Institutionalized Addicts (A Long Short Story)

Note: I had so much fun writing this story. Special thanks to @OZionn and @Afadjato for giving me constructive advice on its drafts.

Institutionalized Addicts

Francis Jeyne’s death wasn’t a shock because it was unexpected; it was a shock because it was unwanted. And it wasn’t irritating because it wasn’t preventable; it was irritating because it wasn’t prevented.

The ones without power – classmates, hostel mates, friends – had done all that they thought was within their power to keep it from happening, while managing not to think too deeply about the possibility of its occurrence. Death was too serious a matter; too far away from the ordinary lives of teenagers who were just fighting the barest of middle-class battles: passing high school.

The ones with the real power to help Francis – the teachers and other relevant authorities – had brushed it aside as easily as they brushed away all the problems they didn’t immediately want to deal with, for the simple reason that they had their priorities all arranged in a list, and the wellbeing of an at least acceptably passing student was not even near the top of it.

Damon walked into the bedroom and immediately scrunched up his nose in disgust. It stank, both of drugs and body odour, as if Francis had not taken a shower in at least a month. He grimaced, wishing he was wearing something more protective than chalewote, when he accidentally stepped on something unidentifiable, with strange texture – squishy and rubbery, like a mushroom. All the windows were closed, adding to the mustiness. Nobody ever bothered to come and check that everything was in order. Each person who had been delegated this responsibility simply skipped over this door whenever it was time for inspection, as if it was invisible. This wasn’t surprising. In this institution, when problems were too big to handle, people simply dealt with them by ignoring them.

Francis’ books and dirty clothes were strewn all over the room, adding to the already too-powerful stench. He had long since ceased to bother about hiding his illicit practices. There was some strange, powdery substance to be found in various places, on his desk and on the floors, and crumpled up leaves torn from his notebooks in every nook and cranny.

“What the hell, Francis,” complained Damon to the unresponsive body sprawled out on one of the two beds in the room. “You smell worse than a dead rat. I don’t even know what you’ve been inhaling this time.”

That wasn’t a surprise. Francis didn’t tell him anything at all anymore – a fact that sometimes stung Damon, since he and Francis had once been practically joint at the hip. Damon only knew what weed and cocaine looked like, and whatever Francis was on was neither of those. He wondered if even the boy himself was aware of what he was injecting into his bloodstream.

His roommate was knocked out. Since it happened so often, at first, Damon found no cause for alarm. Francis’ routine was to come in, snort and smoke various things, then pass out without warning (and also without showering). Most of the time, Damon couldn’t even stand to be in the room. Now, its functionality was mainly as his wardrobe, and a storeroom for his belongings. He could leave the use of sleeping to Francis, who was, apparently, impervious to the mess that he had created. Quite literally, he lay in the bed that he’d made. Damon himself unofficially lived in his friends’ rooms for the time being. None of the authorities had as yet complained. Their selective blindness was noteworthy.

Damon and all other friends involved, had tried especially hard to rid Francis of his horrible habits – except to go to the extent of spilling the beans to faculty members. That was the one thing they couldn’t do: snitch. Why should they jeopardize his future that way? It was one thing to advise your friend against destroying himself; it was another thing entirely to destroy him by reporting him, under the guise of helping. They were caged in by the lack of choices. This was the trap. Snitching could never be considered helping. No matter how high your morals were, this was the un-crossable line – the ultimate breaching of unwritten “code” of the High School Bible; a sin worse than adultery, for which being stoned wasn’t even a punishment severe enough.

Of course, none of them were under the illusion that the teachers did not know exactly what was going on. But lots of people did drugs from time to time, and more often than not, they ended up academically fine. If the staff were going to choose to let their senses work selectively, the only thing that could disrupt their act was if the students themselves pretended to have functional eyes. Evidently, for Francis’ friends also, wilful blindness was their only sensible option.

They’d cooked up so many schemes. They had tried hiding his supply of badly produced, low-quality concoction of powders, thereby putting themselves at risk – for if it was discovered, it would have been discovered on them. However, as friends in solidarity with Francis’ plight, it had been a sacrifice they had been willing to make. It was better that all took the fall for innocence than a single person for guiltiness. Unfortunately, the hopeless addict had merely discovered their hiding spot, which they had mistakenly assumed was fool proof.

For their next attempt, they had tried dumping all of his drugs that they could find into a nearby lagoon. Somehow, he always managed to acquire more in at least two days, and during the wait, he would be the crabbiest, sulkiest, most unsociable boy they had ever met. Some days, he wouldn’t talk to anyone at all, or he would simply lock himself up in his room, where the rest of the boys could hear him sobbing occasionally. They never mentioned the crying, though. If ever anyone even hinted at it, Francis would deliver acidic, murderous stares that could shut everyone in the room up in a second.

The other strategy they had attempted to employ was to physically hold him back from a roll. During those instances, Francis had nearly punched, kicked and bitten all their limbs off.

Half the time, the boy wasn’t even acting human – a stark contrast to the bubbly personality he used to have. Now, he was a wild animal in a boy’s body, with primal instincts and reactions. The beast inside him had now become him. Damon and his friends had all thought that it was amazing the kind of strength desperation could bring out in a person.

When they had concluded that their efforts and methods were to no avail, the boys had taken a hiatus, to try to get their own lives under control (for of course they had lives too), and used the break from keeping Francis from self-destructing to see if they could come up with anything more genius.

They had all relaxed on the matter perhaps a little too much, when they discovered that the headmaster had gotten him a therapist, whom he saw twice a week. None of them knew for sure how well it was working, but for now, Francis seemed docile enough. He was missing far fewer classes than he used to, and he was mostly quiet when he was alone in his room. In any case, the boys were greatly relieved that the staff had acknowledged the pressing issue without them ever having had to have reported. But they would continue to dutifully act like the problem didn’t exist, so far as the solution seemed to be coming from elsewhere, without need of their intervention.

But now, in Damon’s room, at that moment, the scent was unpardonable. Any passer-by would surely be able to catch a whiff of the ungodly scent. Then who’d be in trouble? wondered Damon. He quickly formulated a plan: to rouse Francis and somehow get him into the shower while he opened all the windows and sprayed air freshener everywhere. That way, if anybody came by, they would at least meet a scent that was receding, rather than emanating from a living, sleeping body.

Holding his breath, he approached the odorous sleeper and prodded him urgently – because “gentle” had ceased to work a long time ago. “Francis,” he said. “Get up. The room smells like an effing stable, and you’re the horse-shit.”

Francis didn’t even stir. There was no response, not even the least movement in his eyeballs. There were no half-hearted, semi-conscious insults, telling Damon to go and do something physically and sexually impossible. It was all very uncharacteristic.

“Come on,” groaned Damon. “Don’t tell me you’ve gone into a comatose sleep again. We can hear you from the next room every time you inhale…”

And that was when it occurred to Damon that Francis was not snoring. Whenever he went into a sleep state that he would not be roused from for several hours, he snored like a freaking Dragon with asthma – and yet, here he lay now, still as a stone. Damon really began to panic then. He put his hand, then his ear, on Francis’ chest and felt nothing. Then he tried to locate a pulse in his limp wrist. Nothing. He put his ear to his nose. Not a breath. A cold shiver ran down Damon’s spine.

“Holy crap.”

 

 

The pastor relieved his bowels in the lavatory after returning from his church service that Sunday evening. His dual lives as a pastor as well as a teacher had never been difficult for him to integrate into each other. He preached to his students, and taught his congregation. During a service like today’s, the line between the two aspects of his life was even more obviously blurred. His sermon had been about diligence and perseverance. Diligence was what would give you the A’s in your life. Perseverance was what got you back up and running every time the world dealt you a bad grade. The tests of life would weed off the faithless from the chosen. For we were not put on this earth to be losers, to accept F’s in complacency, but to be victorious, honour students of life.

Today had been a family service too. What a joy it had been to speak the word of God to the children and interact with them, and to remove those tempestuous expressions on their faces that were the consequence of having been dragged to church by their parents on a Sunday night they could have spent playing video games. Yet he brought pure joy and ecstasy to them through his voice, and in his message. Unfailingly, he made the congregation burst out in laughter. It wasn’t a wonder that the children loved it when he preached. After all, wasn’t he around children most of his life?

“Children, at this stage, do you know what the most important thing in your life is?” he had asked. “Do you know? It is to do well in school and make mummy and daddy and God proud. Eh? Do you understand? Do not allow any powers and forces to get in the way of your education! Eh? The devil wants you to fail, but no weapon fashioned against you shall prosper! Say Amen!”

Yes, it had been quite a fruitful and relevant sermon, and an altogether bountiful church service. Except for the choir. There had been something off about their performance today. Someone too close to the microphone had been singing off key for too long – way too high. At some point, he had begun to wonder if there was a legitimately tone-deaf member of the choir.

But as for him, he had carried out his part well. After a service like that, he felt like a stellar performer after a concert.

Yet after the text, the depressant he had received after he had flushed the toilet, he felt like what he had flushed down the toilet. A simple message from a fellow teacher, so concise, but laden with such heavy implications: “Francis is dead.”

The phone flew out of his hands and he barely noticed. Luckily, it did not enter the lavatory bowl. It did, however, dismantle as it crashed to the tiled bathroom floor. The battery flew out with a velocity equivalent to the speed at which the energy appeared to be draining from the pastor himself. Francis? Dead? What did “dead” mean? As in, no longer living? No! It couldn’t be! How could he be dead, when he hadn’t even written his end of term exams yet? And…no! It simply couldn’t be! After everything they’d done for him? The expensive therapist they’d hired to counsel him, just so that he wouldn’t slack on his schoolwork… So it had all been to no avail? Ah, heavens, no!

The teacher felt sick to his stomach. So much money wasted. And the school had already paid in advance for his registration for the international examinations. That was non-refundable money. The school’s statistics…They would suffer after their nearly-spotless records of the past decade. All that was happening right now was really beyond unfortunate; Francis had been a potential distinction student. He could have gotten a distinction, as easy as koko! Now, all chances were completely lost. With the total number of registered students down, they would never be able to beat last year’s record of distinctions. Time they’d never get back. Money they’d never get back. A reputation that they couldn’t un-tarnish.

God, why have you brought this calamity upon me and my school? he lamented as he crumpled in shock and devastation to the floor. His expectations had just gone up in smoke.

 

 

Francis’ parents, Mr and Mrs Jeyne, were in the private room with the headmaster, switching nearly comically from loud and livid, to silently stunned, and back again, in unpredictable intervals.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU DO ANYTHING?” his mother screamed, nearly out of her mind. “YOU LET HIM DIE. YOU KILLED HIM!”

The headmaster told himself sternly to refrain from replying, “No, madam, the foolish boy killed himself.” He thought, if the reports he had received from Damon and the others during the post-mortem interrogations from students were true, he could definitely see where Francis had gotten his temper and tirade qualities from. Indeed, he wouldn’t want to have to hold this woman back if she wanted to inhale something illicit. Out loud, he said, “Mrs Jeyne, I believe that you too were aware that your very own child was engaged in drugs – not any less aware than any of us in this academic institution.”

He thought he was being pragmatic. He thought pragmatism would save him in the worst of situations, that it would get the most inflamed people to calm down and feel foolish in front of him. That’s what they had taught at the charismatic training sessions, anyway. He had not had his well-remembered lessons put to the test as intensively as they were being tested now. For this opportunity, at least he was grateful. Ah yes, optimism: the ability to see the benefit in the absolute worst of situations – another well-remembered quality that he was putting to use when it was needed. Deep down the man was very proud of himself. He felt diplomatic, like the President of somewhere important. Hell, he felt like the African Bush.

Francis’ father stood up looking like he was ready to punch someone’s teeth out of his skull. “Now, don’t give me that bull-crap, do you hear me? My son is dead, and if we’re going to play the blame-game, Mary and I are going to put it where it’s due. Of course we were aware that he was on drugs. But the drugs were not coming into the house; they were coming into the damn school. What the hell could we do about it? Don’t act like we were more responsible than you were. Our son spends –” He choked and continued, “Spent three times more of his life at school he did at home. And unless you’ve caught some bloody f***ing amnesia, you should recall that when we found out, we notified you immediately. We asked for your f***ing assessment. We asked if he needed to come home. We asked for everything. Mary called you nearly every day! And what did you say? You said that the school would take care of it, that he was well enough to continue to attend classes, that he would undergo therapy, that you’d take care of everything, that he would be FINE! AND NOW HE’S NOT BLOODY BREATHING!” By the end of his speech, he was roaring louder than his wife had been earlier.

“Mr Jeyne,” said the overwhelmed headmaster, who was beginning to feel that the air conditioner was not nearly functional enough. This meeting was not going anything like the way he had expected it to, the way he had prepared in his mind. The man’s tirade had driven his calm, prepared speech way out of his head. “If you’ll just calm down, I’m sure we can…”

“CALM DOWN!” shrieked Mary. “CALM WHAT DOWN? How can you tell anyone to calm down when you’ve just finished murdering their son?”

“Madam, this is being blown out of proportion. You make it seem like I held a gun to his head and shot him.”

“OUT OF PROPORTION?” she roared. “I enrolled my baby in a school run by idiots! The loss of a teenage life should be proportional to what, now? You killed him with your high and mighty ‘we can take care of him’ when you knew he was in need. Ahiaa therapist! A person who doesn’t even know him, and only sees him for one hour a week? Are you mad? You might as well have held a gun to his head. You murdered my son!

“I assure you, she was perfectly qualified for the job. She holds a PhD in…”

I don’t give a damn about her PhD. Did her PhD fix my son? Can her PhD bring my son back to life?”

“Madam, you won’t let me explain,” said the nearly helpless headmaster, dabbing at the sweat on his face with a handkerchief. “All that we did was in the best interest of your son. We wanted to keep his life going as smoothly and as normally as possible. He was due to write his A-levels this May. We couldn’t let him lag behind the academic schedule. So we got him the best therapist available, and allowed him to continue with his school life. The students don’t know that we know this, but lots of them do drugs and still get A-stars. We didn’t want to rush into anything drastic. We had hoped that eventually, he would realise he was jeopardizing himself and his grades, but he didn’t. But even as his grades continued to drop, we organized remedial classes for him to improve. Unfortunately, he could not realise what was at stake, and took that fatal dose.”

His hyperventilating receded a bit. Yes, he had given a rational explanation for what had happened. They had indeed expended their efforts and resources into keeping Francis’ life on track. That was undeniable. His parents had to see the sense in it. They had to be appeased somehow. He looked at them tentatively. None of them had resumed yelling in his face again, so that was a good sign.

Mr and Mrs Jeyne had only let the rambler go on for this long because they had relapsed back into silently stunned shock-states. To add to the shock was the absurdity of the principal not realising that everything coming out of his mouth was excrement. Excrement made of food that was so improperly digested that it was coming out in great big particles, the same way it had gone in; unbroken-down lumps of food that the body was unable to refine before it ejected, as if his digestive tract had turned itself upside down.

For a few seconds, everything was silent. Then the woman blinked and said, incredulous, “So you think you’ve said something aama.”

The headmaster did not respond.

She put her hands on her head, fell to her knees and wailed, “This is the man we paid school fees to, o! Awurade!”

Francis’ father said coolly to the headmaster, “Do you not realise that you expended far more resources on keeping my son’s eyes glued to textbooks than you did on fixing his mind? Is the cure for an addiction an A-star? Is the rehabilitation centre a classroom? Is examination a counter-active measure for addiction? A life was just lost, and as it was being lost, all you were concerned about was his A-levels and his academic performance. You’re not running a school; you’re running a diploma-producing factory. I swear, I would have forced him to drop out of school myself, if it meant he could keep his life. Ah, but it’s all the same with you academics. You inhale marks, self-medicate with examinations, and get high off distinctions. And maybe my son’s death would have meant even a meagre fraction of what his life was worth, if only it was able to serve as a wake-up call for you monkeys. But you people are incorrigible. I’m taking you to court. And I swear, I won’t quit until I see your school bankrupt.

With that, he picked up all he had come with and left the room, while his struck and sobered wife absently followed his lead.

When they were gone, the headmaster felt uneasy. He felt unpleasant, and he did not appreciate feeling unpleasant. He needed something to consume the guilt and pain, take his mind off the things he wasn’t ready to think about. He would go mad if he didn’t get something – anything – to distract him – immediately. So he pulled out his computer, and browsed through at least forty high-school transcripts, until he could breathe normally again. Then, exhausted and tranquilized, he fell asleep at his desk, dreaming of Paradise.

-Akotowaa

Shattered (A Long Short Story)

This post is dedicated to Simeon Mark Cofie. It’s been like 10 months, but I’m sorry about the Rose Quartz.

image
You see that fracture at the right side? Yep, there’s a piece missing. This is my inspiration for this particularly story. Why do tragedies breed beauty?

Shattered

Joshua Barth was dead. The word on the street was that he had died of starvation – at least, that’s what the doctor’s report said. “Died of starvation” was a bit euphemistic. “Starved himself to death” was perhaps the more accurate phrase.

Confining himself to his living room floor for days on end, he had deprived himself of food and water until all his vital organs had given up. His living room, to add irony to the matter, was situated right across from the kitchen, which contained a fully-stocked shelf of cupboards containing preservatives, a rather plentiful amount of food in his fridge, and a considerable mass of meat in his deep freezer. He had starved in a room next to another room that was capable of feeding another ordinary man for at least a three weeks, if the man was absurdly hungry.

Joshua had had no maids, servants or help, nor did he live with any relatives. From time to time, he had paid a company to provide cleaning services so that his home did not fall completely into desolation.

The reason he lived with no relatives is that he had no living ones, at least that were traceable or that he knew of. He had been the only child of his parents, both only children, and now both deceased. He had had no children – nobody to pass all his belongings to. There had been, for a long time, nobody in his life…until he had met her. Sapphira, his late wife.

Joshua had met Sapphira at a crucial time in his life: in college. It was crucial, not because his survival had depended on it, but rather, his sanity. He had been at a point in his life where he’d felt like life had no point. He hadn’t understood anything or its purpose – why he existed, why he was at school, what he wanted to be, and why he wasn’t happy, and generally existing in a continuous state of confusion.

Then, one late night as he was walking around the vast, nearly deserted campus grounds, pondering over the vacuity of it all, he had seen this little fairy sitting on the bleachers of the football field, solitary, deeply engrossed in whatever book she was reading. She wore a sparkling blue garment he couldn’t immediately place as a robe, a sari, or a kimono. Her hair was wrapped up in the same kind of cloth her garment was made of, and long, large earrings made of little, bright blue stones dangled from her earlobes. Her lips were painted a soft red.

Aside from the two of them, the field had been completely empty; there was no one to divert his attention away from her – but that wasn’t the reason he was captivated. He had been lost, his mind had been vaguely searching for something that could possibly point him in the direction of his soul, and at that moment, all available compasses told him that this woman was his North.

Though he could tell that she wasn’t particularly pretty, there was something unconsciously alluring about her. Perhaps it was a thing to do with destiny, an attraction that was unexplainable in the physical realm.

She was so thoroughly captivated by her book that she didn’t hear him approach until he was only a few feet in front of her. He halted there, because he didn’t want to get close enough to make the either of them more uncomfortable than could be helped. She greeted him unexpectedly with a smile, and though it was late in the night, that smile felt like sunshine. The pleasant welcome was unprecedented because he knew that if he were to be approached by a random stranger interrupting his activities, hostility would have been his first option.

“Hello,” she said welcomingly.

“Hi,” he responded. That wasn’t bad for a first statement, he decided. He might otherwise have said something condescending in an attempt to get her attention, like, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing out here at this time of the night?” or “Don’t you know it’s bad for your eyes to be reading under this light?” But “hi” was a good start.

“What’s your name?” she asked gently.

“Joshua,” he responded equally softly. The entire experience felt surreal and enchanting, almost like he was under a spell. For goodness’ sake, what was he doing? He didn’t randomly approach strangers in the dead of the night and strike up conversation. He never spoke unless he had to, even in class. He went out to no social events. His roommates were never in the room, because his presence had always been an unspeakable damper. Yet here he was, almost-flirting with a woman he didn’t know from Eve. “What’s yours?”

“Sapphira,” she said. “My parents called me that because it’s my birthstone. They believe in the importance of embracing the circumstances of any being’s placement. My name is an unashamed acceptance of my circumstances of existence – in this case, my birth. What about you?”

“Hmm?” Joshua’s head was still trying to process everything this young woman was saying. She wasn’t speaking too fast; he could hear her. But he’d never heard of a conversation like this before, not even in movies. Who on earth said things like this to people on their first meeting? She was treating him like a sort of acquaintance she’d known vaguely for at least a few years. It was unusual, in a world where people were learning to be so private and wary of each other. Thinking all these thoughts got him disoriented, and he was unsure of what question he was supposed to be answering.

“Your name,” Sapphira clarified. “Do you know what it means?”

No, he did not know what ‘Joshua’ meant. Why had such a thing, such a mundane but integral part of his identity, never been of as much importance to him as to find out what it meant? Suddenly, his name seemed to him like the first key to a series of doors, behind which were the mysteries of understanding himself; a series of doors from which he had been barred for so long.

“I don’t,” he admitted shamefacedly, dropping his gaze to the ground. Suddenly, he looked back up with new hope in his eyes. “Do you?”

“Of course. It’s one of the most common names I’ve encountered throughout my time in this ephemeral realm. Joshua means ‘Saviour’. Do you believe in salvation?”

“I…I’m not sure yet.”

What was salvation? For some reason, that was a word that in itself seemed other-worldly. Salvation, though it had a perfectly literal meaning, more often than not, was used in ways pertaining to matters of spirituality. When he heard “salvation”, he never thought of it in terms of physical peril; it was always more about the salvation of a soul. And even that, he wasn’t certain he believed in.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” he confessed to Sapphira, surprised at himself for finally realising and voicing the fear that had constricted him for longer than he could account for.

It was true. More and more, he lost pleasure in everything the world could give him. His stomach now only craved food for the sake of survival and not for the sake of enjoyment. Even looking at girls wasn’t as exciting a pastime for him as it was for his mates. He couldn’t understand what it was they saw in the chases after what he saw as futility. Even attempted methods of escape into unconsciousness were not particularly pleasant, because his sleep was plagued with nothingness.

Joshua did not dream while asleep. Perhaps, he thought, it was because he had no dreams while awake. If you had asked him to name his aspirations, he probably wouldn’t have been able to mention a single one. Yet, somehow, with the help of doubt, his faith grew deeper. His continuously growing dissatisfaction with what he was supposed to aspire towards increased an unconscious conviction that there was something beyond the physical that he was looking for, and only that would satisfy him.

“That’s alright,” Sapphira said. “Lots of people feel like that, but they’re also terrified of themselves, so they refuse to admit it. But you’re courageous, because you have. And you’re still here.”

“Still here?” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that this world puts so many opportunities in your way for you to take yourself out of it permanently. But without even knowing why, you have resisted, all this time.”

Sapphira couldn’t be normal, Joshua concluded. The way she spoke, dressed, thought…there was something ethereal about her, and perhaps that was what had made her, a complete stranger, alluring to him in the first place. She spoke as if the spiritual world and the physical one had no distinctive barrier, and she spoke to him as if somehow, she knew him, on a deeper level.

“Are you human?” Joshua asked, feeling stupid as soon as the question had quite finished rolling off his accursed tongue.

“Yes. I’m just what many choose to call weird. I read people’s spirits the way ordinary people read each other’s facial expressions.”

“Doesn’t anyone find that intimidating?”

“Only the people who are afraid to hear what I have to say because they are constantly running away from who they really are.”

“And do you know who you are?”

“I don’t think anyone on this realm really does, or is even meant to. The point is not to reach perfection, but to constantly strive towards it. I may not know who I am yet – that may only be revealed to me in the next realm. But at least I’m not running away from me. I’m moving steadily towards it. Here, why don’t you have a seat? You’ve been standing for too long.”

He obliged, and when he sat, he blurted out, “You’re very beautiful.”

Sapphira rolled her eyes and laughed. “Boys. After the deepest conversations, they’ll always manage to take you right back to the physical. What’s wrong with you?”

His laughing retort was: “Hey. That’s an unfair generalization.”

Something in his perception had swiftly changed. Five minutes ago, he hadn’t thought she was even that pretty. Now, all of a sudden, he was proclaiming her beauty aloud? Intuitively, he knew that the beauty he was only now beginning to see had nothing to do with her face or her body.

For a while, they continued to converse and became better acquainted with each other. To Joshua’s surprise, the next time he checked his watch, he saw that a full two hours had elapsed. Reluctantly, he suggested that they both went to bed before they had to attend lectures. Before they split ways, they agreed to meet back there the next night – but not before picking up coffee and doughnuts at a nearby café. Goodness knew they’d need that, after the minimal sleep this conversation had caused them.

The years at school continued to pass by, and the bonds between the two beings only grew stronger, as only the souls meant to meet could do. They were barely past graduation when Joshua asked for Sapphira’s hand in marriage. She accepted elatedly. She told him he might as well have asked her to marry him on the first day they’d met. She would have readily accepted, even then.

“So I take it you believe in love at first sight, then,” Joshua ventured, grinning like an old fool, still drunk on the joy of her acceptance.

“I believe in soul-deep connections. What you people call ‘love at first sight’ is actually two souls who know each other, recognizing each other’s physical forms for the first time.”

“Whatever you say, you Sufi mystic.”

She punched him playfully on the arm. “Says the yogi who meditates every day?”

They got married and started a business together, right after college. To the outsider, they looked ideal, and to each other, they felt very similarly. They were each other’s pillar of stability, in a relationship where there was a scale; one person was always more balanced than the other. At one time, it would be Joshua; another, Sapphira. Joshua’s mind expanded, and gradually, he began to think and say things far stranger than those Sapphira had said and thought before they’d met. They shared new books, advice and ideas. Joshua even came to believe that his life force was tethered to hers.

He always told Sapphira he loved the man she’d made out of him. She always told him, “People don’t ‘make’ other people who they are; they only bring out what has always been inside them.”

For their fortieth anniversary, she had bought him a fantastically well-crafted sculpture of a horse. The equestrian was both hers and her husband’s favourite animal. She had paid a professional craftsman to make this exquisite piece of art, out of pure sapphire.

The money hadn’t been too much of a problem. With their joint business thriving, the two of them had been millionaires. There was, of course, the fact that there were no children to spend their income on. (Sapphira, they had discovered, was barren. She had been fine when she found out, though Joshua had feared that the news would rattle her. However, the only thing she had said to him was, “Sometimes, Joshua, the Universe knows some people are so full of life that there is no need for them to bring in any more to compensate. That way, the world’s total energy is balanced.”) Instead, they spent their money on charity and doing good for other people. Even so, they still had much to spare, and so Sapphira had been able to afford this gift.

Joshua had nearly wept when he had received it.

“It will make you think of me,” his wife told him, “and the sapphire will help you to remember to embrace the circumstances of my existence.”

“What do you mean, think of you?” asked Joshua. “I’m always thinking of you. My love, I sleep next to you every night, and you are the first I see every morning.”

Sapphira smiled sadly. “Even so…We all need something to help us remember to accept circumstances from time to time.”

Perhaps she had known she was going to die that year, at the age of 62. For those who engaged in deeply spiritual business, it was said that they were able to predict their own ends. Maybe Sapphira had had an inkling that an undetected aneurysm would be the swift, sorrowful end of her. Joshua could never tell. But her departure felt like a hole in his heart, an emptiness in his essence. When his mind finally registered that she was gone, he felt a sort of plunge, like he was thrown back into his nineteen-year-old self: lost, looking for salvation he didn’t know he didn’t know he believed in.

The only thing that kept him from taking his own leave of life immediately was the blue sapphire horse. He placed it on his bedside table after his wife’s death, because only then was it truly serving its purpose: to remind him to accept the circumstances. Sapphira lived on with him, not in the stone of the horse, but in Joshua’s sustained faith in the ideology of the deliberateness of occurrences.

Unfortunately, in his old age, arthritis was catching up to him. At seventy, he couldn’t truly hold things like he used to be able to. In his insistence on obeying maintenance routine, however, he would not let up on periodically dusting his belongings, at least when the cleaners he hired were not there. The unrelenting Harmattan season and its dust were not going to stick to schedules that abided cleaning only once a week, though. And so it happened that one day, as he attempted to carefully pass a rag over the horse, his hands shook a little too much, and it descended, seemingly in slow motion, where it took what felt like an hour, during which the old man himself was helplessly frozen, to fracture on the ground.

To Joshua, it wasn’t the splintering of the horse he connected with the sound he heard; it was the shattering of his own heart. Now was the real time to accept circumstances. Sapphira was gone. Sapphira’s horse was gone. It was time for him to go too.

In what felt like automation, or perhaps spirit-led instinct, he shuffled towards his living room, where he lay down quietly and wordlessly on the floor. From that point, nothing else was difficult. None of the struggles of this world could touch him; he had disconnected with his body and with this realm. There was no more need to consume nutrition or release excrement, for his spirit no longer felt his body’s needs. Slowly, his organs began to shut themselves down, a process he endured peacefully and painlessly. His eyesight switched off. The sensitivity of his flesh retired. His last words were, “I am finally finding salvation. And all this time, all I had to do was lose myself.” And then his soul took leave of his flesh.

 

 

“It isn’t possible,” the first policeman said to the other. “How can you die of starvation in a room next to a fridge? Wey nonfa be that?”

It was a discussion happening in the break room, after the results of the autopsy had been released.

“Be like his legs give in so he no fit walk to kitchen,” offered the second policeman.

“Massa, there was nothing wrong with his legs. You spy the way he was lying down? He didn’t fall on the ground by accident o! His pose eh, check like he was ready for his coffin kraa. Hands on chest and everything.”

The other man grunted. There was a pause.

“I kind of want my end to be like that, you know?” blurted out the second man unexpectedly, releasing the pidgin slang unconsciously, for the sake of the profundity of his personal expression.

“Like what?” asked the first.

“Like that crazy guy’s. All peaceful-looking and fulfilled-like. To go out not like you suffered, but like you were saved.”

“Heh. That what he looked like to you? Saved, huh? Goodness knows we could all use a bit of bloody salvation in this hell of a world.”

“You see the thing, chale.”

-Akotowaa

On Cory Monteith’s Death

How do you presume Cory Monteith would feel, in the metaphorical event that he could witness the reactions to his own death? How it feels, possibly, to be mourned for by many but known by so few out of that many?

How legitimate are your claims of grief for people you never really knew? I suppose, to the people who really don’t think about it, it doesn’t feel artificial. But how, I really do want to know, do you miss someone you weren’t necessarily familiar with? Do you use it to mean you will miss seeing someone’s face in a new episode on television, or that you will no more feel the anticipation of a particular person’s movie or album release date?
Sigh. I never watched Glee anyway. I don’t even know this guy any more intimately than his name. But even if my favourite actress died, I do not suppose I would scry about what an amazing person he/she was. Why?  i never knew him/her personally. 
I really couldn’t even properly grieve for Steve Jobs personally so much as grieve for the world’s loss of a genius brain. And even, from what I read of his biography, that guy was a lunatic and an ass. Albeit, a very hot, genius, lunatic, ass. 
Thinking about it now, I wonder how I would react if Rick Riordan (author of Percy Jackson, a man with an amazing brain) died. I’d be devastated, but I honestly can’t guarantee that I’d even cry. I don’t know the guy! I adore him, but don’t know him.
Anyways. Just a few musings about death. 
Grieve, people, grieve.  
 
-Ivana.