WITHOUT YOU

WITHOUT YOU

“What’s life without you?” I asked with his hand tightly held in both of mine.

He chuckled and his eyes gleamed as if they were filled with all the life in the universe.

“Life,” he answered, smiling.

“Well, that sounds awful,” I said with a grin of my own, shifting my seat even closer to the edge of the hospital bed, my body seeking out the waning warmth of him, my senses yearning to be filled with the familiar smells of him.

“I promise, you’ll be fine,” he said. His smile held a hint of sadness.

“Don’t say that,” I cut him off from saying more, moving my fingers to caress his cheek. His skin felt soft and strange without the usual beard, making him look as young as he was.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because you can’t promise me that. Not that,” I said firmly. “Let’s talk about something else.” I tried to smile when all I wanted to do was fold up and cry.

He smiled at me. Tunde’s smile had always been effortless and honestly the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It had been his secret weapon, what he’d used to make me want nothing more than to convert us from individual strangers to halves of one.

I held my breath, trying to slow down time so I could marvel at his face forever.

“Tell me about the party,” he said.

I felt a fresh surge of energy as I embraced the change of subject. “There’s going to be cake and lots of ice cream. And” – I dropped my voice as though afraid someone might catch me trying to spoil him – “I’ll let you have some. We don’t have to tell anyone.” I was grinning.

“And everyone’s coming?” he asked.

“Yeah. I may or may not have sent threatening messages to each and every one to get there on time,” I replied with unabashed authority.

He laughed, and then began coughing. My smile winnowed away into immediate panic.

Tunde quickly grabbed my hand. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Anthony,” he said slowly, attempting to subdue my panic. “I’m okay,” he reassured me with his easy smile.

You’re not! I wanted to scream. But a little voice told me to be strong for him.

“Sorry. I’m just being extra ridiculous today.” I pulled the worry from my face.

I took his hands in mine again. This time, Tunde tightened my hands in his and his face contorted in anguish.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked, worry flooding back.

“I don’t want to go,” he said in a whisper, his eyes suddenly brimming with tears.

“It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay,” I repeated his own words.

“Am I?” he said.

The question broke every strength I had, opening me up to further vulnerability. I wanted to say something to make it better, to offer comfort and tell him the reason why life sucked. But I longed for the same answers. The answers which I’d been seeking ever since he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nearly a year ago.

Instead I held him in my arms and I prayed very hard that my hug could tell him everything I could not bring myself to say.

***

Nurse Abigail was the one I insisted on being the one to attend to Tunde at home. He had seemed to connect with her through his long months at the hospital and I found myself very comfortable with her care of him. She had the brightest light about her and made him laugh. We needed that now more than ever.

I sent a text to Tunde’s sister to inform her we were leaving the hospital. And then I drove with utmost care all the way home, occasionally looking back at him where he sat, bundled up in clothes, looking too fragile for the world I was driving him through.

Everybody yelled as soon as I opened the door. They all wanted to surprise Tunde, but he didn’t like to be caught unaware, so I’d warned him ahead of time. He faked his best shocked face, his mouth making an exaggerated “O” and his eyes beaming brighter than I’d seen it in a while.

I laughed at the spectacle and hugged as much people as I could, my eyes never leaving Tunde for too long. Abigail, the nurse, stood at a safe distance too. We exchanged a look, and she gave me an encouraging nod, as though telling me to enjoy the moment.

And so, I did.

We laughed and exchanged stories, everybody making an effort to create a happy day for Tunde.

By the end of it all, I thanked our guests with tight hugs and firm handshakes, as they trickled out of our home.

Abigail helped me make the bedroom as comfortable as it could be for Tunde. He was animated, happy. And I dared to be happy too.

We wrapped ourselves in bed, touching each other whenever we could, laughing as we recounted memories of things we experienced together.

“Thank you,” he finally whispered.

I kissed him in response, sensuously for emphasis, the way I hadn’t been able to do in months. He stared at me, the dimmed lights of the room reflecting in his eyes. It made his brown eyes as deep and bright as golden flecks stolen from the sun.

“I’m serious,” he said, touching my lips. “Thank you. For everything.”

“Thank you,” I said with feeling. “For everything.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

And we fell fast asleep.

***

As I woke the next morning, I knew it by first feeling it.

A part of me was missing.

No. It was gone.

I felt the emptiness before I even saw him. I touched him and he was lifeless.

My heart stopped. The air became as rancid as acid, scorching its path through my nasal cavities. I held my breath to stop the sinking feeling, to halt the emotions I knew were coming. But the avalanche was already upon me, swifter than I expected. The force of it hit me so hard, I could do nothing else than give the world a keening wail. My throat burned but I could not stop. I screamed and screamed as though my cries would bring him back. Tears streamed down my face, pouring forth the abject pain that was skewering my insides. I cradled him in my arms with care. He had always fit perfectly in my arms. My body trembled with sadness and loss.

“Come back, Tee! I’m not strong enough!” I cried into nothingness, my wretchedness overflowing. “Come back, please… I’m not strong on my own!”

Nurse Abigail ran into the room, a phone pressed to her ear and a defeated expression on her face.

We knew it was coming. It was why the doctors agreed to let him come home. To say goodbye to those he cared about.

But I had dared to hope it wouldn’t be so soon.

Abigail moved towards me, but I lifted a hand to stop her. I wanted to speak but my lips quivered instead, and new sobs racked through my body. I would never get to hold him again; I’d be damned if they take him away before I was ready.

Death is not a god of chances. He is a cruel lord, relentless in reminding us that we have but limited opportunity to live our best lives, to love as hard as possible and walk into his arms with as little regret as we can.

But I wasn’t ready to be parted from the half of me.

I wasn’t ready when he was taken from my arms.

I wasn’t ready when the condolences came. And I wasn’t ready as he was lowered into the ground.

I’m still not ready as I smile at the memory of him eight months later, a pang in my chest that will always be there as I try to live a life without him.

Written by Abrams

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6 Comments

  1. Ethereal
    August 09, 11:58 Reply

    Totally benumbed & speechless of a want of what to say… I can only wish his soul a gentle repose & let the love that you both shared, be a memory like the light of a thousand stars…

  2. J
    August 09, 14:20 Reply

    I wanted to condole with you, but then I realized it’s fiction. You’re good to go, very nice!

  3. trystham
    August 09, 15:10 Reply

    I heaved a sigh of relief when I realized it was fiction. That’s just too much pain for one heart to handle

  4. Lyanna
    August 09, 21:41 Reply

    I intentionally avoided checking the category cos I wanted to follow it up to the end. No matter how good a story is, if it’s fiction, I never read it.

    • J
      August 10, 15:45 Reply

      But why? 😂

  5. Perola Negra
    August 13, 08:31 Reply

    Totally awesome, the sheer use of imagery which helps to paint that picture vividly.

    Thank You for this, really love your work. Thanks again for sharing your gifts with us.

    For a moment, I believed the entire story.

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