A routine check was all it was supposed to be. A simple trip to the gynecologist, which she had done every month for the last 6 years. She checked her watch impatiently. Lunch hour was almost up. What was taking so long?!
It didn’t help that she was still in one of those embarrassing hospital gowns that left you feeling more exposed than covered. And what was with the AC being cranked up so high?! She rubbed the goose-pimpled flesh on her forearms. When she’d mentioned it earlier to Jackie,the nurse, she’d said, “You know hospitals ; we don’t want you getting too comfortable”.
On anyone else’s lips, the comment would have inspired a shared moment of mirth, but from Jackie’s too-thin lips (that more often than not were were pursed in a scowl) it came off as snide. Cara could have sworn there was an evil glint in her eye as she said the words.
Thank God Dr. Karimi walked in when she did or else Cara, against her better judgment, would have told Jackie what she had wanted to say for months.
“Karimi! Finally! I was really beginning to worry. Does everything check out? Can I go now? “
She stood up making her way behind the curtain to change into her clothes.
Karimi stood silent for a moment. She asked Jackie to give them a minute. Though she threw a puzzled look at the doctor, she complied. Karimi hated this part of her job. Cara appeared fully clothed in her official grey garb.
” I need to tell you something. You should probably sit down.”
Thinking back on that day, Cara conceded that had she been paying attention, she would have noticed how Karimi couldn’t look her in the eye at first and how her mascara was smudged under her eye.
Karimi took a chair by the corner and sat in front of her childhood friend. She cleared her throat before saying the words that would change Cara’s life forever.
Silence prevailed after she was done.
Cara’s foot no longer tapped impatiently. She didn’t glance at her watch even though she was already 20 minutes late to work. Karimi reached out and took Cara’s limp hand in hers.
Cara blinked back the tears.
Karimi nodded wordlessly.
They sat there, neither of them conscious of time. Karimi,swiping away profusely at the tears trickling down her face. Cara, staring unseeing through the flood of tears in her eyes.
“It’s not the end, ” Karimi broke the silence, ” there’s chemotherapy, there’s radiotherapy .. We can fight this!” Her voice was full of conviction but they both knew that the numbers were against them. Nevertheless, Cara nodded.
“I should go.”
Her voice was soft and husky. She reached for her handbag blindly, slinging the strap over her shoulder.
” Go home. But I need to see you next week. We have a lot to talk about. We can fight this.”
Karimi stood first and pulled Cara in for a hug. She held her in a crushing embrace. Cara felt the first tear slide down her cheek.
Cara remembered calling Akinyi at the office to tell her she wasn’t feeling very well and wouldn’t be coming in. She had no recollection of how she got home but the car was parked outside, so she must have driven. The house was quiet, which she hated. Had it been any other day,she would have turned up the radio just to fill the silence. But not today.
She walked past her tastefully decorated living room and went straight to her bedroom. She kicked her shoes off and still clad in her grey suit, white silk shirt and stockings, she slipped into bed. She didn’t know when she started crying but the next few days passed between a haze of sleep filled with vivid dreams and consciousness, when the tears came.
She had thought she had forever, that life was still ahead. She was dying. How could she die when she had barely done any living?!
You can’t kill something that was never alive to begin with. She told God. She couldn’t remember the last time she had prayed, but in those days, she spoke to Him more than she had in her entire life. She swung between anger at Him and begging Him for mercy.
Other times it just felt like one bad dream.
One morning, after she had decided she would lie in bed for her remaining days until death consumed her, she heard it. Soft and still, the words crept up on her.
“27 years you have not lived because you thought there was still tomorrow . What of now that mortality stares you in the eyeball? “
She lay there for a while before pushing herself off the bed. She found her phone on a seat beside her bag where she’d flung them. Karimi had a big mouth! She’d obviously called her friends and family; the number of people who’d left messages evidenced that. She wasn’t ready to face them yet.
After a scalding hot shower, she dressed casually in her sweats and headed to town. There was something she had been meaning to do for a long time and now, there was no reason not to. The salon wasn’t busy and Fiona, her regular hairdresser got to her much faster than usual.
“The usual? ” Fiona asked her through the mirror.
Putting her hand to her precious shoulder-length hair that was her pride and joy, she said, “No. Cut it off. All of it.”