|For The Love Of Sarah
Samuel Ngomba Njumbe
2007 by Samuel Ngomba Njumbe
He had hardly known that kind of happiness until he met her that fateful day in July. It had been a raining all day. He was sitting in the reception of the District Hospital. The bad news of his mother death had knocked him off balance. He’d wept bitterly when he arrived at the hospital. He’d come out to sit outside to compose himself. The veranda was rather too short and allowed the wind-blown rain to wet the immobile cement chair but he didn’t even notice the moisture. His mind was elsewhere: thousands of miles away. It had departed from him to wander, seeking solace like often in his life. He wondered at his misfortunes. He had hardly ever known any happiness except with these two. They had been his best friends. After his father died a few months earlier, he’d found comfort in his mother’s presence. Now they were both gone and his life had become a bigger nightmare.
From birth he had been doomed for a difficult life. His mother had been in labour for more than sixty-three hours. It had taken a caesarian to liberate her from her torment. It had almost taken her life. The reason for this difficult delivery had been established when the child emerged. His parents had been dismayed when the doctor explained that their baby’s bone structure had not developed properly. He’d walk but not as upright as you and I. It turned out his physical handicap was significant but his parents didn’t love him any less.
Mat’s growth was slow, probably due to the numerous surgeries he underwent. Mr. and Mrs. Tama had spared no effort or money to give him the best life they could. Despite their efforts Mat still had a lot of difficulty with the bustle of the quotidian. By the time he completed his primary education he’d realized that he repelled people. He’d found it hard to make friends at school. And some of the few who became his friends had different motivations, ranging from pity to the need to prove they had sympathy for the handicapped. Mat had noticed it all but had accepted it without complaining. Thus was his fate and there was nothing he could do about it. He had his parents. Besides, he had managed to make a friend or two.
He was still lost in thought when he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was a nurse. She had been observing him for over a minute before making up her mind to walk over to talk with him. She was pretty; not the kind you’d describe as beautiful. Her eyes were widely set apart over voluptuous lips that had been spared the usual overdose of cheap lipstick most young adults indulged smeared their faces with. She smiled at him. He tried to return the smile but all he could manage was a grimace. She had noticed him come and go she said and she was sorry about his mother. He said thank you. Without warning she sat next to him. He was happy for the company. They made some insignificant small talk then she excused herself and went back to work.
He didn’t see her again until the day of the funeral. A week had passed. At first he didn’t recognize her but it came back quickly. She stayed till late in the evening, chatting away with him. Her name was Sarah she said. He was grateful she came, he told her. The days that followed the funeral were difficult ones. He’d locked himself up in his room and cried everyday. A week later Sarah had come to see him. He’d been sitting in the living room staring at the screen but seeing nothing when the knock came on the door. He’d called out to admit the visitor. He was pleasantly surprised to see who it was. Sarah stayed three hours and came back two days later. Mat began to feel lightheaded. Her presence was like some kind of elixir. Her attention was flattering even though he knew it was just for a little while. He refused to let himself feel comfortable or contemplate anything. He’d made such mistakes in the past and the result had been devastating. Besides, this kind of attention was foreign to him. In his whole life he had loved two girls. One he had not had the courage to tell and the other had laughed at him in the face. His love declaration had been taken for the greatest joke of the year. It had spread all around the school like wild fire. The girls had giggled every time he passed by. He’d sworn never to try again. Sarah was a pretty girl and pretty girls never got interested in him. The truth is no girls got interested in him and even if any did it wasn’t for the reason he’d have loved. He was a nice person and they just wanted to be good friends with him and nothing else. What they really meant was that he was a harmless guy. No one took him seriously.
But Sarah was different. It took a while for him to admit it but the signs had been there. She didn’t stop coming as he’d thought. A month after her first visit she cooked him a nice meal and brought it to his house. Mat could hardly comprehend her attention but he didn’t try to fight it either. One evening she cooked dinner. They had shared the sumptuous chicken stew and rice. For dessert she’d come up to him and kissed him. It had been so unexpected it sent him reeling. He didn’t stop reeling from it until a few months after when he became his wife. The dark clouds that had cast an ominous blanket over his life had suddenly lifted like a dark cloud is pushed aside by a strong wind. His nightmare suddenly turned into a sweet dream and he prayed never to wake up from slumber. Every passing day was like a dream. He kept telling himself he didn’t deserve Sarah. He was just content with making her happy. She had become his companion, his lover and his best friend. They shared everything. Most evenings they stayed indoors; talking, making love and talking more. His apprehensions had been tremendous when he’d have to undress in front of her. He had felt awkward and embarrassed to let her see his deformity. He didn’t want to scare her but she had helped him shed his fears. If she had been shocked she hadn’t shown it. When they went out for dinner in a restaurant she wasn’t embarrassed either. She stared back at anyone whose gaze questioned her. She made him feel alive.
Everything would have been sweet if she had had her parents’ support. The Ndembas were bitter about their daughter’s choice of a husband. Marcus had not attended their wedding. His wife, Maggie had made the effort but her countenance and utterances had been worthy of a funeral knell. What did he daughter see in that monster? They looked like a remake version of beauty and the beast. Marcus had even gone a step beyond sense and accused Mat of occultism. No woman in her sane mind would fall in love with him, he’d proclaimed. Sarah was disturbed by their antipathy but she pleaded with him to ignore them. “They are all a bunch of hypocrites.” Mat wasn’t happy about the situation. Nonetheless, though he’d hoped for acceptance a small voice inside him had warned him to expect the worst.
A year after their wedding they were still going strong. She had kept her job at the hospital and his secretarial business was just fine. He was beginning to think fate had finally opened its door for him definitely when it happened. They had been in a bus to the capital. Sarah was exhausted. Work had been very strenuous. She had dozed off on his shoulder as soon as they hit the road. Mat stayed awake, daydreaming and counting his blessings. It happened so fast he didn’t even have time to blink. The trailer, the gigantic logs of wood, the sound of tires screeching, the screams of terrified passengers, the sound of metal grating metal and the deadly plunge down the slight slope. Sarah had been flung from her seat with the force of a tsunami. He saw the sky briefly, then he felt a slight movement on his left, then blackness encompassed him.
When he came to, he was lying on a hospital bed. He tried to wake up but the nurses restrained him. He was disoriented. The doctor explained he’d been in an accident. He was very lucky to be alive. His injuries were minor but he had to stay under observation for at least twenty-four hours. What about my lady friend he asked. The doctor told him not to worry. You need some rest. When you awake we’ll take you to her. He drifted to sleep with the certitude that everything was alright.
The next morning the doctor declared him fit to go home. Mat wasn’t worried for himself. He wanted badly to see Sarah. Doctor Carlson took him into his office and announced the most disturbing news. His life had come to a standstill. Sarah wasn’t dead but she had received a violent shock on the head. She had three broken ribs and a perforated lung. Her spinal cord too was affected. She’d lost her right arm, the doctor said, but what we are most worried about is the damage her brain has sustained. Even if she ever comes out of the coma, which is rather unlikely I must confess, there are chances she’ll suffer from permanent loss of memory and other complications ranging from the lose of her sight and other vital senses.
Mat was devastated. He broke down a cried like a baby. Doctor Carlson put a hand on his shoulder until he was drained. He was led into Sarah ward and there he broke down again. When he composed himself he noted the gravity of his wife’s injuries. Sarah’s condition was bad. In fact it was terrifying but he refused to contemplate the impossibility of recovery. He told the doctor so. Doctor Carlson felt sorry for him. It would probably take the second coming of the Lord for young woman to come out of her deep sleep.
Sarah’s parents arrived a few hours after dawn. They didn’t even give Mat the time to explain. Marcus ranted and cursed and called him names that could have frightened the ogre. He had killed her daughter and he was going to shoulder the responsibility. His tears had not helped matters. Marcus stormed out thirty minutes later. His wife stayed on his rear. Mat watched their receding forms and felt utterly dejected.
As Doctor Carlson had predicted the days turned to weeks and months with the only sign of life from Sarah being the almost unnoticeable heaving of her thorax. Her respiration depended completely on the ventilator that was turned on 24/24. Any interruption meant eminent death. Doctor Carlson watched the young man come and go. He’d come in around 4pm and sit by her bed till late, staring at her ashen face as if by some miracle her eyes would fly open and everything would return to normal. Oftentimes he’d surprised him crying and soliloquizing. He’d put a supportive hand on his shoulders and bid him to be strong.
Six months went by. Sarah’s parents had almost stopped visiting. They only came around once a while or so, probably to verify if he had finally come to his senses. Marcus had made it clear he didn’t see the need for subjected the poor girl to that hideous machine that made his daughter breathe like an elephant. Wasn’t it apparent to all she wasn’t coming back? Her face had become so white he found it had to believe it was his own little girl lying there. He’d dropped a hint on several occasions about letting her go but Mat had pretended not to comprehend. He had a vague knowledge of euthanasia. He’d never given it a thought lest contemplate it. There was no way he would intentional end another human being’s life either by act or omission for his or her alleged benefit. Not to mention Sarah’s. There was no life for him without Sarah. Besides, who said she wasn’t coming back? She was a fighter and she knew he would be there for her when she came around. It didn’t matter if she didn’t remember anything. It didn’t matter if she was blind or dumb or maimed, he still loved her unconditionally and would be there for her always.
On the night of her birthday Mat had spent the whole day at the hospital whispering loving words to his wife. He’d told her how much he missed her and how much he wished she’d come back to him. His life was useless without her he wanted her to know that. James, his childhood friend came over to his house to talk with him. He was the only one who had really stood by him all through the ordeal. James shared his aversion for ‘letting someone go’ but that evening he had something else on his mind. Mat had been shocked but had made an effort to listen through. After Mat left he sat on his bed and thought all night.
It was the beginning of the eleventh month. It was evening. It had rained all day. It was wet and chilly. Mat stepped out into the biting cold. He managed to pull up the collar of his jacket over his ears and hit the wet sidewalk. The street deserted, bathed in a pale yellowish light from the few surviving street lamps. Recently, the mayor had promised a prison term to any vandal who was caught tampering with the street lamps. Till it happened, he thought without mirth. He didn’t dwell on the community’s predicament. His mind was quite full. After almost two months of reflection he had finally made up his mind. Sarah was too good a woman not to have in his life. There was no way he could ever live without her. Just the knowledge of her alive and breathing was enough to give him hope and make him feel alive. It was frustrating not to be able to talk with her and share his life with her as they did before but it was better than nothing.
He crossed the threshold of the hospital. At that hour the hospital was deserted. Visiting ended at 8pm. Apart from the nurses on night duty very few other people could be seen at that hour. There was no one in the hall. Mat went straight to Sarah ward. He eased himself inside and sat by her bed. She had not moved an inch from where he last left her. She had not moved an inch since the day of the accident. He had been appalled by the gravity of her bedsores. With the passing of time the sores had worsened. He closed his eyes and fought back the tears.
With a shaky hand he scooped up her cold lifeless hand. ‘Hey,’ he began in a whisper as if he was afraid to disturb her. ‘Did I ever tell you meeting you is the best thing that ever happened in my life? I have known so much happiness you can’t even begin to imagine. And frankly I still ask myself what I’d done to merit it. You’ve been more than just a wife to me. You are a sister, a mother and above all my best friend. These past few months have been a complete torture for me. Seeing you in this position and being helpless is killing me but the thought of you being gone is unbearable. But looking at you right now I feel like I have been selfish. I feel like I have always put myself first and never bothered to imagine what you could be going through. It’s not my place to play God but I love you and can’t stand to see you like this anymore. Forgive me my love but I am sure it’s what you would have wanted me to do.
‘I will always love you Sarah. I will always have a special place for you in my heart. I will look out for you in every beautiful sunrise and sunset. In every beautiful song I will hear your voice and remember your love.’
His hand shook badly as he placed it on the plug of the respirator. His eyes clouded and for a brief moment he was convinced he had lost his mind. With subhuman effort he braced himself, took one long look at her face and with a desperate sigh pulled it out. Her breathing stopped instantly and she was gone forever. There was no turning back. His back stooped, he closed the door behind him and walked the cold night.
Sarah was buried a week after. Her funeral was a quiet one. Mat didn’t shed a tear. The guilt of his act still lay upon his shoulders and he wasn’t sure it would ever go away. He had tried several times to convince himself he had done it for the love of Sarah, that it was a proof of love but he couldn’t drive away the feeling that maybe she would have come around after all. Maybe it would have happened the next day. Did Sarah hate him for doing what he did? Had he tried to stop him? He would never know. But what he knew was that his life would never be the same. Maybe for the love of Sarah he should have let her live instead, even under the impulsion of the hideous life-supporting machines.
Mat went home after and wept. He never stopped weeping. He never would.
Samuel lives and writes in Cameroon, Africa.
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Another story by Samuel, The Prize of Disobedience