“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Musings upon last words are morbid at best but at 1am practically everything is. The thought that we might ever die is something that looks far away, almost impossible even. The idea of nonexistence, too painful to bear, is pushed to the back of our minds behind other more pressing thoughts. Does she feel the same way, will she ever? Will they laugh at me if I say this? If I say no, they’ll be angry, maybe I should just…

But when the end comes, what will it be like, our lives? How will they appear when finally in retrospect and we can fully view them for what they really are: a beautiful, while chaotic mess. In the morning, before the sun is out, I think I’m just going to day(?) dream a little and think about my own final sayings in different lives.

Best to be prepared.

***

My bones are weak, and like me they make strained groans as my mound of a body moves from point to the other, a feat that to me, at ninety-five, deserves at least a gold medal for fortitude and determination. I slump into my ragged chair, as the whole world rocks before my eyes, which, now that I think about it, I should’ve replaced when the upgrades were still cheap. Now, though, they cost a literal arm and leg, and I like mine too much, they look good. And who needs eyes, anyway?

I’m staring through the window next to me as the light litters through the window, murmuring and muttering to myself, staring at all the young people living active lives as they go on their little walks, so unaware of the pain that comes with this life as time goes on, as we stretch on this mortal coil. My whole being is tired, the end is slowly approaching my walking breathing corpse and as it comes, I feel it, but more than that, I welcome it.

I’ve lived alone for as long as I can remember, I gave up on companionship a long time ago and cut ties with my family. None of them understood, not one of them. But maybe I never gave them the chance to but no, it’s in the past, past and gone. My hands shake sporadically and I breathe slowly, trying to calm them down. It happens sometimes. I’m weighed down not just by my own body but by my words and feelings left unsaid and unfelt.

I loved them, the people I left behind. Or rather, that’s what I tell myself, to console my fragile heart and mind when the darkness of the night becomes too bleak. I tell myself that, in the end, it was better for everyone if I stayed away, if I was on my own, living my own way. They would have only slowed me down and I, them. But on some nights, I remember her eyes, her soft voice and the way her whole life radiated hope and a better future for me, for us. And like a blink, the image of her bright face is gone and I am left alone, in the dark.

Again.

Alone.

That word meant power to me for a very long time. Maybe longer than it should have. I got more work done that I ever would have without children and their pesky responsibilities or the problem of that thing called love. But without people to share it with, what really does success mean?

What is a home without people you care for?

A life without love, a human being without hope?

They will find my body in the morning, the maids or some such others. I wonder how I will be remembered, I laugh at that. Legacy is a funny word when the end is near and you realise, softly, that it is one thing that even you cannot control. And just like that as the truth flashes before me, Death shows her face as I let out a deathly gasp.

“Oh.”

***

Imagine the biggest house, right there in your mind, just do it, imagine it. Now, make it two times bigger. If you could visualise being surrounded by a whole compound full of buildings like that, you would have a sufficient mental image of what my estate looked like. I even had the trees and grass imported from some place off the east coast, I can’t remember anymore.

At parties, remembering is the last thing you want to do, especially at mine. As I walk, my vision doubles, then triples as I sway from side in my bathrobe, two women at my side. I laugh at the crowd, raising my glass of aged champagne as they cheer. For a brief moment, I wonder who they’re cheering for: me or the money. But such distinctions are better left for the morning. The night, however, is for everything else.

I smile and laugh and drink like it’s my last day on Earth. And they all do the same. It may be the cocaine or the litany of other substances but as I look around the multicoloured crowd that now resemble speckles, I realise I don’t know any of these people’s names. I mean, I have definitely seen that black-haired girl here before, but what was her name? Chantelle? Angelica? No, no, that’s my mother’s name.

Wait, is it?

My mind cartwheels as I jump on top of the bar, my glass raised high in the air, “To life!” I shout and get a resounding cheer in return. I should’ve seen the spilled drink on the counter, but that stupid man Charles, stupid, stupid man should have cleaned it off. At eighty, he complains and groans all day about health insurance but somehow still finds it hard to clean drinks spills on my counter?

“Bloody hell!” I shout as I slip, the floor rising to meet me, my head twisting at an awkward angle as my body hits the ground and as my vision fades into nothingness, I see, faintly, the glass I was holding, the champagne flowing freely on the ground and the people whose names I cannot remember, dancing, unperturbed.

***

The monitor hooked up to me makes that ominous beep beep sound as my weak heart pumps blood sluggishly around my body. But I don’t need it. I don’t need any more of this scientific nonsense, any more professionals, any more family members. I don’t need any of them to tell me the painfully obvious: I am dying and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Through the thick windows of the ward, I hear, if I strain my ears a little, the soft chirp of a bird that keeps me company at night, when all are asleep and I am left awake, staring at the ceiling, aimlessly. I’ve named the bird Jimmy. Jimmy is nice, I like him.

I’d always envied the animals and how they went about their day with a single-minded resolution, a kind of inner compass driving them through the day. Even the tiniest ant seemed to know what it was doing, scurrying around, performing its own tasks, fulfilling its purpose.

But what about me? What was my purpose?

I purse my lips bitterly as my eyes water, what was it? What was I created for? What drove me through my life? What did I make a difference in? Why, oh Lord, why was I born?

I remember the smile on his face as he shook my hand, his firm hand gripping mine. I had graduated from Covenant with a 2:1 in Chemical Engineering, I was off to do my masters wherever I wanted, he told me.

“I told you that you should drop that your writing and painting nonsense, and see, didn’t it work out?” He said, still smiling. his hand on my shoulder.

I had looked emptily at the piece of paper I now held in my hand, my degree, what I had suffered for 5 long years for. I had given up my time, my dreams for this, to make him happy. His acceptance, his congratulations, what I had craved for so long, it felt nice at the time but why did I do that? Why did I give up what I loved? I was good at them, I was so sure I was.

I had planned to finish my book, then get back into painting. But he had suggested that most of my time should be spent getting a job, his friend had even given me an opportunity to be a managing director in some oil company. I had the credentials for it, and wouldn’t this make more sense than writing a flimsy story that may never even sell? I had a family to take care of, didn’t it make sense?

I took the job.

Night was full of stolen hours writing and the days were spent dreaming on my desk of a world of magic and monsters, a world bustling at my fingertips. But soon after, the world died and I threw away everything about art and writing, these were flimsy things, I needed to focus on my work. I had a family to take care of.

To think that I could ever have become a writer was a silly, foolish childish thought. I was chasing bubbles and my father knew it, he guided me on the right —

No.

I loved it, oh God, I loved it.

What I wouldn’t give now to write one more sentence. That world, even if it didn’t sell, it would’ve been my work, my words.

My decision.

I reach for the bedside table, the pen and paper easily within my reach, my fingers stretch to meet it. I just want to write a sentence, just one sentence from that book. I remember it now, the opening lines, I see them now. But as I feel my fingers close around the pen, a sharp pain flares in my chest.

The monitors are bleeping now, faster, my vision shakes and I gasp loudly. My wife rushes to my side. “Honey, Tony, what’s wrong? Doctor! Doctor!” She screams, but it’s far too late for me, my love.

Why did I go down that path, why did I leave what I loved? I was happy, I am so sure I was. The thoughts of the words and the paintings swirl around my head as a tear drops from my eyes.

“My God,” I say, “I don’t know why… I don’t know why.”

But, I knew.

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.

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