She came to the hospital a broken-spirited girl; the tumour in her brain neared its expiry date. She spoke to no one, not even the doctors that tried to help her. Everyone said she had given up. But not me. I was the first one she spoke to, they say. Strange though, that the first person she’d spoken to was a hospital janitor, well past his retirement age, who worked in Intensive Care Unit. I remember the night clearly.
I was mopping the floor of her room late in the night when I heard her shift in bed. The poor thing; she was the most beautiful helpless girl I had ever seen. She was watching me mop the floor. Her eyes, they still haunt me now. In them was desolation. But that desolation seemed to be countered by the vestiges of cheerfulness and energy. She had been a very happy person before all this, it looked like. I grunted in her direction, as a way of apologizing for waking her up. Dragging the mop trolley, I attempted to make my exit. I didn’t want to be in the same room with a dying person. That didn’t give me much hope, seeing as I was quite advanced in years.
“Do you know what it’s like to be dying?”
The question was asked so innocently, it wrenched my heart to realize that it came from none other than a sixteen year old girl.
“I’ve known that feeling since I turned 65,” I reply, in a gruff voice. I can’t handle being in the room. I’ve worked long enough at the hospital to know not to talk to dying patients. It made their deaths just routine, and never to be taken personally. I try to leave again. My fingers are on the door handle when she speaks again.
“I’m dying,” she states simply. My grip on the door handle slackens a bit.
“We all are,” I say, “from the time we were born.” I mean only to be frank.
“Do you mind sitting with me? I can’t sleep,” she says. Who invites a complete stranger to sit by them? Silly girl. I don’t have many more rooms to mop, so I find myself shuffling over to the vacant chair by her bed.
“Thank you,” she whispers. I shrug. Then we lapse into a little silence, and all that is heard for a minute is the beeping of the life support machine.
“So… aren’t you going to tell me your name?” I ask her, simply for the sake of conversation. She relaxes on the pillow propped up behind her. She looks at me shyly.
“Tell me yours first.”
“Fair enough. I’m Thomas, but you can call me Oluu. Everyone calls me that.” She smiles at that.
“I’m Christabel,” she offers. She gives no surname, but I’m not bothered for I didn’t give mine either.
“Nice name,” I compliment her. Then she asks a question, and it leads to another then another till I find myself having the kind of conversation I’ve not had ever since my daughter married and moved out of my house ten years ago. We talk for a while, until I hear her say she sings for her church choir. Sang, I guess.
“Well, let me hear you sing then?” I ask. She keeps quiet for some time, as if she didn’t hear me. Then just when I think she’s finally drifted off to sleep, she launches into a song so beautifully that it takes a while for me to realize I’ve stopped breathing. As she sings, it’s almost as if Death, who was in the room with us, was shrinking away to the depths from whence He came. I found myself thinking of beautiful things I hadn’t thought of in years. My late wife’s musical snoring at night; the time I made enough money to buy my first car…Emotions flooded my heart. A single tear strain, or perhaps two, slid down my cheek. She was singing a hymn.
“…whatever my lot, you have taught me to say… It is well … it is well …with my soul.”
I wipe off my tears with the back of my hand as she’s about ending.
“That was beautiful,” I tell her. But she doesn’t respond. Maybe she’s gone back to her sleep. The life support machine by her side has not gone off, so I’m not worried. I get up from the chair, leaving it vacant once again, and grab my mop stick. More work to be done.
“It’s Marie,” she whispers aloud, “my real name is Marie.”
“And I’m still Oluu,” I say with a smile. Then, I leave.
That was a week ago. Now I stand over her freshly dug grave in my best suit, which isn’t much. I occasionally dab at the tears rolling down my cheek. The funeral is long over. I can’t find appropriate words to say.
“It was nice to hear you sing,” I mutter.
That should be good enough. I turn to walk away, on my way to work. Someone has to mop the corridors where Death often treads. But my mind goes back to Marie, and I say a quiet prayer for her.