‘Writing Your Story’ by Ophelia Kemigisha

Last weekend, I was attending a discussion in a room with a view of the street and a nearby field. On the tables, almost everyone had pairs of shades and bottles of water to survive the heat and yet outside, the sky was starting to turn grey. In a matter of moments, the dark clouds which seemed faraway gathered close, like a bunch of girls to the new source of the latest gossip. The trees swayed, seemingly unsure about how to react to the new, almost forgotten wind. The shrubs moved with new vigour, seemingly hopeful for a much needed shower. The ground remained unmoved, but dust hovered in the air, settling on everything visible.

Then, like it had been happening every day, it started to drizzle. A slight, unassuming drizzle that brought no panic to the little boy kicking stones along the street or the woman tending to her little vegetable garden. The drizzle which seemed uncertain slowly gained momentum.

After about two minutes, it started to rain heavily, huge pellets that must be painful to the skin. The rain came down hard, angry, nothing like the usual windy sleet that would come down in spraying showers drifting through windows, but rather in large drops that punished the land, soaking it through and causing it to cry in steady brown streams. The white car in the parking lot that had been brown started to reemerge as white as the hailstones that now pelted it.

And then, suddenly, almost like it had not happened, the rain stopped. The grass was greener and the pleasant smell of wet soil drifted through the air, but there was no lingering drizzle. A few drops fell from the iron sheet roof, shameful vestiges of what should have been a storm.

Today, it feels like I was thrown into the rain without warning. I am lying on a hospital bed, when I was healthy and happy just last week. It feels like a million years ago, like I have been stuck here for a century and not a week. Most of the time, I lie here and stare into space and write and rewrite my story in my head. My earliest memory of waking up in a hospital was when I was 8. I was the only patient in the ward, and I occupied the last bed in the corner. I had a bitter taste in my mouth and the distant memory of a terrible fever that had kept me up for most of the night. I could tell from the light that streamed through that it was a beautiful day outside, but I was too weak to step outside into the sun. I have never asked my parents why I was all alone, or what I was suffering from. I only remember my mother’s presence, soothing, even though I could tell that she was worried. She had a book in her lap and she put it aside when she realized I was awake, checking my temperature and asking if I needed anything.

Sometimes the nurse comes in to check on me, but her presence is nothing like the unfailing strength of a mother that permeates through and transmits unwavering faith that the sickness will not last forever. Where my mother’s constant singing comforted me, the nurse’s humming gives me a headache. I have learnt to ignore her regardless of how many questions she asks.

Like deja vu, I am all alone in the ward. The room is filled by a sterile scent that I have always associated with crying babies and detached doctors, going about their business like they do not have lives in their hands. The scent now clings on me, I am certain, and has become all I know. The ward is painted in depressing shades of pale blue, as if to highlight how bleak I feel inside. The first time I woke up in here, I expected to feel rage or anger, or some other white hot emotion. Instead, I have been too weak to care about a thing, too uninterested to feel. The days come and go, uneventful long days that I am starting to lose count of. Sometimes, I sleep all day and stay awake all night, listening to the strange sounds of the night. Yet, other times I crave the simple pleasures I took for granted like the freedom to walk in and out of the room. On those days, they have to hold me down and inject me with a sedative for the screams to stop.

When I was younger, I liked to rummage through every book in the library, even those that nobody ever checked out. One day, I came across a book that had four alternative endings. The author required that you either choose one ending, or read the endings in the order in which they were written. I was fascinated by that book, and it gave me the idea that life was like that, that you chose certain paths that led you to certain destinations. It was a both comforting and daunting thought, that my fate was in my own hands and yet it was not.

Now that I see my story ending, I lie here telling myself about the path I could have chosen, the way I could have gone that would have led me to a different ending.

Maybe it was that Friday morning when I woke up lying on my back, an unfamiliar form beside me. I remember staying very still, trying to remember where I was and who the stranger was. Outside, I could hear the first early sounds of activity: the loud motorbikes, the swish of cars, the patter of jogging feet, the lone sound of an unwilling early morning worker dragging their feet to work. Next to me, the form shifted, turned its back towards me. On the bedside table, my phone glowered with another missed call. Again, I tried to recall where I was, make out shapes in the semi darkness, but no clue came into focus. In the silence, my breathing sounded uneven and my heartbeat too loud. I touched my chest but the palpitations continued, and probably escalated because now I had started to panic.

“Time to wake up, it’s 6am!”

The loud alarm clock startled us both. My companion sat up straight, fumbled for the clock to turn off the annoying automated voice, and groaned. The night before returned with startling clarity; the cocktails, the flirting, the stumbling into his apartment. Next to me, my companion (whose name I was certain I would never remember) pushed aside the covers and walked into the adjoining bathroom. My stomach turned, both from the cocktails I had downed in rapid succession and disgust with myself. I took a deep breath to calm down, but mostly to keep from gagging. The phone glowered again in the dark, my friends suddenly interested in my welfare after disappearing last night.

Of course I never saw him again, and would not pick him out of an identification parade. Yet, sometimes I think that is when I knew that I would end up here, that I had set myself on the path to self-destruction, because I chose to find comfort in the arms of a stranger.

“How are we today?” the boisterous voice of the doctor interrupts my thoughts.

“I’m fine.” I reply as strongly as I can. I have learnt that being unresponsive to the doctor will only extend my stay here further.

“I need to know the truth so that I can help you.”

“You can’t help me.”

“Not with that attitude.”

I sigh heavily and turn away, hoping he will take a hint and leave. Maybe the end began on my boyfriend’s wedding day. That morning, as I dragged myself to the bathroom, I saw a clear image of myself on the floor, eyes vacant, bleeding from my wrists. For a moment, I believed that it had actually happened, that I had slit my wrists with the knife I had been carrying around for a few weeks and the image was from my vantage point, standing over my own body. My legs were suddenly weak and I found myself curled up like a ball on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. I kept taking huge gulps of air, trying not to choke on my own tears and mucus.
I remember, vaguely, calling my friends to say I was not well, that they could go ahead to the wedding without me and they should have a good time. They would never know, of course, that that was my wedding except I was missing. I spent the day fantasizing about crashing the wedding and images of the body of the love of my life and his brand new wife floating in a river kept me comforted till I woke up the next morning.

After that, my life became a blur of parties, faceless companions in strange houses, and long hangovers that made me irritable and unproductive at work. When I stayed alone, I often cut into my arm, just below the wrist and watched the blood flow. Sometimes I imagined it was his hand I was cutting, or maybe his wife’s and I watched the blood for a long time before I cleaned it up and tied a strong bandage.

Now, I have no access to knives or anything sharp and I often crave the strong metallic smell of blood. Yet, if I close my eyes, I can bring back to mind images of them both bleeding out, a beautiful mess on my kitchen floor.

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