A Christmas sunset.
The man tried to sit up in bed so he could look at the clock but every movement he made caused immense pain especially in his back. He knew he would receive no visitors today. Even the nurses who were on duty were just partly there; their minds with their families and loved ones, their mouths watering with the thought of the special jollof rice and chicken that awaited them at home as soon as they finished their shift. They barely saw him. All other patients who were not too sick had gone home on parole. Some patients had been discharged early. Nobody had even wished him a merry Christmas. It was a day that people spent with their loved ones. At present, loved ones for him didn’t exist.
He knew he was getting what he had justly deserved. At forty-five, he was the stereotype irresponsible father and husband. He kept late nights and neglected his wife and children. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. The books he had read called it a mid-life crisis. He just wondered why he could have been so stupid. He had a steaming affair with his secretary. The girl was not only luscious but smart. She became pregnant for him. In retrospect, he realized that she wanted to trap him. He tried to get her to terminate it, but she was adamant. She threatened to tell his wife of sixteen years, who had stood by him and cheered him on and watched him become one of the top executives in his company. He had a 12 year old daughter; he had two sons, age 10 and 8. He didn’t want another child. He couldn’t marry her either. Sheila refused to see reason with him, threatened to expose him to his bosses except he gave her hush up money. Sheila asked him for three million naira and even though his assets were far more than that, he couldn’t cough up the money within the time frame Sheila gave him. So he did what he thought was smart. He moved some money around in the company and gave it to her; certain he would be able to pay it off before it was noticed. She submitted her resignation letter the next day.
He was relieved that he had got out of a potentially bad scrape. He quietly resolved to be a better husband and father and bought his wife some expensive jewellery. Unexpectedly, about two weeks after her departure, there was a company audit and it was discovered that some funds had been misappropriated. It didn’t take them three days to find who was responsible. He had packed up his things and left quietly. His wife tried to comfort him those first few days, under the delusion that he had been framed. But a week later, she received a letter in the mail. It was from Sheila. She packed her things and took her children with her and sent him divorce papers the following month.
He had been so depressed. He was lonely; he missed his family and despite all his pleas and lobbying, no one wanted to do him any favors. He couldn’t get a job and was forced to start selling his assets for his upkeep. One night, he decided to end it all. After he had downed some bottles of beer, he took his one remaining car, an aging Mercedes and drove heedlessly into incoming traffic on the third mainland bridge. When he came to, he was in the hospital in excruciating pain. The doctors didn’t have to tell him he wouldn’t walk again. He already knew.
He had spent nearly three months in the hospital with no visitors. He had received a terse phone call from his ex-wife and that had been it. His siblings and other relatives lived too far away. Besides, when he had been more financially buoyant, he had been mean to them. Now, it was Christmas. He remembered the Enid Blyton stories he used to read as a child. The bad child never got any presents. He smiled ruefully to himself. He couldn’t expect any holiday cheer. Santa could have no gifts for him. He had been horrible.
His major problem now was the pain. His doctors were a little puzzled as to what was causing it. He was quadriplegic and they did not expect him to feel much pain. But he did. Some of them called it neuropathic pain, others thought it was psychogenic. Whatever it was, it was excruciating. He lived on morphine but even then the dose they allowed him made the pain only a little less tolerable. He only got relief from the drug induced sleep he got at night. He felt he knew what the doctors didn’t. It was ‘karma’, God’s way of punishing him for his sins.
On this dreary Christmas day, about three beds away from his, there was one other patient in the male ward. An old man with lung cancer, the doctors said. The man coughed intermittently and hummed Christmas songs tunelessly. He moved his head to stare at the eighty-something year old man. The man caught his eye and gave him a withered smile. He turned away and lay on his back, ignoring him. He closed his eyes and tried to will himself to sleep, so he could forget the pain that was not just in his back but the throbbing ache in his heart.
He realized Santa had given him the gift of a fitful sleep when he was suddenly roused by the sound of a little girl’s chatter. “Mummy, mummy, let’s go and see grandpa now!” she said tugging at her mother’s sleeve as they entered the ward. “See grandpa, he’s over there,” she said pointing to the old man’s bed. The little girl, a chubby child of about five or six, let go of her hand and ran happily to her grandfather who used the last vestiges of his strength to put his arms around her. The mother gave him a curt good evening and hurried over to where her daughter was. The man welcomed her with a smile too. The mother and daughter were attentive to the old man, fluffing his pillows, feeding him, hushing him when it was clear that he was too weak to talk. In spite of himself, he watched them and felt a sense of nostalgia.
“Mummy, I’m hungry,” the girl suddenly blurted out.
“Not now dear, wait till you get home.”
The grandfather smiled at his girl and reached under his pillow. “I have something for you my dear,” he said and produced two lollipops. The girl lit up with delight. “Thank you grandpa,” she said and put her arms around him. Then she unwrapped one of the lollipops and placed it in her mouth, sucking happily. Suddenly she turned and looked at him and though he didn’t know why, his breath caught. She climbed down from her grandfather’s bed and skipped towards his bed.
“I just want to tell you merry Christmas,” she said simply as she handed out the second lollipop to him. He could feel his eyes filling as he accepted the lollipop from her and patted her head. Never had he appreciated a gift more. He had always taken for granted the ones his wife and children gave him.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered and smiled as the sun’s dying rays filled the hospital ward.
P.S: It’s the holiday season and we must remember that some people may be lonely this Christmas. Some might be alone due to no fault of their own, others might have alienated themselves from those dear to them. Whatever the case, remember everyone deserves some Christmas cheer.