The day Nkem died; the earth stood still for a moment. It happened within the twinkle of an eye. I watched helplessly as her life began to ebb. She fought hard. She gave it her best shot, but the labor pangs overshadowed her when she had just dilated 10 centimeters.
The image of her lifeless body with our stillborn baby dangling in between her thighs still sends cold shivers down my spine and had kept me awake most nights. The thoughts of the events that culminated in her eternal end forces me to think that if only we had done somethings differently, she wouldn’t have gone through that painful death. I wish I had the antidote for death.
That Saturday morning, everything seemed normal. She pushed her protruded stomach around our small apartment with a pinch of pride, the type typical of self-assured pretty damsels. She had rocked the Duduke crooner that morning in preparation for her EDD which was in two weeks’ time. We had no premonition that death was lurking in the neighborhood. She was full to the brim with life and smiles. In fact, she had a bowl of her usual spicy snail and mushroom soup that looked very irritating. She relished each bite to my astonishment. I stood there wondering why a sane person would enjoy such. Well, pregnancy cravings can make one devour with pride the unthinkable meals of unfamiliar climes.
Hours later, she complained of a sharp pain around her pelvic and it grew with the minutes. I knew she had gone into labor. I grabbed few items from the house, dragged her to the car, and rushed to the hospital. She was examined and two hours later, we were on our way to the labor room. The pangs behaved like an elastic band; at some points, she had few moments to smile and tease my fear- plastered- face, at other times, the pain got her screaming the roof down.
The nurses kept urging and instructing her to push. With each command came her hands clinging to mine as if they were yearning for my veins. It climaxed when we saw the head of the baby. I cheered her on, rubbed her head, endeared her, and gave her all the love I had left in me. Soon, her face dropped. She instinctively redirected her gaze towards me. I lovingly turned towards her, rested my shoulder on the edge of the bed, and gave her a piercing look, eyeballs to eyeballs. The connection was deep, real, and somewhat magical with a level of pain rays shining forth. Within a flashlight, she shot a weak smile which grew faint almost immediately; then, it happened. Her eyes suddenly froze after she had given me the faintest smile. It happened so fast that I had to replay that moment over and over to convince myself that I was not dreaming. They knew it was a stillbirth, but none of them warned or alerted us. They wanted her to birth it, a task she could not complete.
I stood there in shock as they performed the medical ritual of trying to resuscitate her. I knew she was gone. I felt it in my bones. The tall nurse walked towards me and led me away to allow the doctor, who just arrived, intensify the ritual.
I stood in the vestibule pinching myself and hoping to wake up from the nightmare. I could not just process it. I soon went blank even of the basic things caused by adrenaline. Then the doctor appeared. ‘I’m sorry, we lost them’, he said. I sank deep into his arms the way I would sink into Nkem’s arms after a bad day at work. I was about to launch a scream when a hand touched me from behind. The hand was accompanied by the familiar words- ‘be a man, man up! The elderly man who said those words had monitored the whole event from onset. He stood before me with a disposition that says ‘I have all things under control’. His non- verbal cues complemented his words perfectly and made me appear stupid for wanting to wail.
Truth be told, those words changed my life. It first took me back to my childhood where we were taught that boys don’t cry. We were forced to hide our pains in our esophagus. We were taught that tears meant weakness and was not a good characteristic of a strong man. I knew it was time ‘to be strong’. So, I sorrowed as expected by society. I needed society to validate me as a strong man. I was hoping that act would also impress her in the great beyond. But deep within, I was dying. I was in dire need of a little petting in a subtle but reassuring voice.
At the funeral, hot painful tears welled up in my eyes but, again, I quickly dismissed them. I kept a strong face, a boiling heart, and shut the boy in me seeking to wail to escape the excruciating pain. Well, no one gave me a broad shoulder to cry on. Their supposed words of comfort were mere melancholic demands of the impossible. I was expected to suck up my pains like chilled coke racing down my thirsty throat.
I was still being a man when I slid into depression. I was manning up when suicidal thoughts started creeping in. I was trying to man up when I attempted suicide. I was only trying to man up when I lost my sanity. I was still manning up when I woke up in the psychiatric ward at Yaba.
Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org