“White is a fitting colour for death,” Mother used to say. She’d say it when she heard about deaths, and at funerals. Then all of a sudden, when she suddenly fell ill, I never heard those words from her mouth ever again. Perhaps, she had realised that the next time the phrase would be said, she wouldn’t be alive to hear it. So when she looked me in the eye that day, and repeated those cold, hard words, I shivered. Her words echoed around the bare hospital ward, refusing to fade away to nothingness until Mama then began coughing, a loud, raking cough, painful to hear. I stood up to fetch Mother a cup of water, while Tony stood in the corner, staring at the floor, his eyes bloodshot.
Visiting Mother was not always like this. When her illness was still a young parasite, not yet skilled in the art of draining life, I would sit on the edge of bed by her every day after school and we would talk. We would talk about how I had grown a bit taller since she left us in the care of our aunt, so she could come to the hospital. She would mention how my assignments were getting harder every week as she sat up and helped me through them. And when she got too ill to sit up and read, she lay down, smiling, our fingers intertwined as we held hands, and she’d ask me about Aunt Lilly and how she was faring. Then she’d say that soon enough she’d get better, leave the hospital, and take us back home to take care of us. And I’d look in her eyes and tell that I believed her, that it was all going to be okay.
Then time, natures’ cruel and heartless exterminator, drew closer, and it became harder to look into Mother’s eyes and lie. Much of our visiting time in the ward would be spent listening to her frequent coughing puncture the still, soundless atmosphere of the ward. I stopped trying to talk to her, because almost everything she did seemed to cause her pain. Tony would stand in his corner, still and distant until it was time to go, then he’d leave, never saying anything to Mother. Then one day, a week after she had made that comment about the colour white, we came to ward to meet a clean, white sheet covering her from head to toe, separating us from our Mother. A clean, white sheet that separated the living from the dead.
Perhaps it was the fact that I had foreseen her death, like I already knew Time was coming with his scythe, or perhaps it was the fact that I had grown too distant from her, but when the doctor, his mouth full of apologies, broke the news to us, I did not cry. Watching them wheel Mother away to take her to the Mortuary, I still did not cry. When Tony guided me, his arm around my shoulder, to Aunty Lilly in the reception, I still did not cry. But it was something about sitting in the rear seat of Aunt Lilly’s Corolla, watching Lagos throb with activity that forced cold tears to flow down my cheeks.