Nonfiction: She Wore Death
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
She wore death. It was in her eyes; in the way her lids blinked gently and drooped in haze of sleep. Maybe it was also in her weak smile – the same one she shared to us, her siblings, to mask her suffering and pale face. No one knew what was going on in her mind. She laughed and laughed until we all believed she was fine but on many days, shadows of pain glimmered in her eyes and in the way her face twisted. This had been her reality since she woke up one morning crippled in bed. The only thing she remembered was being rushed home from school where she had passed out. And when she regained her consciousness later, she could not walk.
She began trying to wake her sleeping legs. She’d trace the walls, plodding gently, afraid of falling off but she could not get far. She was down a minute walk from the door. She would leap up again, her palms on the wall and her shaky legs sweeping across the floor. She’d fall off, but like the first time she tried to walk on her own, fell and broke her head, crying out as blood dripped down her face, she’d get up again. She never gave up trying to walk on her own. She hated to be carried around when she wanted to poop or urinate, when she wanted to go to the living room or get back in bed, even when she felt like having fresh air. It made her feel disabled and she despised the feeling.
We thought she was dead when she was rushed in unconscious. Mama and I were in the compound. Mama was washing while I played with my brother’s bicycle. We watched them hurried in and laid her body where Mama was. I stilled. My heart thudded. What happened to her? She had gone to school healthy that morning only to return home cradled in the arms of a man. Mama was agitated. She ran to get a bucket of water and poured it on Basira. I studied her breathing pattern. I was ten years old. She was eight. They said she was sickle cell anemic and I thought it was the sickle in the cell that paralyzed her legs. It was later when I came across the topic hereditary in biology class that I knew it was because both Mama and Baba bore the AS alleles. They had both given their A to me as their first child and both S to Basira who came after me. And for that reason, illness took her. It was later that I knew people with AS was to stay away from their counterpart because they birthed children with sickle hemoglobin whose red blood cells extorted into a sickle shape and break, whose eyes shrank from sickness, from how their bodies failed them.
She first rode in wheelchair before she was given clutches and then Baba bought her a bicycle with two wheels under the paddles. I envied her for it. Baba also gave her everything she wanted. He never said no to her because she was sick and he didn’t want her sad, and because she looked so frail that even if he wanted to say no, the word would not slip out of his tongue.
Whenever we wanted something we whispered into her ears and watched her crawl all the way to his room, resting her knees when they hurt. We would slowly go after her and place our ears on the door, listening. Our breath in our throats, we’d wait for the yes we were sure would follow her request. We got most things from him only when she told him it was what she also wanted. Like the big bowl of ice-cream he once bought us. He never bought us ice-cream. But with her, it was a gateway.
On days she got exhausted from being carried around, she’d crawl to the living room and then to the compound where we all played. She’d demand a race and I, in utmost shock, would take her on. At the starting line, she’d set her eyes on the finish line, determined to make it there before me. I wondered how she was going to beat me when she was only a cripple. Undeterred, she’d set off as soon as my younger brother said GO. She’d crawl faster and faster, scrapping her knees on the ground, laughing. I slowed my pace at such moments to mesmerize her determination to win.
On the night she finally wore death on her body not just in her eyes, I was in the room beside her. It was a Friday night. The evening of that Friday was calm. The kind of calmness they say comes before a storm except what was about to hit us was bigger. It twirled above the roof of our home, growing and waiting. At 7.30p.m, Basira became someone we couldn’t understand.
“Mama, I am cold,” She would cry out, shivering. And when Mama covered her with a blanket, she would cry out again. “Mama, I am feeling hot.”
The aura surrounding our home began changing. There was this anxiousness pushing its way into the house. I became restless. I could also see restlessness in Mama’s eyes. She tried all she could to make Basira comfortable but it was never enough.
At 8p.m, Whitish fluid began dripping down her nostrils. She would shiver and cough and clench the bed sheet as she struggled. Then the stillness came. Mama touched her hands gently and whispered her name before she broke into tears.
Baba passed out twice when he saw her dead body. We feared that Baba was also going to die. He was not there when Mama washed Basira’s body and dressed her in white shawl. I locked myself in my room, deluged in tears, afraid to bid her farewell, knowing that I’d never see her again.
Hajaarh Muhammad Bashar is the winner of Abubakar Gimba Prize for Short Fiction for February 2021. She emerged the first runner up in Sevhage Short Story Prize 2019 and the second runner up in the Poetically Written Prose Contest 2019. Her works have appeared in Weight of Years Anthology of Afroanthology creative nonfiction, Isele Magazine, SetuMar19 anthology of women, power and creativity, Amaravati poetic prism, ANA Review, Imamcollective, Artslounge magazine, and elsewhere. Hajaarh is a fellow of BadaMurya fellowship 2021. Her other works are forthcoming in Akuko Magazine and Literandra magazine.