Life and death are two accomplices. The one yearned for while the other is dreaded. Bitrus’ eyes began to feel heavy in their sockets after reading for a couple of hours as he was wont of. He placed the pencil in the dent between the pages, stretched his hands above his head such that his frontal bulged out, accompanying the process with a throated yawn. Easing up himself languidly, almost noiselessly, pushing the stool away with his calfs, he shambled off to the bed and fell with a thump. That momentary lazy movement and the fall on the bed conspired to delay the sleep that had already caused him to nod his head severally over the desk. He closed his eyes anyway, as if pleading with sleep not mind the conspiracy. When it came, his awareness was unaware and sleep took him away in the company of the room’s eternal silence: that generously affectionate silence that greeted you with an invincible handshake reaching out from the bookshelf at the top corner; the blue curtains hanging down their rails, touching the blue rubber carpet with their hems and adding hue to the dim brightness of the milk coloured walls and white ceiling; the clothes hanging down obediently from their hangers at whose underneath were sacked food stuffs; and the cooking utensils hidden in the protective comfort of the corner behind the door whose shadow was enough an abode. The room was bound by a silence that magnified the unquiet silence rumbling inside of the sleeper in the bed wrapped in the capsule of his blanket.
His phone woke him up. He rolled over on his side, rubbed his face with a slow swipe as if to rub off the still remaining drowsy embers of sleep. “Grandpa is dead”, the text message read. He had been informed few weeks back that grandpa was in a critical condition in the hospital. He had intended to call but life busied him away. His death did not surprise him nor did he feel less emotional. Before death came into the scene, life had played with grandpa in and out of the hospital bed. In one of such, he had come back from the hospital, but was not really back or was not felt that he was back. He was still unwell and maybe, more unwell than he had been before being admitted. They had spent three days and nights in the hospital but the expected efficacy of the stay was overshadowed by a menacing hallucination that brought about three sleepless nights and uneasy day times. Grandpa was unusually in and out of various fleeting moods. It was either he was seriously engaged in a conversation with nonexistent persons or quietly giving attention to something apparent to him alone or he suddenly voiced out a conversation which might have been on for a while unnoticed by their presence, or he asked them to get something for him which he claimed was there yet unseen by them. You thought you were blind because he pointed at the direction with confident assuredness. He was largely in a life world nonexistent to them. It was to his chagrin that he found it unacceptable because they could not see what he saw or felt what he felt. The hospital did not exist, for him at least. It was full of his imaginations. Those were the things that existed for him and were verily real.
The ailment kept coming back though, with a familiarity that was menacing. Grandpa had become too weak with age. He was in his twilight years, weighed down by the frailty of old age, yet the sunshine of his younger self was replete in his attitude. He was lively and warm to be with. Death had just taken long to notice him than his siblings were. Death allowed him to die when he wanted to because life stayed in the business long enough.
Bitrus walked up to the sill, pulled the curtains halfway and opened the window. He stood there for a while, reveling in the warmth of the morning sun and the gentle breeze that filtered in to the room. “Death is a thief! But life is greater thief.” He whispered to himself as if under an oath not to break the room’s silence. “It seemed, life just steals away your life from you right from the moment of conception, to your birth and on and on until the last breath when it leaves the stage for death.” As he moved away from the window, the pages of the book flipped by themselves in response to the gentle breeze as though to remind him of the book’s presence. Old age scared him as life does when it confronted him mortally with death. Its rattling effect reminded him of the distance between his mortal beginning and the end of it. He had moved further from his beginning and perhaps, close to his end. Society had become too used to life that she had elevated herself to some level of importance, such that death, when it was less dramatic, was questioned or rather made her become dramatically questioning. “We have forgotten that we begin to die the moment we are born. Every striving to live (which is basically what life is), is a movement to our grave.”Life is a movement.
Death had taken grandpa’s last breath and cut shut a budding friendship. But life had been doing its bits of ‘taking’ for a very long time. A solemn lazy smile rested on his face as he began to button his shirt, remembering one of grandpa’s theatrical moments. In his refusal to be shown pity, grandpa had refused to be carried to his little hut of a room. He preferred to walk in his usual slow, shaky-steady manner that was full of majestic ease, with his staff dictating his pace. As he got to the door, he pulled himself up on to the threshold, straightened himself and in spite of his age, danced and shook his waist like a drunken pelican, with youthful virility. That, emitted laughter from all around and eased off the gloom that had welcomed his return.
“Are you there?” Grandpa would ask.
“I am here.”
Chuckling, he would take out some pieces of meat from the metal cage filled with meat and give to him.
He had loved his time with grand pa. They may not say much but the silence that ensured was not less comforting than when they conversed. Grandpa loved him as a son and wanted him close.”Why didn’t you tell me where you were going to? If you behave like that again, then don’t talk to me again.”The slices of rebuke do come, yet he immediately became comforting afterwards. He too wanted to be with grand pa, to learn from his wealth of wisdom. He had grown up away from grandpa. His growing up was a quiet one: outwardly naive, shy, and reserved to a fault. Even his teenage and early twenties were less boisterous. Caught up in his own doubts and silence which have become very pronounced, he had been growing inwardly, away from the world and in the world. Sometimes he is not sure who he was to himself or what mission he had mortally. His vocation had become a stormy indecision: an eternal dilemmic disorienting feeling that used to feel idyllic living in the expected expectation of others as a child. But that noiseless internal growth had become a rumbling that wanted to find expression but didn’t know how or what it was. His itinerant fears abound and found no comfort. Meaning did lose its meaning. Despair cropped up, scampered about in the company of self pity. And in the horizon, hope had died severally in the hands of defeat. Yet there was life. The life that he had to live but had not lived. The life that was continually stolen away by life. Then life brought him closer to grand pa only to give death the reigns to pull him out of mortality.
He had finished buttoning his shirt by now. And then he realized that he was not just going to miss his grand pa, he didn’t even know what to do. The book had now closed entirely by itself and was lying on its back cover. The bold front cover carrying the name of the book and its artistic depiction shimmered in the dimness and the light from the sum that gave warmth to the room’s dampness. Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human; Beyond Good And Evil: two books in one. Nietzsche had disturbed his imagination in recent times. The amoebic philosopher, who jeered, laughed, mocked, rebuked with subtle playfulness. On the floor at the foot of the table were rumpled white sheets of paper. He had a story to write, but after writing the first paragraph severally and without making any head ways, he became fed up with the story. It became a forceful routine of pen forcing itself to dance on paper. He felt as though he was the one forcing the story and not the story forcing itself on him. The pen danced on paper but did not capture the thought that tuned the dance. He was largely unpublished. It was a terrifying feeling especially when the doyens in the profession hardly noticed you. He was just a writer to himself and that was more or less not being one. He sighted in resignation as he buckled the straps of his sandals. The black sandals which he had not worn for a long time. He had taken them out to dust them off by first clapping them together in the air. The dust responded by clouding off and then disappeared into the atmosphere with reluctant ease. And time was passing by as if unaware of him. Sometimes he thought he was a lie to himself: an illusion. The identity which he identified himself with was largely not him, he thought. A thick dust of doubt on his mind which reason has found hard to dust off. His phone rang again, and this time it was a reminder that lecture time was fifteen minutes away.
He walked down the steep pebbled lone part, his black bag hanging down his shoulders. If life were blue, then it was fading away like his fading blue jeans. Like his black shirt, life seemed black, and this blackness was most luminous.
This story, has appeared on the Kalahari Review. Thank you for reading.