An entry in the 2016 Crocodile Prize
TO begin with, she knew she would die one day. And she knew that it would be sooner than her peers.
Most days, she would tell her mother that she wanted to die, still young, and so full of life.
And her mother would take a coconut frond broom and chase her out of the house, ridiculing her and saying how horrid she was to say these things like that to people who loved her.
And she would burst out laughing, saying it was all a joke. But she knew. And eventually she came to the hospital, sick and dying, thrown out of the house by her parents who suspected she had the illness.
She was going to be 23 soon. She was beautiful, a young Motuan woman with black flowing hair and pretty eyes and long limbs. She wore faded shirts and skirts, worn out with use, but clean.
The clothes hung on her skinny frame. And her life was pretty messed up. She told me of how she had a boyfriend who was pretty slow. And he was critical of her every move and called her an uneducated bitch..
He hurt her a lot. She knew she was smarter. But she accepted everything, even the brutality.
She knew it would be over soon. And she knew it was not her fault she was dying.
She never told her anyone about the illness: the little monsters in her blood. And most days, she ached so much she would curl up in bed and cry in her head. But she was too strong to cry real tears. And she never said a word about the pain. And she smiled at me every single day I passed her bed.
No one came to visit her. Not one soul. And every morning I dropped by to ask if she was okay.
She wrote. She wrote about her short life. Thick diaries and pieces of paper lay on the bedside table.
Also there were the results of her blood tests from yesterday. She had a look in her eyes that said I know I’m at the end of a beautiful short life.
Her CD4 cell count was low and she wanted me to explain the meaning of this and I spoke to her quietly. As I sat at the side of her bed, looking into her eyes, I knew she was at peace with herself and with the world.
“You going to be alright?” I asked, trying to be empathic. And she nodded with the slightest smile on her lips. She was skin and bones now, and pale, a fragile angel. Not much older than me.
So I got up from the edge of the bed and shook her hand. Her handshake was feathery light, instead of the weakness I was expecting. And just like the doctors told me, a handshake can tell you a lot.
She thanked me every time I sat at the edge of her bed and asked how she was feeling. And now she thanked me again.
I left to grab some dinner. I left her sitting in her bed and staring out of the window.
When I came back to the medical ward at seven, she was lying on her side, sleeping apparently.
The nurse approached the doctor just 10 minutes later and tapped her on the shoulder. She pointed to the bed and said a death certificate needed to be written.
And they pulled the screens to her bed and blocked my view. They covered her. I had to say goodbye, so I went over to her bed. And she was lying on her side, eyes closed and a half smile on her lips.
I realised that I died every time someone died who was not supposed to die.
But I was happy for her. She was obviously better off.