“I’ll take care of them tom, I’ll take care of them,” I recited while the fluorescent tubes flickered above me, the smell of disinfectant filling my nose.
I passed a room on my dazed stroll and inside laid a figure of a small boy on those familiar hospital beds struggling to breath, his family arranged all the unhelpful get well soon balloons and cards to a side. I stared vacantly at them for a while trying to remember where my family was, or if I even had one, why couldn’t I remember them? Why couldn’t I remember anything?
“It’s probably why you’re here,” the voice of a young boy who seemed very bored with throwing his ball up in the air and catching it in a monotonous manner, answered.
I furrowed my eyebrows together in confusion wondering where this boy came from. “I’m sorry, did I say that out loud, and where are your parents, boy? A hospital is no place for a child your age to be gallivanting about,” he didn’t seem like a patient the absence of a hospital gown and looking at how healthy he was played a role in that assessment.
“My parents are inside,” the young boy gestured towards the couple kissing the ill boy on his forehead, I noted that the two boys were brothers. “And besides you’re ‘gallivanting’ around the hospital too.”
“Well I’m not a six year old kid now, am I?” I taunted, folding my arms I looked at him expectantly.
“I’m not six,” he huffed clearly annoyed, “I’m seven,” he declared proudly lifting up seven of his tiny chubby fingers.
I knelt down so that the boy and I could see eye to eye and asked, “Why aren’t you with your family?”
He looked at his brother with pain in his eyes, “I’m waiting for someone, my friend,” then looked at me with excitement, “we’re going to get ice-cream! Do you want to come!?” his big brown eyes stared into mine waiting for an answer.
“Maybe later,” I watched his face turn into a frown, but I couldn’t let him get attached to me something told me to leave, a habit. I got up puzzled, I turned away from the boy ready to walk off when he called out to me.
“Hey!” his childish voice cracked, “my name’s Michael.” I nodded and turned away again. “What do I call you?” his voice pleaded.
I paused and hesitantly answered, “Tom.”
I strode off bewildered at my sudden change of behaviour towards the innocent kid, shaking my head I continued my walk unknowingly repeating the same lines I’ve been chanting all day.
“Tom, why aren’t you in your room?” a kind looking nurse questioned with concern, where did she come from why were people suddenly appearing out of nowhere?
I stared at her blankly not knowing who she was or why I wasn’t in my room.
She grabbed me by the arm and looked at me sympathetically, “Don’t you worry, Tommy I’ll take you back to your room, your family’s there, they must be so worried about you right now,” she dragged me through the hallway.
And led me to this room – room 49. Now stereotypically 4 and 9 are considered unlucky as it represents death and agony, but that wasn’t the reason why I refused to enter the room.
“That’s not my room,” I tried pleading with the lady but why would she listen to a man gone insane, a man who roamed the corridors at odd hours of the day and night, a man who didn’t remember anything of his past. But did in fact know that this wasn’t his room, my room was room number 56 someone specifically asked for that number because it symbolised well-being and love but, who? I realised my memories were slowly starting to come back to me – Martha.
“Now now Tommy don’t make a scene,” she chided, “this was the room I was told to place you in and if you create any trouble I’ll have to call security,” she threatened raising an eyebrow and before I could reply she pushed me in and locked the door behind me.
“Hey!” I banged the door but even if the nurse did hear me I was sure she wouldn’t let me out, giving up I turned around to look at ‘my room’ and was instantaneously blinded, the room was achingly white I used my arm to shield my naked eyes and fell back into a chair I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Tom, Tommy,” a voice cried out, filled with incredulity, she sounded like she had been crying for a very long time, she sounded tired she sounded grief stricken, crushed to the very core.
She sounded familiar.
I opened my eyes slowly allowing them to adjust to the blinding light and In front of me the most beautiful women I had ever laid eyes on looked at me with disbelief, heavy tears ran down her dark circles and cheeks till it dropped to my lap. Her stress lines creasing whenever she moved her hair was tied up in a bun, like she didn’t touch it for days. She was fragile, my Martha.
Martha oh Martha, my love forgive me I brushed her tears away it ached me to see her cry, to see her in this miserable state and to know it was all my fault.
“Oh Tom!” she half laughed half cried, “they told me you were gone, why would you leave us. You promised you said that things would be all right again, John said that-”
John. That’s all it took the memories kept flooding in ‘I’ll take care of them tom, I’ll take care of them’ that’s what he said, that’s what he said before placing the pillow over my head holding it down tight, I struggled to breath, struggled to move, but fighting lung cancer had taken a toll on my body and I was weak compared to my brother who was well-built. He used all his force pushing me down, the blood vessels in my eyes popped.
And before I knew it, death paid a visit.
Was I angry at John? At that moment, no. I was grateful, He released me from the cruel torture I had to go through daily, from the pitiful stares of my friends and family he released me from looking at the mirror every single day of my sorry excuse of a life and not recognizing the man that stood before me, not just physically but mentally too.
I remember everything.
I remembered Martha asking the doctor for room number 56 she even paid extra, oh Martha the troubles I have put you through. She was in her third trimester of pregnancy at the time and that was 6 years ago… Lizzie, my little girl. I never saw her, not once. I didn’t want her to see her father in that state. I told Martha not to bring her to visit even though she kept pleading, she didn’t know how to explain to Lizzie that her father didn’t want to see her. I was a fool, how I wish I could change things now, what I wouldn’t give to see my little girl even once.
I remembered John, my brother, he helped with the hospital bills, and supported Martha all those years, but he was only after my business and my share of what father had left us after he passed, John was sure the cancer would take me but when his patience had worn out, he did what he saw fit.
I remembered the man I was before I got sick, I was powerful, people feared me, the only friends I had were the friends who wanted favours who used my name with people to get what they wanted, I enjoyed the power, I enjoyed being cruel to people. Not the weak helpless person the cancer reduced me too.
I was a horrible man In my life oh God have mercy on me, don’t let me suffer in hell with the men who have done much worse, give me a chance if I could change everything I would.
When I opened my eyes again, I was not at the hospital any more I found myself at a funeral, my funeral. I stood next to my body looking at how worn out it was, I looked up and was unsurprised at the number of people who had come for my funeral, was I that hated? Surely they must be more people who’ll miss me.
“Come lizzie, come meet your father,” Martha’s voice spoke trying hard not cry, she held the hand of a young girl about six years old, she had her mother’s beauty and her father’s knowledgeable eyes.
“I can finally see daddy!” The little girl bounced with excitement.
Martha lifted the girl so she could look into the open casket, “Say goodbye Lizzie, your father’s asleep now.”
The little girl frowned she wondered why her mother had lied to her saying that her father would come home soon, why didn’t he want to see her?
Although, Lizzie did not tell her mum this as she knew her mother was sad. “Bye,” she whispered, almost inaudible.
But the man standing next to the casket heard her, his heart broke. He was happy he got to see his daughter before he could go, if only he had done things different they would have had more time together. He heard the angry words his wife told him even though she did not mean them, she was just angry that he left her all alone. That he left Lizzie alone.
Oh how I wish I could change everything, I cried out.
But then that is life isn’t it, there is no use crying about what I could have done different, I should have done it right the first time, and now I must suffer the consequences of my actions.
I walked away as they lowered my body six feet under the ground, standing in the distance was John. A single tear rolled down his cheek. Even though I knew he could not hear me I moved closer, “Take care of them John, promise me,” my voice quavered.
I kept walking, waiting for a friend of mine to show up, two friends in fact, and right there before me I saw little Michael gorging on a chocolate ice-cream and with him the kind nurse.
“You came!” Michael jumped up and down while the nurse handed me an ice-cream.
“Of course I did,” I laughed. I looked at the nurse and smiled, “So when do we leave, Death?”
“Oh soon,” she answered, “let me finish my ice cream first, it’s not everyday that I get to eat one of these delicacies in my line of duty,” she joked.
I ate my ice cream smiling, not knowing where I will be lead but at this moment I was at peace.
Michael was an only child, his parents were unable to have a child of their own so they adopted him, even though Michael had a lot of health complications which led him to where he is now, his parents loved him with all their hearts till his very last breath. And they continued to love the bubbly boy who filled their lives with joy till theirs. Their last wish was for Michael to be at peace as he had a very unfair life and deserved better.
After death had relished her double scoop chocolate ice cream she took the hand of the boy who was happily playing with his ball, not knowing that his face was covered with the dessert he had attacked not long ago, and with her other hand she took the hand of the man famously known for his cruelty, but deep down he had a heart of gold and the three of them walked down the road to peace and redemption.