We never, ever, thought that this is how it would end. In fact, we didn’t even stop to contemplate the gravity of the situation. When you got home, you were tired. So, so tired. But we chalked it up to fatigue and probably the flu. Besides, the school had taken you to hospital and they said the report came back with a diagnosis. Pneumonia. Typhoid. Something like that. I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember.
This is how it spiraled out of control. One hospital visit and we got a medical report that none of us wanted to believe. What the heck was Leukemia doing in a 17 year old girl? The hell?! Mtwapa to Mombasa to Nairobi. The prognosis became worse. It even had a name. Acute myeloid Leukemia. Damn. It was a mouthful. Shangazi was low, so low when she called that night. My mind did what it was accustomed to; think ahead of when all this would be over. When you would be back in school (I actually wanted to call the school and tell them that you’d probably be deferring your academic year) and when you’d sit your final year exams. Hah. The thing about hope is this: it lets you believe in the best and dream of better days. Then the demons come in and show you how exactly that hope can be trampled.
This is how it began to end: Sis and I traveled home. A fundraising that was more than necessary had to be conducted. You needed to be out of the country by yesterday. Our frantic efforts back and forth in different government hospitals got us as far as the distance between a human’s nose and upper lip. Sometimes this haunts me when I can’t get any sleep. Should we have tried harder? Called in favours, even though we’d exhausted all our options? Should I have pushed my friends harder to help me spread the word about your issue? How many medical appeals had they seen, contributed to and been part of, anyway? Would this have been any different?! Did we make enough calls? Send enough texts and emails? Cry to enough ‘concerned’ friends and colleagues and relatives?
I’ll never know.
We’ll never ever know.
This is how it dawns on us that the end isn’t so far behind: you and I in the semi private wing of Pandya. Bed next to the window. You hated that you could see people passing by, so you’d make me draw the curtains sometimes. But then you’d get warm; even feverishly hot and the fan wouldn’t help. The curtains would make some kind of sing song sound whenever I’d draw them open and closed every other hour or so. We switched shifts with your Mum or your sister. But you were never alone. I hope to the ancestors and gods that you knew this. You were never alone. Even when you’d have your bathroom breaks. I wouldn’t let you out of my sight. Why would I? You were my sister. I was terrified you’d fall in the loo. But you laughed when I told you this. I miss that laugh. Monday turned to Tuesday, then to the day that I realised that maybe getting you to India was something we should have worked so much harder on. My mind- oh this silly mind- still thought you’d be on that plane on Friday.
Thursday had other plans.
Thursday. We woke up, although we really didn’t sleep. You were so tired. So weak. So pissed off by how your body was betraying you. The nurses and the doctors wouldn’t meet my questioning gaze. Whenever we locked eyes, you and I, you looked like you knew. This silly mind just didn’t want to accept it. Even when they wheeled you to the ICU. I didn’t want to accept it. Even when I was taken to the garden seats and told that you’d not be walking out of the ICU. Or the hospital. Or coming back home. My mind played a trick so great, that I asked how long you had. The look I got back wasn’t the most inspiring or one that I’d call promising. But I didn’t want to accept it. I still haven’t.
The next half hour was the worst half hour of my entire existence. I had to call Dru. I called friends who’d been there that Thursday morning, telling them that you hadn’t made it. Your blood had turned sour, completely. And I was broken. I still am. Sometimes, I think I hear your voice. Sometimes I even see you. Other times I choke up so bad when I’m with other people, I would rather sit at home, in my bed, trying to block all those memories by listening to music. Reading from the Kindle isn’t as engaging as it was: it was the last device you held in your hands.
They say death is the greatest equalizer. The big full stop to any sentence of anyone’s life. Death is supposed to answer a few questions, I hear. Well, I’ve got a bloody few.
This is how it ends: us with an Indian passport valid for the next ten years. Until 2026. You, 6 feet under. Us, avoiding even mentioning your name lest we get your mother wailing again. Us, trying to keep the tears at bay by not speaking too much about you. But how can we avoid you? You are such a force, such a presence in what we believed was a tight knit family. That’s the other thing they don’t tell you. How death can either completely break your family or bring you closer to each other.
This is how it ends. With you. Not here.
And it hurts like nothing else.