The first thing that hits me is that I’m nearly 30 and not yet a super star.
I can already sense the erratic thoughts on the fringes of my mind as I lean back in my chair and clutch my mug of hot chocolate.
I don’t quite think I’m prepared for this and now my fear is palpable. An omen is looming over me. I will pray about this tonight. I wonder though, could it really be that bad? But pray, I will.
This is a direct consequence of my learned behaviour- the scientific part of me analyses.
Where I come from we don’t celebrate death. I suppose that’s a stupid thing to say isn’t it? Who celebrates death, really? I attempt to mentally re-phrase.
Death is something that we generally ignore for as long as we can. It is a scourge. Here it’s different. Here I’ve even seen some cemeteries within the city. Every church has one. It’s a good thing probably, so that children will be exposed to the realisation that someday they too will die. Quite different from back home, where those places are far removed from town.
I remember us driving past the cemetery on some occasions while I was growing up. One wouldn’t even be able to see it from the road, but how my little heart pounded at the mere thought of us being anywhere close to it. I could never will myself to look in its direction.
For you to properly understand my trepidation, I need to take you back a little bit.
I come from a place where achievements mean nothing if you cannot tick some boxes society has subliminally placed before you. Come into the world, go to school, respect your elders, establish a good career, marry, make money, make babies, repeat.
God forbid you should die before ticking all those ‘precious boxes’.
Being born, bred and buttered in a society where the subject of death is so ominous shapes one’s mind. I’m not claiming to have heightened responses compared to my colleagues; I just think that inasmuch as they may fear death, they still accept it.
I can’t seem to help that I have an unhealthy obsession with it. How paradoxical. My obsession is to ignore its existence till I have to deal with it (hopefully not any time soon) again. The whole subject is intensely exhausting for me.
Please don’t put any blame on my family for my state of mind as it’s not their fault. My thoughts simply took on a life of their own and melded into my consciousness over time.
Actually, I doubt any of my family members would have given this a second thought. Aside from my aunty, my father’s older sister: ‘Tantine Pauline’. Everyone calls her ‘Tantine forte’ which literally means ‘aunty strong’. If you were to meet her you’d know exactly why. That such a petite person can wield such a heavy influence on all our lives is beyond me. Bully. She bullies everyone but somehow we know she really does love us all.
I recall one incident in particular when a neighbour’s grandfather had died. I must have been seven or eight, and my parents had been getting ready to bundle us all together to go and commiserate.
‘Non,’ Aunty ‘Strong’ had said, firm and unmoving. ‘Leave the children at home. Why should we all go there? To do what? To invite the spirit of death to our own home?’
I wonder if she thought the spirit of death could possibly be contained in dust particles, which would settle on our little heads and snatch any of us away without warning.
The notion was and still is absurd. That evening my parents had left us at home with Aunty Strong and gone by themselves.
Now imagine that experience, those words, being said over and over again throughout my childhood. And before you blame my aunty alone, I can tell you that her sentiments are echoed by my whole society. So in essence I was trained to be afraid.
Do you now understand why the subject of death is so uncomfortable for me?
Still, surely my logical mind has rejected superstition, and yet here I am trying to convince myself otherwise; willing myself to be calm.
I try to focus on other things to clear my head. My nervousness frustrates me, especially since I know this would be the right thing to do; perhaps even noble.
Distractions could work. Pushing my mug away I fold my arms on my desk and lay my head down on them, and my eyes fall upon my shoe-clad feet, and my mind chugs away on a new train of thought.
Why, after only a few wears, do my feet start making all my shoes have a kidney-bean shape? Kidney?! Urgh, that didn’t work. I rise up and slam my hands on my desk.
Now I’m racking my brain to see if we’ve ever actually discussed death in my family. It’s not something one would expect as dinner conversation. My family: mother and father, two sisters and two brothers, sitting around our upper class dining table. We are not a snooty family at all, so even though we know what every piece of cutlery is for and have a live-in cook, we do have warm discussions around the dinner table.
‘Cutlery’: Fork. Knife. Blade. Scalpel.
Trying to distract myself is clearly not working.
I wonder what my brothers and sisters would have to say now if they could see speech bubbles over my head.
I yawn, stretch out a little bit, then peer outside my window.
What a beautiful day it is, the sun shining so brightly. Now I wish I’d cared more about the Eclipse the other day. I’d just peeked out of the window from the library, and then continued with my day without a second thought.
Truthfully I’d rather have spent money on the upcoming sales than on one of those special eclipse glasses everyone had been raving about. Apparently the glasses had sold out in the shops but you could get them online for a ridiculous price. No thanks.
Anyway I’d had deadlines to meet that no sun, moon or shadow could distract me from. I should have just gone out to observe the damn thing! The next time it happens will be in 90 years or so and I doubt I’ll be around for that much longer.
Ah, death again! Sigh. Now it’s ingrained in my mind isn’t it?
People who have near-death experiences often see their lives flash before their eyes before they are somehow miraculously snatched from the clutches of death. Not that I know anyone who has had a near-death experience, but I’ve seen it in the movies. And I suppose it’s dramatic to compare myself to someone like that. It’s just that for some reason now I’m thinking about the ways in which I could’ve been a better person, or the things I just really still want to do.
Also, the stupid things that I really shouldn’t be bothered about.
All these idiosyncrasies pale in comparison to what is before me.
Now suddenly things like my toilet tinkle shyness don’t matter anymore. Now I also wonder why yesterday I hadn’t insisted on talking to the woman in the toilet cubicle next to mine who was obviously crying. After not receiving any response the first time I’d asked if she was ok, I’d decided to give her privacy. Had she perhaps broken up with her boyfriend? Or was just having a terrible day at work? Or maybe received news that someone had died? I hope no one she knew had died. I hope no one I know dies soon either. Especially if it is a preventable death. I wouldn’t want to die if it were preventable.
Why am I taking such a long time to think about this? If it does happen to be me the die is cast against I’m not going to need any of this any way.
I sit back at my desk and look at the form again. I had better do this before I lose my nerve. Kidneys, check. Other organs, yes they can have them too. Oh, they even want my cornea. It’s the noble thing to do.
I sign my name on the dotted line.