“I was almost certain that that was how the result would turn out. Somehow still I did not have the strength stand when the doctor said I had aggravated stage two pancreatic cancer,” goes a reminiscent Bobby. He stares into oblivion like he can see something beyond the wall far ahead.
We sit at the far corner of this old church, finding peace in the silence. The well polished brown pews in front of us glisten to the inbound mid-morning sun rays breaking through the open window giving a fictitious sense of gold. There are at most fifteen people strewn across the behemoth of a cathedral; some praying, some – well – meditating, some busy with parish duties. Far above, a silhouette of a crucifix casts a protracted shadow against the tiled isle and over the two middle row pews right to the back door. The beautiful artistic impressions of biblical characters on the frosted glass behind the crucifix fills the eyes with wonder. And the heart soaks in too.
“My body crumbled to dust and my whole life flashed in front of my eyes,” he says, teasing my mind back to reality. His speech is husky and low toned. Probably due to the rigorous chemotherapy routine. His muscles are wasted for a fifty year old. His face reads nothing but surrender. Surrender to fate. To life. To whatever the universe sees fit.
“The air around me got thin, and my grip was no more than a baby’s bite. I shook for the better part of the doctors talk and all that went through my head was WHAT – NOW?! I could literally see life leave my body in bits. It’s at that moment that I remembered the coffee date I kept postponing. The fun family times I asked to skip due to work. The movie I didn’t finish watching. The shirt I liked but hadn’t worn it in a while. Everything came right before me in black and white. Yin and Yang”.
“Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”
He pauses to take a sip of what I later realise is sass water. His lean frame of a body slides back on the bench and rests his right foot over the left shaking it in rhythm.
“Each year, 14.1 million people have to sit through the news that they have some form of cancer,” he says with a sense of concern warming his voice. “FOURTEEN (pause) MILLION (pause) PEOPLE! You wake up not knowing that that’s maybe the last day you will ever eat a bugger with your eyes closed as the flavour drowns your taste buds. No care in the world whatsoever. Then (snapping his hand) the news hits you like a derailed train”.
I want to ask a question but I figure he just wants to talk, uninterrupted. I opt to sit and listen. This race isn’t mine.
“When you are losing ground, you look for anything to hang on. Even the flab of all twigs. Drugs. Alcohol. Women. Religion. That thing becomes your lifeline. Your saving grace. I had just quit my alcohol a few months before so this news was a recipe for my relapse,” he says. “Alcohol was my twig. My last hope. Just like the elderly cling to religion when their shelf life is long overdue”.
“Over the next few weeks, I drank as much alcohol as I had in my entire life combined. I lived by the law of the bottle. Neglecting my marriage and my son just to empty the bottle,” pause. Second sip. This time, slower. Like he remembered something. “All those years. Alcohol had never tasted sweeter”. Chuckles.
“Then came the chemo,” he giggles and naturally, I steal a gaze at his spotlessly bald head. “At this stage, you try so hard to convince yourself that it’s only the hair that may fall out. I guess they never say what it really does to you as a human being”. He stares at the chandelier hanging low from the dome high above.
“Personally, it’s the chemotherapy that really dragged me to the floor and below. The chemo takes you down roads you never thought you’d travel. I-I-I contemplated suicide at once. Or is it twice, or thrice. I don’t know,” his thoughts wander. “Your soul leaves your body and as the medicine courses your veins, all you think about is whether tomorrow’s sun will shine on you the same or if you will be a statistic,” he speaks, rather emotionally.
“Things that make you you. Things like taste. Freewill to smile when you want. Eat bacon. Wash down your barbecue with beer. They all wash off with the medicine. You get limited on even the air you breathe. It’s like you are chained to your own life. A life that will leave you one way or the other”.
His eyes well with tears and his nose won’t spare him. He clears it and heaves weakly, trying to stay put.
“And so you found religion?” I try to switch the topic lest I too break down. You can hear the walls crumble in remorse. The sun shines different. The mood switches from inspirational to invasive. It’s as though the whole story befits me in a way. My emotions won’t let me keep my manhood. My emotions are pushed over the edge, balancing by a pebble.
“I think religion found me? Haha,” sighing. “Alcohol and chemo don’t row the same direction, so I found a stronger reed to hang on. The Church. To be honest I’m not that religious but at least I find the peace I need now that only a few days remain”.
“A few days?” I ask trying so hard to disguise my disbelief. My soul is literally sinking in me.
“Yes,” he says. His calmness takes me hostage. I pity him and adore him all the same. ‘Such spirit,’ I soliloquy. I can’t help feel my tears begging to descend.
“I really wish I could go back in time to live the moments that made me smile again. I wish I could fall in love again with the love of my life – Ruth. She has been there for me even when I wasn’t there for myself. My son, Jake,” he chuckles. You can feel his pain as he says these words. “I missed his graduation and many other things he wished I would be there for him as a father. I was deep in chemo so I couldn’t make it. I had actually promised myself that that was the only thing I wouldn’t miss for the world. Yet there I was. And not a day doesn’t it hurt me. I wish he could be here to hear how much I love and pride in him. He doesn’t resent me as of now, maybe, but I hate living with the fact that I’m the reason he didn’t have a rosy childhood. He might be here for me not because he wants to but because he ought to. Which hurts even more”.
He makes that manly groan, wiping off tears with his hands. The tears of a man!
‘Stay put! Stay put!’ I tell myself, relentlessly trying to fight back my welling tears. ‘Stay put!’ I say as I draw my handkerchief. It’s a losing battle. My cheeks are wet with tears half way down my pocket. I am sad as I am embarrassed. I am weak.
“I wish I had the strength to undo all the wrongs and do twice the rights. I wish I could just have one more year to use up all the happiness that lives in me until it runs out. But that’s all I can get. Wishes. What of you who has the power?
This post is a dedication to Uncle Joel Lakuma (featured Image) a cancer warrior.
You live on in us, Sir!