I’ve always known the exact day I would die.
Before I found out, I existed like any seven year old kid - a life of swimming at the weekends, and Saturday morning cartoons. But after I woke up from a dream so vivid, so clear - I knew it must be true.
The thoughts that followed afterward caused me to change. I don’t know why. I felt like I’d been given a gift, clarity. Security almost.
I started helping Dad around the apartment, finally noticing how much he’d struggled since Mum walked out on us - she never called. I don’t know why. Dad reduced his hours to part-time to care for me. He was always tired, money was tight.
I started helping simply by tidying up after myself, something children normally do. I began making sandwiches for his lunch the next day, and cooking dinner. Although my expertise was limited to scrambled egg, he never once complained. He just fell asleep watching the evening news, smiling, thankful. And I’d sit next to him. Content, thankful.
Our relationship improved. We became friends, the best of friends. And understood each other intrinsically. Often we’d operate in perfect silence, each predicting the moves of the other. Smiling when we caught the other’s eye.
We saw more of our friends. By helping Dad we had more time and energy to spend doing the things we loved. He took extra shifts too, boosting his salary.
My grades improved. At 10 I started going to dance lessons, art club and even joined the school debating team. And at weekends, Dad and I explored the country, me on my bike and him running - we kept each other fit and youthful.
When I was 11, Dad met Martha. She was funny, and caring, and smiled like a spring morning. She cried at nursing TV programmes and always shared her hot chocolate before putting me to bed. She made Dad so happy. We were happy together.
I rarely thought about my gift. I put it to one side in my mind, and brought it out only to count my accomplishments since the last time. Some might say it wasn’t a gift, but a curse, knowing exactly when your time would run out. But I didn’t see it that way, I felt I had enough time to complete the things I wanted to complete, and ignore those that wouldn’t bring me value. I knew what I enjoyed and ignored the rest. Why spend time yearning on things you can’t have, at the expense of enjoying what you already have?
At 16 my father died. His illness was only short, the cancer took him so quickly. One minute he was smiling at the TV, the next, he was gone. Martha and I were with him when he went. We were watching Life is Beautiful on the hospital TV, do you know it? It’s a heart-breaking story that shows how to find the positive, regardless of the difficulty. Life is Beautiful. It is, so beautiful, it really is - if you can see it that way.
At his funeral, Martha wept as I eulogised our adventures. Building dens in the woods near our house. Paddling in the rock pools whenever we could get to a beach. My father terrible at finding water critters as he stomped around the shallow water. Sunday nights baking yams in the embers of a fire bucket in our small garden.
Martha passed away five years later. It made me wonder about my own mother. Where she was, what her life looked like. And I hoped she was happy, whatever decision had caused her to leave, I hope she found happiness. I really did. I don’t know what life would have been like with her in it. But I don’t yearn to know. I was 21 already, a grown-up with a partner to call my own, holding down a steady job. Maybe, I owed some of this to her leaving.
I told my partner about my gift, my insight. After the initial denial, they accepted it, and soon afterwards we had a baby girl. We called her Cherry, because she arrived in early April just as the trees were blossoming. Whenever I see those petals fall, and smell the sweetness of spring, I’m reminded of her. Like an eternal gift.
We never had much money, but we had enough. Cherry and I baked cakes each week for her school lunchbox. Other kids had candy in wrappers, or bought their dinner from the canteen - but they were often curious of what Cherry had, often envious. She always shared what she could.
She grew to up be a Chef. Nothing fancy, nothing award-winning and glamorous, but ran a small café in a department store. She spent her days chatting with the elderly couples that visited the store, dropping in for their elevenses. Cherry built a local reputation for her cakes. There was never an empty seat in her cafe - always laughter. She met a wonderful man, and together they had two beautiful children of their own. Jusna and Olu.
And as time passed, there was just one year left to my end date. But still I was not sad.
My partner and I separated. I was not sad, neither of us were. We still met once per week and laughed about spilt milk. We shared the gift of a beautiful child, and beautiful grandchildren - and until this final year, a beautiful partnership. It’s ok.
In this final year I took my grandchildren swimming with pigs in the Bahamas. I climbed Mt. Doom in New Zealand with Cherry. And I went skinny-dipping in the Maldives. Too old? Who cares! I don’t worry over bagatelles.
And when there was just one month to go, I bought a log cabin in the Pine Forest with all the money I had left. I wanted my family always have a holiday destination they could share. To remember me. But mostly, to enjoy their lives.
And this is where I must leave you, for tomorrow I’ll be gone.
I rarely wondered if I would have lived my life differently, if I didn’t have that dream, my gift - if I’d have experienced all these wonderful things? From that day to this, I have had a thousand gifts and not one of them I regret. A person can waste a life yearning for everything they haven’t got, I chose not to. I look forward as I face my end date. I am content.
Do not pity me. Do not cry for me. But laugh for my life, smile at my memories. For I am somewhere, sitting in garden with my father eating baked yams. Because life is beautiful, and if you want to live well, look around at the one you’re living.
This is my gift to you.