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Memory, a whip in calloused hands

Lying pale, against a backdrop of starched, white sheets, a tube prying open your mouth, reaching into your throat,  fetching you a little more life.

‘But her blood pressure,’  ‘After this pint of blood we’ll know’, ‘Maybe she’ll be fine’,  ‘Ma, moenie bang wees nie. Ek is hier,’ ‘Kidney function’, ‘Take her home!’, ‘Adrenalin,’ ‘She’s stable’,  ‘A death in dignity,’ ‘Pulse’, ‘She’s 85,’ –

It’s the monitors behind you keeping time.

For just a moment, your eyes open and don’t roll back, you look at me, right at me, glassy-grey eyed, ‘Raboo mama?’ I ask tentatively, pausing from my prayer, in hope. But your eyes roll back again. They shut. Your body contorts in pain, or fear. ‘God, make light what it is she must endure.’

I tuck a strand of greyed hair back into the scarf they’ve so strategically draped over your head and remember how just two years ago you chided Aunty Shahnaz for forgetting to come dye your hair.

You’re writhing again, I stroke your brow, continue my prayer in your ear, my tears inconsequential to the fact. I don’t want my memory of you to be this.

I don’t want to tell the children I-may-never-have of the woman who lies on that bed, I don’t want my memory of you to be of the woman who’s sat in that wheelchair these five years. I don’t want to remember you a speechless woman in a darkened room.

I want to remember you the woman in her blue-checkered apron, that Eid at your house when Sulaiman protested his Nehru suit by walking only when forced,  I want to remember visiting you in that big, beautiful house that was yours, the smell of your cooking wafting through the kitchen, I want to remember sitting in your TV room, watching a Liverpool game, while you light up a Stuyvesant, and chatted to Mama . I want to remember you the sister of my grandmother, the friend of my grandmother, our Big M, the eldest, the matriarch, kind, gentle,  beautiful woman.  I want my memory of you to be of the woman who walked her own path, not this one slipping away.

I stand beside your bed, bending down to brush my lips against your head. I’m watching you die and memory is a whip in calloused hands.

VITAE SUMMA BREVIS SPEM NOS VETAT INCOHARE LONGHAM
(The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long – Horace)

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson

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