Lucy looked out the window of her bedroom. The window overlooked the only park in the small town. At the center was a beautiful lake surrounded by lilies. Ducks and swans waded freely in the water. Grand old trees graced the beautiful landscape and from her window, she could see the top of the municipal council building. Couples held hands and walked around amidst the scorching sun. Those who couldn’t bear the sun sat under the shade in benches that had been erected by the municipal council.
Every afternoon, Lucy, would sit on her bed and watch life drift away slowly. This was her best time to escape the reality that was slowly eating through her each day. She wanted to capture the best memories of life before she drifted to eternal darkness.
Her mother in the other room was on the phone with a relative. Their conversation was almost the same every day, with her every caller asking how she was doing and her mother reassuring them that she was pushing through bravely.
She looked around at the machines in her room that marked the difference between her being alive and her heart-stopping its rhythmic beats which were what she most of the time listened to. She had grown so accustomed to the room that had become a part of her. Most of the time, she stayed with her mother who never left her bedside for even a second except to make meals, run errands for the family and answers calls from concerned friends and relatives.
Her younger brother would always come to her room when he got out of school. Despite the pain, the family was going through seeing their own daughter bedridden with an uncertain future ahead of her, they always found a way of making her smile.
Born in 2006, on a cold July evening, Lucy was the apple of her parent’s eyes. Being the first born child to such a young couple, Joe and Grace could not have been happier. Now eleven short years down the line, that joy had slowly turned to ashes in their mouths.
Lucy took ill when she was just six years old. It was one of those common fevers that children of her age normally got and her parents took her in for a checkup. Unknown to them, their lives would drastically change from that point onwards. Their own daughter would for years fight a losing battle.
No amount of pain could describe what her parents felt at that moment when the mere fever turned to numerous tests at different hospitals. The results would come in several weeks later with the most devastating news any parent would receive. Their precious flower had cancer. Grace was at that moment just a couple of weeks pregnant with Daniel.
All of a sudden life changed and with this change came other changes. Joe would, later on, abandon the family and move in with a small girl who was still in the university. He stopped supporting the family. In his defense, he blamed Grace and her ‘ritualistic’ family for the troubles that had befallen them. Now pregnant and with a daughter fighting the worst disease any child should have to fight, Grace went into depression. It took the intervention of her friends and family to bring her back to her normal self.
She would end up losing her job because she was always in the hospital with her daughter. Their ever jovial Lucy never lost her sparkle, though. She would always play with the other children as she was used to until her heart couldn’t allow her to run around any longer.
The children’s ward at Kenyatta National hospital would turn out to be her new home. At that young age, she was yet to understand why her brother went to school but she remained in the hospital. It was until she grew up that reality set in.
She came to accept the situation, that one day her life would be over. As young as she was, she chose to live her life the best ways she could no matter how short it would turn out to be. She would keep on relapsing every now and then. She could no longer count the number of surgeries she had been through or the painful chemotherapy sessions her little body had to go through.
She listened. Her mother had already hanged up the phone. She could hear soft sobs coming from the other room. She was crying again. She knew after a few minutes she would emerge from the other room and sit beside her, with a big smile on her face as if everything was alright.
Lucy understood her though it broke her heart to see her mother so sad. It was unfortunate that she had to go through this, alone, when someone had promised to be there with her for better or worse.
She thought about her father. It was as if he had disappeared from the face of the earth. Never had he at one point come to see her, leave alone asking how she was doing. She was now at home on hospice care and the man who contributed to bringing her to this world, was out there, somewhere enjoying his life.
The doctors had broken the news to her already distressed mother that there was nothing more they could do. They had requested her to take her home and allow her to live her last days surrounded by family and not hospital walls.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her little brother who came running into the room, holding a picture of their whole family inclusive of their dead – beat dad. Lucy looked at their faces. It had been long since she saw that picture. Her mother had stacked away any photograph that reminded her of the man who abandoned her when she needed him most.
She looked at the picture and then back at her brother who looked lost in thoughts. They had been so happy at that time. The picture was taken during a poem recital Lucy had participated in at school. Though she came in second, it was the proudest moment in her life. She had decided there and then that she would become a poet and publish her own poems when she got older. Her poems would be recited by little children everywhere.
Now that dream seemed to have been lost forever.
Just then their mother came in. With a smile planted on her face and carrying a glass of lemonade which she handed over to Daniel. She then took her usual seat next to the bed. Lucy looked at her brother who was gulping the lemonade as if he had a race to run in the next few minutes. Her eyes then went back to her mother who smiled at her and brushed her hair in between her fingers.
Her heart went out to them. It was true that she was the one who had to bear all that pain, but the look in their eyes told of a deeper kind of pain. She knew that she would also be in the same deplorable state if one of them was lying in that bed.
Her mind raced back to those ten years ago. She remembered how she had been reluctant to recite the poem but her teacher insisted on it. She remembered stepping on the stage and feeling overwhelmed by all those eyes staring at her – waiting for her to give them to make their day.
A few cheers and encouragement here and there rocked the midday air. She stood there, transfixed and unable to say anything. Her teacher at the back of the stage urged her on. She could not do it. She wanted to run away and just disappear in the crisp air. But then her parents came to her mind. She recalled how they had helped her recite that very poem – telling her how she would emerge the best.
She sighed and muttered the first line of the poem and then the second. Before long she had recited the entire first verse. She looked at the crowd cheering her on. She was rocking it.
Verse after verse she went on until the final line.
“And that ladies and gentlemen is how you skin a pig.” The entire hall burst into laughter.
The scene replayed over and over in her head and she couldn’t help but smile.
She raised her flair body as her mother urged her to relax. Even as the jaundice was kicking in and her eyes were yellowing, she managed a smile and then with a deep gulp of air, she took one fine bow to her imaginary audience. She could hear their screams and cheers throughout the room as the light in her eyes faded.
At least she would be remembered as the girl who left a great legacy. A young soul who would have become the greatest poet of all time. They would find the poems she had written, in the diary, she kept under her pillow. And that’s a legacy for a life well lived.
In as much as we may not talk about it, cancer is real and it’s taking away the future of this generation. This story is dedicated to all those young fighters out there. Together we can defeat cancer. Let’s help in funding cancer treatment and research and help a child celebrate their next birthday.
Written by Lillyanne Gathoni