‘It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen . . . We must dare to invent the future.’
– Thomas Sankara
Three months ago I have, over four days, many headaches. Sometimes it is a thick wet wringing tongue moving there inside the raw roof of my brain, sometimes tiny skinless creatures tiptoeing, tickling and mischieving in my brain. Sometimes it is a big twinkling sponge of squeeze, sometimes some silently ticklish thing, walking upside down barefoot under my naked skull.
Sometimes bit parts and cutlets of my body displace ever so small-ey, side to side, and my waist and my hips are jerky. And then on a Friday my head is squeezing, and fingers sometimes numbing, my legs tripping each other, and I am so everywhere displaced with pinning and needling that I call a Red Hook taxi, am checked in and blood pressured, and Northern Dutchess Hospital tells me I have had up to twelve small strokes. I am ambulated urgently to a special stroke unit in Albany, New York, where I soft slidingly deny to listen or see, all while nodding grinning
to charts and chat and measurements, still refusing to. be. agreeing. to. any. such.
Since that one artery in my brain is nearly full of sticky brackish, they say they will have to put a microsurgery tube containing a microcamera inside my thigh at the beginning of the gushing artery pipe and all the way past past past into my neck and its thick pumping artery, into the filling-up artery in my brain to open the block. I say no. No. No.
I cannot talk, my tongue is swollen and we are laughing. My brain is puff gong. It is softest two-ply cloud computing. My sister Chiqy takes a plane to help me pack up and bring me home. Classes they are nearly done for the term and I will finish and go home to Nairobi. My brain it is humming like quiet and indivisible.
Already I want a cigarette, but not until never. My sister Chiqy arrives in JFK to help me pack up and take me home.
I am feeling so almost. Three months have gone, and with them already a Ghana holiday – tumbling down the hill with endless unrolling two-ply, with the million running tripping puppy dogs inside the African hurricane and the sun orange oozing thickly over small islands in Lake Victoria – and in one hour the Nairobi land below will be dark and toasting, and I will be full in-love, Ghana dark-tan and rampantly overflown, and the plane will land, fat wheels bumping, and we will be home, and we will soon be asleep, in a very Nairobi July cold, a Monday night. 10 July 2011.
The last time I saw Baba was three weeks ago, a day before we leave for Ghana. I had been home for a couple of weeks from America, staying in Nairobi with my in-love, and for the first few days was unbearable tender to the presence of people, or crowd-wounds or loud
groups bulling around with love, but I couldn’t, and even one party I ran away outside and was found by my in-love crying on the street because I wanted him to take me away and I could hear the silence of my friends inside who heard my eyes vomiting and crying.
Everywhere in Africa it is oil and copper and gas oozing everywhere, and highways tearing through trees and railways and ports and Nairobi instant malls that have fallen from the sky to land all over. There are cars jam-packed and full of women who are born again Pentecostals and single mothers who passed the exams for banking better than men. Apartments, apartments and new apartment blocks. The city garbage dump doubling in size every year, imported wine and good cheese in every new mall all over the city, an epidemic of breast cancer, our soldiers all in Somalia, and the forgotten people of forgotten places of Kenya attacking police and their neighbours, to kill is to insist to matter, or else.
Two weeks or so pass and Baba wants me to come with my friend (my in-love) to stay in his house in Nakuru, and so we go for two days, but I book in Rift Valley Sports Club a double room – fearing showing
my in-loveness in my eyes and Baba seeing it; Baba is not like mum was, and sees things even before you yet know them. I am shamefacedly unable. Day one we play tennis. And we go for supper at the house Baba built before Mum died eleven years ago, with five bedrooms, one for each of us, and funky pink original even though he’s a chief executive – home and not home for us because we are grown, but home because he is there. And my in-love and him they are chatting, and on arrival we hug awkwardly at the door, but then he is sitting in the dining room where his big pile of papers from working forty years are all together haphazardly beside his ageing laptop for consulting – and he still writes emails with the date, he writes it himself on the top left, because that is how people write letters, he always lectures me, clumsily and despairingly – and Ciru is home cooking supper, and I am postponing a full catch-up for after the Ghana holiday. But Baba he is saying he has made a bed for us both in my bedroom and I am f labbergasted, but f labbergasted is sliding past my tenses, and so I clear my sinuses and jump into a jokingly adventurous account of my New York hospital drama – and he is patiently looking, calmly unfurrowed through reading glasses over the laptop but warmly, and then I am
crescendoing to the punchline which is to say: a woman doctor of Brooklyn but Eastern European, tired flat-hair blonde, she is looking at my chart, and looking at me, and
looking at the scans faxed from Albany medical unit and saying but . . . but your brain it is fossilised, it looks like the brain of an old man, and then everything saddened and Baba stood up, and glasses down and walking outside tight-smile fatherly and we hear his car screaming down the driveway to the gate, and Ciru looks regretfully at us, but lovingly, and soon he is back for a smooth chat, advising us to take care on our trip, and firmly handshaking and we go, and I am future tensing to sneak into present tense with him after the holiday in Ghana.
I wake up in present tense in Nairobi after the Ghana holiday, and we are unpacking at 10 a.m., 11 July 2011, and I am stirring my coffee when Baba’s girlfriend Clem calls, saying Baba is dying.
She is saying that they are sitting in his car downstairs on Kenyatta Avenue, Nakuru. He has been suffering indigestion now for two days in his stomach, and he
texted nobody. She says they are parked near a downtown Nakuru clinic where they will do blood tests.
On the phone, my coffee stirring slowly clockwise. On the phone she tells me she gave him millet porridge, which he has been vomiting since very early Tuesday morning. Ciru was away for the weekend. For two days he refused to go to the hospital.
He always complains that I don’t use semicolons properly. For two weeks my new books were hardbacking forgotten in the post office, waiting for me to find them for distribution and for Baba to see and be proud. And I was cloud-computing in Ghana, playing blistering tennis. On the phone, my coffee stirring slowly clockwise. He’s not dead on Tuesday, and I am always so careless, blistering with tennis in Ghana for three weeks with no sneakers, with the first man I have loved.
It is not that I did not know that he will not be proud.
My coffee stirring slowly clockwise. In a nanosecond I tell her to be, screaming, quiet, to turn around and go to emergency in War Memorial Hospital, where all his children were born in
the 1970s, and I tell her that they will put him on the drip in twenty minutes – they do – and she and me
should stubbornly not talk to him until it happens. I walk backwards, repacking with my ear still on the phone.
In a nanosecond, everything in Africa is hurricaning, and the matron at War Memorial Hospital calls me at midday to say I need to come home to Nakuru immediately. Jimmy, my big brother, is already hurricaning for an Air Rescue Africa an hour before midday on Tuesday with his credit card.
Already Baba is dead in his head on Tuesday at midday, and is like this until Friday, and on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, my ears are heart-beating warm, sitting every day smelling his chest, and his eyes stubborning glue.
Machines beat his heart from Tuesday until he is CAT-scan dead on Wednesday and Thursday testings, and his heartbeat nanosecond-dead on Tuesday, even while I was on the phone with Clem, but on Tuesday all the brain pipes were already blowing up and he was nanosecond-dead already, and my big brother Jimmy hurricaning for an Air Rescue Africa ambulance before midday with his credit card, but we will still hear his heart beat in MP Shah Hospital Critical Care Unit Nairobi until Friday.
The first man I love and I had both already unpacked.
It was late evening on Tuesday, and I was streaming in a big Toyota taxicab data down the Rift Valley, speaking to America, and everybody was rapidly network-gathering-helping. And my big brother Jimmy was hurricaning for a jet-plane ambulance and the emergency room was being warmed by a small heater because there is no July cold electricity in Provincial General Hospital Nakuru where Baba had been cycloned by Ciru early in the afternoon with tubes and doctors. And already the jet plane is stuck on the suddenly midday Nairobi runway because this afternoon there is bad weather, already I am taxi-cabbing beside a fully equipped ambulance down the Rift Valley, streaming live and full of all of human evolution to save him.
Upon arrival, the Provincial General Hospital toilets smell of urine, the critical-care unit is kept warm by a small heater. His hand is so strong and he smells of him, his heart beating of him. One eye of him will be half-crying open like a glue eye and his hand is warm, and strong, and the ambulance is waiting outside.
His hand is so strong and he smells on Tuesday night of him, his heart beating of him, on Friday
the machine is switched off. Three days, one eye of him half-crying open like a glue eye and his hand is warm, and strong, the machine beating, and the ambulance is waiting, in my hand, so strong, but in his head it is already finished.
Photograph © ZEISS Microscopy, Close-up View of the Cerebellum