I was wide awake in bed, heavy with exhaustion but unable to slip away. The wailing kept me awake. A sound so broken and hollow, like a woman in excruciating pain, like someone seeking an end, like someone ravaged and tired. It was the sound of my Dad dying.
Every day, he died a little more. The cancer ate him away from the inside and all his children had to watch him wither away on the outside.
I would get out of bed and linger in the corridor, listening to my mum trying to comfort him with words, knowing fully well that my older siblings had not slept either, staying by his side through it all.
I remember one night, it was dark and the only light in the corridor was the lamp. I was a child standing in this long hallway, looking yonder into the darkness within the Master bedroom and hearing the horrid wailing of a broken man, it was a memory that could not depart.
A week ago we rejoiced when he started Chemotherapy. They called it a miracle for Cancer. They said it was a cure. A miracle that kills off the bad cells and kills a little bit of the patient too.
With every session he took, he came home different, changing by the day, until his nights were dragged and excruciating, and all his children would lie awake, waiting for the end.
The end came. It felt like a film trick. It just brushed right over our heads and left us stunned. We expected it, but deep down, I doubt we thought death was real; that death could happen to us. That death could snatch the joy from our lives and leave emptiness.
When a loved one is ill, the sadness echoes through everyone around them. It dampens the little joys that would have made that house home. It changes the agenda of every individual in that household– dreams are put on hold, pleasures are incomplete, life becomes measured and shallow. And so, everyone else drones through life until that loved one is made whole or maybe, they pass.
When Dad died, we were stunned. A silence that gradually broke the family apart, a dispersion of personalities unable to cope with the memories in that house, seeking to process what the past few months had been or to salvage whatever life had left in store.
We all woke up to the reality that the breadwinner was gone. My mother was distraught and without income for seven children.
And there was me, the one befuddled beyond the rest. I was ashamed because I had run away from home a week to my father's death. I went to the dormitory at school and refused to go home at school break-- because I couldn't bear to listen to him cry through the night. Or listen to the unfamiliar wailing of a man that had been so vibrant and strong in my mind. A man that had been my hero. I didn't know who that was anymore and I ran.
News of his passing reached me in school. I did not cry. It was film trick. I had to see for myself.
I went home to the silence left by shock. I'm not sure any of us could really grieve. Only three of us were adults at that time and the rest of us were confused.
First was fear, and then after the Chemotherapy, the inescapable sadness that a loved one would eventually pass away.
The silence at home was soon echoed by the gaping hole left by a breadwinner.
I looked from my mother to my brothers and then my sisters. Not one of them was fit to earn a livable wage. My mother did not have a job. Amongst the older siblings, I was in school, my brother had just graduated and my sister was in her final year.
We could not grieve, there was too much that looked us in the eye: bills, school fees, funeral costs.
Family members I had never known showed up the following few weeks and everything about the funeral was a fast blur or maybe it usually is for those shocked by death.
I didn't go to see him before he was put in the ground. I couldn't but I resolved in my mind to fill the gap he was leaving behind. The first problem after the funeral were my sister's school fees.
I had no certificate to show or no skill I had learnt but I remembered one thing Dad always said, "What is in your hands now? Use it. Develop it."
The only thing I had was writing. I had been an avid reader since I was 13 years old. I remember
long visits to the book shop with Dad, and he would buy me books, fiction and nonfiction. I devoured them and I loved to write short stories. Dad was the first one to catch my passion and steered me in that direction. He was always watchful, with deep brown eyes.
"Have you read a book this month?" He would ask as He offered me one.
I couldn't let my sister drop out of school because no one could put the money together. My brothers were off finding work. My sister was busy applying to jobs. Slowly, frustration was creeping in. We were no longer sharing happy meals and warm laughs, none of my younger siblings played out in the sun or even with toys, they withdrew.
What could I do? What to do? These questions took focus in my mind. I could think of nothing else. I could feel nothing else.
I ended up online. I ended up scratching at websites for ideas. Coming up with menial tasks that paid little and would probably not bear enough money in time to pay her school fees.
What is in your hands? Dad would ask.
The only thing I knew how to do was write. I had been writing stories. I have been writing essays. I enjoyed writing. Could there be opportunities in writing? I asked myself that night, blinded by my own tears.
I took one last go and stumbled upon information on writing careers. I researched some more and found freelance websites. One particular website stood out. I created a profile and began to put everything about that profile in place. The greatest hurdle came thereafter, the Bio. I went blank. What was there to say about myself? I had not won any awards. I had no certificates. But here I was, needing to start something out in professional writing. I poured my heart out. I attached some samples although I knew they were rough.
The next day, I woke to my mail of acceptance. I began applying for smaller writing tasks. Within a week, I had landed one. It was the first time I got paid for anything in my life. At the time, it was well below industry rates but I was overjoyed. I danced around the house. I screamed. I ran to my mother and showed her the cheque and for the first time in seven months, joy filled that house.