how you had stayed by his side all these while. Dad loved you so much. At first I thought he was only defending you.
“He told me how you urged him to take his medications; how you rushed him to the hospital each time he had a relapse.” She looked at her mother. “I wasn’t even aware he was sick; he looked hale and hearty each time I saw him. He said it was because of you; you gave him every reason to live. But then things became so bad; the cancer was spreading, Chemo wasn’t helping. The doctors told him he had few months to live. He told me how you refused to give up on him. Chemo was expensive so you had to work extra hours just to foot the bill. Things were tight but you managed to stay cool. You only resorted to drinking because you needed to drown your pain and sorrow.
“He explained it to me but I still couldn’t understand why you had to fight alone. Why didn’t you tell anyone or come to me?”
“Your aunts and uncles are aware. They just didn’t see things my way; nobody understood what I was going through. Can you believe they thought I was wasting money on Chemotherapy? In your uncle’s words ‘there’s no point treating someone who’s already a vegetable.’ He called your dad a vegetable. I just couldn’t take it dear. Besides you were too young to understand and you had school to worry about.”
She looked at her mother. “Mum, you call 19 years too young?”
“19 years is a young age for me. I was fully aware that your dad was going to die; we were prepared but your dad was too cool about it. He suddenly stopped going for chemo, he stopped taking his drugs. It was like he was already tired of living. He missed his appointments with the doctor. All he wanted to do was spend time with his family. Everyone told me to remain calm but how was I to remain calm? I was on the verge of losing my husband and best friend. Your father tried to make me understand but I was too angry to listen. Drinking was the only option for me. Most times I drank myself to sleep; it was the one way I could sleep without thinking of my problems. I remember waking up in the middle of the night only to cry to God. So many questions flooded my mind but your father assured me that things would be fine. I guess I was too tired fighting alone.”
She took hold of her hands. “Mum,” she said, “You don’t have to fight alone. I never want you to feel like you’re in this alone. You’ve got me and together we make an unbeatable team. Okay?”
Annabel squeezed her hands and smiled. She loved the sound of that. She didn’t want to go through it alone. She nodded. “We’re going to be fine.”
“You’re my best friend, remember?”
Her eyes lit up. She couldn’t remember the last time Sharon called her that. All she wanted to do was give her a warm hug. It was as if the angels heard her prayer. Sharon suddenly moved closer to her and rested her head on her shoulder. “I’ve missed you mum.”
Annabel didn’t want this moment to pass; she smiled and held her close. Jason was right after all – they would be fine. She looked up; the clouds were gathering. “It looks like it’s going to rain. We might want to get out of here before it starts.”
Sharon nodded. “You know what mum? All that talking got me feeling hungry. Maybe we could grab a bite somewhere before we head home.”
Her mother smiled. “That’s not a bad idea,” she said. “There’s a pizza joint not too far from here. We could get our stomach filled and do a little catching up. What do you think?”
She smiled. She loved the sound of that. It was their favourite hangout – just the two of them eating and talking about their lives. Oh how she had missed those moments. “Are you kidding me?” She asked. “I can never say no to something like that. I’ve missed those moments. We can order smoothies and talk about the men in our life.”
“Speaking of men,” her mother said, “how’s Simeon? Are you guys still together?”
“Simeon and I broke up like two weeks after we started dating. He was just not what I expected. I’m with Anthony now.”
Her mother smiled. “I see. You’ve got a new catch. You’re going to tell me all about it. But first, let’s get something to eat. I’m starving.”
It was already drizzling. They walked back into the car. They had just settled in the car when it started raining. It was heavy. “Thank God we got in before it started.”
Her mother agreed. “And from the looks of things, it’s going to be a long and heavy one. There’s no way we can drive in such condition.”
“It’s going to be a long wait mum. What are we going to do?”
Annabel smiled. “You can start by telling me why Simeon wasn’t a good catch. What do you think?”
Her eyes lit up. “Sounds like a good idea mum.”
© Judith Abani