After she heard the prognosis, Mirembe obsessed over death, kindling a comfortable friendship. Each day, life bled out of her and the sterile white room adorned with monitors, pumps, and tubes became her new home. The secret she had kept for twenty-five years bounced in her chest and flirted with her tongue like fireflies in flight.
Mirembe wanted to share her secret before her speech slurred and she no longer recognized the people who came and went, like the nurse who lifted her and turned her from side to side. Tattoos of hideous things peeked from underneath his short sleeve, but she was too tired to care. Another nurse scurried around the room, busy with everything but eye contact as if she was afraid of catching death.
One afternoon Mirembe looked at the nurse and opened her mouth. She searched her head for his name while her heart worked twice as hard to quiet her panic. He quizzed his brow when she clutched his arm with weak strength.
“Dementia,” she blurted.
He nodded, but she knew he did not understand. It was time. “Any day now,” the doctor had said.
That evening, Ntare took her hand, smoothing his thumb over her veins. His touch was gentle for one so big. Husband and only child hushed her when she coughed and tried to begin.
Mugisha said, “Easy mum. Easy.”
When Mirembe looked at her son, her resolve fled. Would she not break his heart? Was the secret not the reason success had eluded him, causing him to flit from thing to thing like one who had no centre? His parent’s money meant he could continue to search for himself ad infinitum. Yes, it was her duty to bring closure.
And Ntare, her partner, lover, companion, and friend, what would it do to him? Ntare who had never doubted his place in the world, carved on the globe with his sure hands. No, she had forgiven him for past indiscretions. She was not seeking revenge.
Mirembe had read that when people are dying, dying being a present continuous activity, they have a compulsion to tell all. She concluded that in death, absolution is final; secrets lie stripped of power. Secrets are useless in the place where the dead go. They only retain value on earth.
“Ntare, you know that I love you?”
He answered with his eyes, his thumb still caressing her veins.
“Easy mum, easy.”
Although Mirembe had acted this script out before, she could not find her voice. She flitted from topic to topic like fireflies in flight—morality, justice, forgiveness, impulses, wrong decisions, redemption. Dying conferred privileges. They let her hold the mic without betraying their impatience. When she could not arrive at her centre in spite of her rigmarole, she let the words escape in a whisper.
“Ntare, Mugisha is not your son. Mugisha, Ntare is not your father.”
What followed transpired quickly. Mirembe watched them, Ntare, Mugisha, and herself with detachment. Mugisha’s insistent, “Then who? Who mum?” brought her back. But her answer seemed to come from a distant place.
“Didn’t really know him . . . Germany. One evening . . . long a . . .”
Frustration, anger, disbelief, and hate, bristled and circled the room like aeroplanes stacked in a holding pattern. However, dying put her in cruise control shielding her from all of them. Her eyelids began to close and she refused to fight.
Mirembe awoke with life creeping in her bones and looked around. “Am I in Heaven?”
The white wall, monitors, pumps, and tubes replied.
“It’s a miracle!” the doctor later proclaimed.
One by one, sometimes in twos, and other times in threes, doctors came to examine her. Once a large sea of white came. One peered over her charts, while the others took notes.
She tried to make the days go slowly by calling attention to pain in different parts of her body.
“Psychosomatic,” the doctor waved away her concerns as he surveyed another batch of test results.
The days kept racing. The nurse now wanted to hold her gaze, but Mirembe had forgotten her name and the nurse with tattooed arms had stopped coming. Maybe the novelty of her miracle wore off or they needed the room, one morning too soon, they shooed her warmly into the angry arms of Ntare and Mugisha.
Mirembe sat in the living room in the home they had built, kneading her fingers in her palm. Could one secret mixed into the foundation fracture concrete? Oh, death was so far away.
“Mum, I can’t believe you lied to me. You’re just a bloody hypocrite!”
“Where are you going?” Mirembe asked.
“I don’t know!” Mugisha brushed past Ntare to the front door and then out into the hot afternoon, leaving the door wide open.
“Ntare . . . Ntare, please go after him. Don’t let him go.”
Ntare did not move. “You should have left things the way they were.” His eyes were cold.
Then Ntare turned and was gone. He did not hear Mirembe say, “Wait.” He did not hear her say, “I love you.”
She picked up her phone.
“Dr Phil? Yes—yes, it’s me. Please tell me, I mean explain it to me again, why did I not die?”
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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