X for this narrative is the One.
He lay in a fetal position, both hands on the side of his face. A kindly smile played on his parted lips as he stared at the other person on the opposite bed. This person was also in a similar position so that she was facing Segun. A white fan, rusted along its edges whirred gently above them in the space between the two hospital beds finished with thick deep brown polythene.
He remembered well her first words to him; a solid three days after his forced arrival here. Before then, the relationship was cold, silent and mechanical. He hated her; no one should be this old and ugly!
He hated the creases than ran chiseled along her little forehead and the many wrinkles on her face like his chinos shorts after squeezing water from it. He hated her sunken dark eyes, and how the folds of her shriveled skin hung loosely from her body. He hated how she chewed her mouth with nothing in them. And now, he has to spend all day and night by her bedside!
“Look here Segun” his mum said on driving him to the hospital “you will spend your holidays here caring for Grandma. And that’s all about that” she said, looking down at the boy and firmly pointing a severe index finger at him. Segun became inflated with anger and folded his arms stubbornly over his puffed chest as he grumbled like a pregnant toad and stamped and kicked.
He won’t leave this spot he now stands,he won’t sit, he won’t even turn to look at the infirm, he won’t eat, he would die where stands! He decided in his childish anger.
His job was simple: “Watch over Grandma and if she needs anything, hurry to get a nurse” his mum had said. “ She can be a good company too”. She concluded.
“Who needs the company of the old and dead something?” Segun thought with a straight face.
“Please help me with a pillow” the the old woman finally said on the third day. And though the voice was little and feeble, it was just enough to axe the icy relationship.
“Pillow?” Segun asked, confused. Because “Pillow” was also in Yoruba which was awkward. Segun has never before heard of that Yoruba word ever. Grandma made a hand gesture of moving an invisible object in both hands to the back of her head which she lifted up gently. “Pillow” she repeated in Yoruba.
“Oh! That” exclaimed Segun. He ran to get one from the nurse.
Holding it in both hands, Segun said “ we call this Pillow”- Pillow in english. She simply smiled and nodded. As she did, her deep creases fades to pucker at the sides of her deep eyes and her wrinkles straightened revealing a tiny disappearing dimple. Segun placed the pillow gently under her frail neck.She was happy to learn, despite herself.
Grandma doesn’t speak English at all. Segun speaks both. But because of the generational gap, some Yoruba words she spoke were in fact lost on him. It’s however in this difference that a common ground emerged. The cotyledon of their love sprouted from the gray area; an unknown haven in the mist of verbiage confusion so that in the next two weeks from this point henceforth, they must have added at least fifteen new words to each other’s vocabulary.
Their love grew; it grew with each new word and blossomed with the purity of his little heart then found deep roots in the fragility of her toughened one. She amused him, he looked upon her as a strange object and paid keen attention to her every gesture; even the movement of her mouth as she chewed on a non existent cud. She found a fresh listening ear for her stale anecdotes. Her childish curiosity lighten her weak heart. She finds him curiously funny, he finds her strange and funny.
The day she said “spoon” in english in front of Segun’s mum, Segun’s mum was delightedly puzzled. Grandma and Segun exchanged a quick glance and both started laughing leaving a perplexed someone out of the fun. As they laughed, grandma coughed a little. Segun in his puerile innocence rushed off to get a cup of water for his friend. Grandma took it with her trembling hands wrapped in numerous fearful veins and sipped. She actually made a gesture of such so as not to dampen her friend’s spirit. She didn’t actually drink. Tears rose in Segun’s mum chest.
One evening in their hospital room and having their usual twilight rendezvous, Segun in his perpetual inquisitiveness asked Grandma “ How do you know all of us?.” He asked this because he noticed that Grandma, even by a slip of tongue, never mistook the identity of a child, grand child or a great grandchild.
“ I don’t know my children. I feel them” Grandma said.
“If trees could talk” she continued in her shaky singsong voice “ they would tell exactly of their fruits; ripe and unripe, plucked or weathered or simply mutilated by chirping wild birds with yellow breasts, eaten badly and neglected”. She stopped and swallowed spit, her Adam apple traveling up and down folds of wrinkled skin.
“ Because the fruit is no different from the tree. The fruit is the tree and the tree, fruit.”
“ At the last count” she continued “starting with me, we are fifty one.” Fifty one in Yoruba is a tough one, they haven't learned numbers yet. So they counted together. She showed her old trembling hands from under the white sheet five times in gentle succession and then showed the index finger which carried a discolored contorted nail. Fifty one! he exclaimed in childish excitement. She said it too and because of her accent, they busted into pieces with laughter. He even wrote it down in words for her, she insisted.
“I want to use the toilet”. she said. “Toilet” in English. They smiled. He should have called the nurse as he always does but they are one now so hand in hand they headed for the loo; his arm thrown around her slim waist, hers flung around his small neck. They danced this way along the hall way that is polished and drenched in antiseptic fragrance; a lone fluorescent bulb dimly lit the dance floor. As they did, Grandma was whispering a prayer for Segun from her heart: “ You will grow to attain old age in good health and when it’s time, it won’t come with the agony I feel right now”. Tears rose to her bony chest and her lips writhed but her partner noticed none of this he was so lost in the rhythm of this dance. It thralled him so much he wouldn’t understand what grandma was even whispering, he wasn’t listening.
A nurse’s sight, hurrying across the hallway, fell on the tender couple, so she peeped back at them, only her upper body slanted backwards was visible. She smiled with tender joy and disappeared.
As she was left alone to pee, Segun stood outside beside the door. Grandma sat and cried. Her little shoulder trembled hard. She wiped her face several times to dry the tears. And as she peed, she let out a painful whimper, gritted her remaining molars and squeezed her squeezed old face. Segun caught the pain in the crease on her face as she stepped out and grandma knew Segun saw her pain and immediately assuaged him “ I will be fine.”
They returned in the same posture they had came in, hand in hand like Bonnie and Clyde but grandma was in severe pain. A large blot of blood has discolored the behind of her sky blue hospital robe and when she flushed earlier, it was more blood than urine. Segun knew none of these and they are now back in the room as if they never left; Grandma on bed and Segun by the bedside; running his little hands gently over the morbid veins on Grandma’s weak hand.
Presently, as he now lay and smiled at Grandma who was now asleep as earlier described, there are plenty things he does not know; he doesn’t know that Grandma had been dying since they met, he’s not aware that Grandma has ovarian cancer and too advanced in age to survive the lethargy of even a session of chemotherapy and was only moved to this small hospital to await death under simple care and management, he’s not aware of the sepulcher of a thousand form of pains buried in her tender disappearing smile and that with each laughter they shared, Grandma was dying in the same breath. His childish innocence robbed him of these things that everyone else was aware of , even Grandma.
To him, grandma was convalescing and will soon be fine and he would follow grandma to the village to continue their love in the rural establishment that Grandma has said so much about. He immersed himself wholly in the poignant idyllic memory he’s about to share with Grandma, this was why he now smiled.
He rose from his bed and walked over to Grandma’s to awake her for their usual quick morning prayer before the nurse comes in. “Grandma” he said in his sleepy voice tapping Grandma lightly on her shoulder. “Grandma” he called again, this time harder. “Grandma, wake up.” “ Grandma, It’s time for our devotion.” “Grandma.” “Grandma.” There was alarm in his voice now . He shook Grandma by her shoulder. A piece of paper fell off her now limp hand. “Grandma wake up.” he was crying now. “ Graaandma pleeease waake uup noow.” he said cryingly and kicking his foot under the bed.“ Graaandma pleease.” “Grandmaaa.”…
A nurse walked in while he was at this.
The nurse swiped a hand over her eyes to close them, but she could do nothing about the smile on her face. She instead drew a cloth over them.
Segun was distraught and sprawled on the floor, he won’t be consoled. He want his Grandma back.
Other relatives are trooping in now and none could understand Segun in this condition; even his mum.
His mum noticed a piece of paper in his hands and took it from him. In a child’s hand writing, it reads “Fifty.”