"I Know Who He Is"

Submitted into Contest #58 in response to: Write a story about someone feeling powerless.... view prompt

3 comments

Drama

I was busy doing what Executive secretaries do when I saw ma’s call. It wasn’t like her to call me during work hours, so I was apprehensive when I picked up the call. Somehow my radar picked up that this was neither a social call nor a good call.

“Mama everything alright?” 

“Kabo, its baba, something’s wrong…something is definitely wrong with him...” My name is Naikabo but everyone calls me Kabo.

Now my parents have the warmest relationship and I knew for a fact she wasn’t talking about their relationship. It had to do with his health. My heart was doing 200 beats a second. I could hear it.

“What do you mean something is wrong mama? Is he sick?” I bolted to the boardroom for privacy.

“That’s the thing, he looks healthy but he is not talking.”

“Ma, you told us about a year ago that baba wasn’t talking much, why are you panicking now?”

“No, I am telling you that something ain’t right. It’s not just the talking, it’s many small things. I am worried. We need to take him to the hospital”

Now baba has never been a hospital person. If he had the flu, cold, headache, malaria whatever it was, there was nothing that couldn’t be nursed with some traditional herbs. Being a Maasai, he was all about herbs and our house was full of herbs. As far back as I can recall baba only went to the hospital because of us or mama. The only time he went for himself, was when he had to have his appendix removed. Ma on the other hand….so I took what she was saying with a pinch of salt. Did we really need to take him to the hospital? Was it that bad?

“Ma didn’t you ask him if there was any herb he could take for whatever is going on? Can I talk to him?”

“I know you are not taking me seriously, but he doesn’t even drink water nowadays.”

“Excuse me WHAT? He is not even taking water…water?”

Baba is the poster child of more is more with water. All of us 5 kids drink lots of water because of him. To know baba is to drink water. Anyone who ever had a chance to know him quickly became a believer. ‘Water and some herbs keep the doctors at bay’ he always said. Now, this was new information that had me worried.

“Did you tell Lovoi?”

“You know how he is. I thought perhaps you might want to ask him”

“Ok, ma will do. Will let you know”

One has to deal cautiously with Lovoi to get anything from him, similar to navigating a minefield. Be careful when naming your children because Lovoi lives up to his name. Directly translated his name means ‘pampered one’ but its more than that. Think of a cute swaddled baby crying for attention. You pick him up, embrace and cuddle him, rocking him back and forth and he immediately responds rewarding you with a melt-your-heart smile. Yep, he likes to be coddled alright.

The only person who has carte blanch is yours truly me. It never pays to call Lovoi when one was in a state of panic. He loathes it, hates extreme displays of emotion, and hates what he calls emotional blackmail. I knew I had to be calm personified if I was to get Lovoi’s help. Considering that the rest of us lived far from the folks and he was the only one within a 15km radius gave me perspective.

I waited until I arrived home to call Lovoi.

“Hey bro! how’s my fave bro doing?”

“Hey, Kabo So good to hear from you. What’s up?”

“Oh nothing much, just the usual. How are my nephews doing?”

“Slimming us down that’s what. The running around we are doing right now…we can qualify for a marathon!

“You don’t say! Poleni sana. Miss those two rascals so much. You haven’t sent me any videos of their shenanigans lately. I miss that”

“How can I? I am sleep deprived at best and an incoherent maniac at worst. The other day Kieran almost made his mom puke”

“What did he do now?”

“He found a slug outdoors while playing and was fascinated by its slime. Next thing you know he is chewing it like gum. I am pretty sure wifey must have used all detergents on his tongue. Hahahaha”

“Hahahahaha. Poor chica! Oh, men. Kids! At least they are keeping you entertained. Give them a thousand hugs.”

“Will do. How’s hubby?”

“He is good, we are well. However, am afraid baba might be having a health problem.”

“Yeah? Mama called you? What seems to be the problem?

“Yeah, mid-morning. She says he is not himself. Since he is not getting younger, she will feel better if he is taken to the hospital for a full check-up. She isn’t sure what it is, but she is sure that he is unwell.”

“Did you want me to take him then?”

“Would you please? Do you remember that Doctor we had taken mom to? The one you had recommended highly last year? 

“Yeah, I remember him. Dr. Semistocles Muroto. Since one has to be there at the crack of dawn, I will schedule it for Monday.”

“Thank you. I will let mama know.”

I was so relieved it had gone better than I had anticipated.

On Monday I was a bundle of nerves. My IBS shot up. My stomach was full of hydrogen sulfide. Calling Lovoi was out of the question, so I buried myself in work. He called around 2 pm to announce the doctor’s prognosis. Baba was suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s. How early, I asked. The Dr. being neither a neurologist nor a psychiatrist had recommended one for us so we could have all our questions answered.

We all flew in to take baba to the psychologist. We found out that he was in stage 5, total stages being 7. Mom then started giving details she had brushed aside. Apparently, one time he had gone to the shop to buy bread with a Tshs. 10,000 note and had left the change behind. The shopkeeper (bless his soul), had given the money to ma later on. (Tshs. 9,000). Each morning dad would spend an hour dressing no less than 5 shirts! Removing them was non-negotiable. The last straw? Opening his fly and removing his member while walking with mama from the market. When ma tried to return it, he had almost broken her index finger. Her finger was sore for months!

Mama thought he had lost his mind. She had been afraid to tell me the day she called.

I was terrified of the news and my mind refused to process it. I lived in denial for months.

Meanwhile, things worsened back home. One time, baba locked mama outside and refused to open the door for hours. Since then, ma had taken to hiding keys, knives, and scissors.

A few weeks later Baba got lost for a whole day. Even now, it has remained a mystery on how he came back home on his own albeit at 8pm. He was exhausted, dehydrated, and famished. A heartrending sight.

Evidently, mama needed help and the family voted that my husband and I move back home.

Two years have gone by and it’s devastating watching the disease claim that beautiful mind of my father a day at a time. My appreciation for our tiny factories upstairs has increased. The movie Inside Out comes to mind. You have some tiny guys processing and storing information and communicating with other guys. To do this well, these guys need cooperation and large amounts of fuel and oxygen.

Alzheimer’s prevents parts of the factory from running well. A breakdown in one system causes problems in other areas. The damage spreads; the cells are unable to do their jobs and die as a result, causing irreversible changes in the brain such as someone’s personality. Baba was a macho man typical of his generation. Nowadays his tears are triggered by anything; fight or emotional scenes or sadness or death in a movie or raised voices. Seeing this reduces me to tears. Every. Time.

Baba had the sharpest memory. His memory was second only to elephants. He had a sense of humor and was good at entertaining with stories because he loves history and mysteries. His ability to spin stories meant that no one got bored. The memory of him and mama talking late into the night is firmly imprinted in my mind. I shudder to think of the loss mama endures. Sometimes I think it’s worse than death because you cannot fully grieve their loss and by the time they die, you are not even sure what you miss. You have long since forgotten who they were. 

They say that when an old person dies it’s like a whole library burns down. What about when an old person gets Alzheimer’s? It’s like forgetting to back up your data in the clouds and storing it all in a hard drive, then your hard drive crashes with no warning. All your attempts to access the data are futile. You can see your drive, you have it, but you have no way of accessing your precious information. See what I mean? In the former case, the library has burnt down. You grieve, find a way to cope, and move on. In the latter case, seeing your hard drive torments you daily and every time you try some new hack to get your data, it yields nothing adding on to your mounting frustration and helplessness.

We have tried seeing different neurologists and psychologists, but their conclusion is the same. You cannot reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s. You can buy all the medications and therapies being sold out there, but you will never be able to reverse the process. No amount of money or love can stop the process once it starts. The powerlessness we feel is overwhelming. Watching the one you love slowly waste away into something or someone unrecognizable is gut-wrenching.

Despite that, we have invested in various vitamins. If anything I think it’s to make us feel useful, like we have some control or power over this insidious enemy that is attacking his brain cells.

I watch him slowly unlearning all that life had taught him. My father had one of the best handwriting hands down. Growing up we used to admire it so much and did our best to ape it. The other day I gave him a pen and paper and watched in horror as he drooled like a kindergarten kid. He wasn’t able to write anything legible. The anguish and desolation….indescribable. 

We have learned to embrace and treasure whatever fixations he gets because they never last for long. I remember when mom was upset that baba was wearing the 5 shirts. Well, that's a luxury now. There was a time he was all over toilet paper and running water. He finished a toilet roll in half a day and flushed the toilet 50 times a day. It was so irritating. If only we had realized it was a passing phase! What would I give right now, to see him use the bathroom on his own and flush the toilet! He can flash it 100 times for all I care.

Another phase fondly comes to mind. Transfixed on just 2 of his friends, he would visit them every other day. He stayed long enough to finish whatever snack or beverage they had offered him. He didn’t talk. Perhaps they had suffered some minor irritations at the time, but when he became immobile they realized they had been blessed to have him.

Then there was the time when he would get ready to leave the house at 6 or 7pm in the evening. Destination? He needed to get his phone from a lady called Rosemary. To date, we have no idea who Rosemary is or why she has his phone. :-) Our saving grace is the fact that he is not violent. 

“Baba where are you going?

“To Rosemary’s”

“Why?”

“I need to get my phone from her.”

“Why does Rosemary have your phone? Why did you leave her with it?”

“Rosemary took my phone I have to go now”

“Okay, but see (I lift the curtain), it’s dark outside. Do you see well at night?”

“No. I need my phone. I have to get my phone.”

“So why don’t you remove your clothes and put on your pajamas, then tomorrow morning you will go to Rosemary’s? Will that be okay?”

He would stare at me deeply like he could see my soul like he knew I was ‘handling’ him, his hand still on the door. I would plead with him again;

“Baba, I too want you to get your phone, but not at night. You will find Rosemary sleeping. Why don’t you go to sleep and you can get your phone tomorrow morning?”

“Okay, I will go tomorrow morning”

Crisis averted. Just to be sure, we would lock the door and hide the key. This went on for weeks.

Taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s means you have to brace yourself for any conversation without betraying your shock. I remember once he said to me;

“I want to kill myself”

My knees buckled and all my limbs turned to jelly. I suffered some arrhythmia, all the blood rushed to my head, I felt like my ears would burst, yet I calmly looked at him and asked;

“Now why would you do that?”

“Because I lost my job and I cannot get another one”

“Why don’t you look for another one instead of killing yourself?”

“Okay”

One time we went to the market and among the things we bought were 12 bananas. For some reason, ma placed the bananas on the living room shelf. They were in a black bag and inconspicuous since the shelf is a similar shade. Baba was sitting on his favorite chair watching TV. We all went our ways until a couple of hours later. I remember coming to check on him and wondering why he smelled of bananas. I thought to myself that ma must have given him a banana to eat. Meanwhile, ma was thinking I had given him a banana to eat. Much later when I was looking for the keys in the living room I saw the black bag and was wondering what it contained and why it was there. When I peeked inside all I saw were banana peels. To my horror, I counted only 3 bananas left. Baba was looking at me sheepishly and I knew. Needless to say, he had a running stomach that night.

Then there was the time when he took 6 of Ma’s propolis capsules in the evening and he was high like Alvin and the chipmunks from the coffee buzz.

One of the rare times that his flitting memory was present, he said to me;

“Thank you for uprooting your life, you and your husband to come and take care of me.”

I was choked up. I squeezed his hands and barely managed a “You are welcome.” I ran to my room, giving free rein to my emotions.

Ma also had her moment. She told me once baba said to her in one of his lucid moments;

“This is so hard for you. I am so sorry. Thank you for taking care of me.”

She wept for days.

Those days are long behind us now. Do you remember when the personality islands were deactivated and core memories sucked out in Inside Out? Then the Console was disabled and Riley became apathetic? Getting one word out of baba is a miracle. The only thing he responds to is his favorite all-time movie; 7 Brides for 7 Brothers. He loves the bashing scene where the Pontipee brothers fight the townsmen at a ‘barn-raising.’ It usually sounds like he is coughing and crying at the same time, but I cannot tell you how comforting it is to see him react to something.

Taking care of baba has made us all appreciate the simple things in life like a touch, a smile, a nod, the voice of a loved one, even a 1954 movie. We might feel powerless about his condition, but we still have the power to show love to the people we love and that’s what we are doing by taking care of him. William Michael Morgan said it best when he sang;

…………………………

I don't mind at all remembering for him

He doesn't have to get why I adore him

He don't have to know me I know who he is

Oh, I know who he is

Yeah, I love who he is

Yeah, I love, I love, I love who he is

September 09, 2020 09:20

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3 comments

Moon Lion
05:02 Apr 24, 2022

The story was so sad, but you did a phenomenal job rendering out the characters, their history and their genuine care for each other. I've read very few stories with this level of development, and it's crazy how much you could pack into a short story like this. I will check out your other works for sure!

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Naomie Kamoko
08:58 May 02, 2022

Thank you Moon Lion for your encouragement. Means a lot to me. Sorry for the late response.

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Moon Lion
00:12 May 03, 2022

No worries :)

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