I have been watching the East for close to thirty minutes, the sun is peeking shyly from behind a black cloud, a nimbus perhaps. The wind whistles as it blows softly, pushing the black clouds towards the west. Today might be sun-less, I can tell because of all the clouds that are slowly gathering in the west. They are black and are hanging close to the earth. It might rain, hard.
It is six twenty three in the morning, eight minutes since she fell asleep. I glance at her once and catch the rise and fall of her chest, her open mouth, and her small hands resting on her equally small chest. She is covered in thin hospital linen from mid chest down to her feet. Her hair is growing back, but she remains a ghost of her former self, her cheek bones are so prominent you would think she has no muscle below her dry skin. Gone is the obscenely large woman who was my mother.
The relative quiet of the morning is slowly fading. Someone is pulling a trolley on the corridor. An old man is coercing his old wife to sit up and eat. Two beds away from my mother’s, a lady is sobbing quietly. The mortuary attendants have just left with her mother’s body and the nurses are remaking the bed for another patient. It is not fair that life continues even after the body of your mother has been wheeled to the cold-room. I glance at my mother and sigh. It is possible to imagine my life without her.
I yawn for the thousandth time, she stirs but continues sleeping. As I turn my head back to the window, my eyes land on the food container besides the bed. It is open, there is a spoon inside it and tiny black ants lining towards and away from it. I forgot to eat, again. I make a mental note to pour the food before the nurses do their round. Today of all days, I don’t want to be lectured about making an already stinking ward stinkier and attracting disease vectors.
Minutes later, I am jerked to attention by the cleaner. The mean lady is standing right in-front of me. She will not believe that I didn’t hear her announcing that care-takers should remove all baggage from under the beds and step out. I have not emptied the two basins under mother’s bed. It is what I do every—day I wake up except I haven’t slept for the past forty hours. I utter my not-so-sincere apologies and make a bee-hive to under the bed. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Some-how the basin slips. It is my hands. I didn’t realize I was so weak! The urine spreads under my other’s bed and three others. The mean lady in blue coveralls and white boots throws the broom at me. Well, that is how I find myself cleaning the entire ward one as a punishment to me for being sleepy at seven in the morning even though I have not slept a wink for forty plus hours two, for the pleasure of the lady in blue coveralls, white boots, blue face mask, and three to remind me that I am a care-giver and care-givers should empty urine basins as promptly as is possible, and four just to make sure the other care-givers are seeing; that way, they will revere her.
Just when I think life can’t get any nastier, my phone rings. It is James, my twelve year old son. I press the receive button and listen. It has been two days since they last saw their father (I wonder if his alcohol problem has worsened or was he always like this before my mother became sick?), they are tired of sugarless tea and boiled food. The shopkeeper who was giving them stuff on credit is finally tired and is taking no more risks as far as they are concerned.
Perhaps I should call my brother and see what he can do. But he has been trying, visiting every day, buying the drugs and now he is looking for ten thousand that might be needed for surgery if the doctors confirm that she has metastasis to the left breast. It is spectacularly exhausting this cancer business. Three years ago we went through this exact headache, surgery, chemotherapy, counseling and follow-up. We are back. I wonder if my employer will give me my job back if by a miracle we make it out alive this time. I wonder if I will be the same woman when all this passes. I have had to cut my hair because hospitals are no salons. I shower two times a week because it is so exhausting climbing stairs with a basin of water and no one would notice even if you stink anyway. My clothes no longer fit (I perpetually forget to feed) and I have this perennial fear of dying of breast cancer, I have been scared ever since the doctor asked me to do a mammogram just to be sure.