The chairs in the room were plush and comfortable, like something out of a multinational CEO’s waiting room, except for the Velcro straps that hung off the armrests, put there to steady the arms of patients plagued with the shakes. They sat together, him by Ekile’s left, Ekile’s right hand turned out to expose the insides of his forearm and the blackened pockmarks that define the now scaly skin. A needle impaled an old welt, making it doubly ugly. Things like this used to disgust him but now he barely noticed when he stroked Ekile’s arms to keep them warm on the worst nights. This was Ekile’s fifth treatment and with each one, his need to fill the silence with words waned into a quiet offer of companionship. Even laughing caused Ekile to hurt now and wheeling him down for his treatments was the only protracted movement he could bear. But Lewis still caught Ekile smiling at his small unconscious gestures of affection like pulling the scratchy hospital blanket to cover his arms and hope welled inside him. The drip-drip of the intravenous solution keeps time in the silence and comforts him. Ekile’s eyes are lidded and his chest barely moves but Lewis knows he’s awake and listening for his breaths to reassure him that he’s still here. He reached for his palm and squeezed it gently when the dripping stops and the silence returns, a small gesture of support before he detached the tubing from the needle, gathered him up into his arms, ignoring the wheelchair sitting in the corner and carried him back to his bed in the hospital ward.
He was sitting with Ekile, visitors stool beside his bed when the reactions started. He’d seen it happen dozens of times, but he was still caught entirely unprepared. Ekile’s face scrunched in a determined grimace, the tears flooding his cheeks contradicting his false calm as the poisons in his body burn through his veins. Ekile blindly reached for his hand and squeezed hard as the first involuntary spasm started in his gut and pushed down on his stomach. Lewis sat up in an instant, rubbing Ekile’s back vigorously to calm him like the nurses usually did but it helped little. Ekile balled his free hand into a fist and bludgeoned the mattress with it even as the spasms travelled up his body, urging for release. It took merely a moment out of control and Ekile’s stomach voided itself of its contents over the side of the bed and onto Lewis’s dress shoes. The pain left Ekile long enough for him to clean his mouth with the back of his hand and mumble a tear soaked apology before he doubled over again. He tries to stifle the sounds as the pain turned to fire in his bones and his tear ducts dried out. He began to cry unashamedly, his thrashing punctuated by dry sobs that sounded like his soul was being sucked out of him in bursts of hacking, guttural moans.
“Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!”
He repeated that word over and over, growling and screaming and whispering it like a curse, a prayer, a talisman and everything in between. He couldn’t see anything else in those minutes; He couldn’t feel anything but pain. Lewis stood there helpless for the better part of an hour as Ekile curled into himself and tried in futility to find some sort of respite. He retreated into the little cubicle that served as an en-suite bathroom, locked the door behind him and started to untie his shoes. He stopped halfway through the laces of the second shoe, a sudden anger bristling in his chest as he realized in the yellow light of the bathroom’s bulb that the vomit that speckled his shoes was blood not bits of food like he’d previously assumed. He tried to rein in the rage and ground himself in the present by wrapping his loose shoelaces around his hands but the frustration inside him screamed for expression and before he knew it, his clenched fists were pounding at the bathroom wall, trying vainly to drown out the tortured mewling coming from the bed just outside the door.
Someone knocked loudly on the bathroom door and an agitated voice begged,” Sir, please open the door!”
He heard the concern but he couldn’t stop throwing out his fists, not even when the door knob rattled in its groove and more footfalls joined the first. The rush of blood to his ears and the consecutive flashes of pain as each punch connected with the unvarnished concrete was more control than he’s had in the last half year. He forgot about everything else in that moment, the drugs that were burning out Ekile’s body and somehow keep missing the cancer cells that were turning his bones into porous mush, the fears he’d been trying for weeks to suppress so Ekile had one less person to worry about. Thoughts suddenly popped up in his head, from before the hospitals and the drugs and the hair loss and the pain that doesn’t go away. It was their graduation from the 9 – 12’s into the youth church. After the dancing and singing, they gathered all of them around to take a picture, Ekile had fought to stand beside him, and as they stood waiting for the camera man to arrange the other children, Ekile’s hand found his and Ekile’s fingers found the grooves between his. He’d looked over at Ekile and Ekile’d smiled so widely, he forgot his annoyance and smiled back, just as the camera flashed and the picture was taken. It was so powerful image that his anger burned away in its light, leaving him empty. He slumped to the floor and cradled his head against his knees, every emotion he’d suppressed pouring out of him in a deluge. He can’t remember the last time he wept like this, actually he’s never wept like this before. His frustration and well hidden fears flushed out in the open, as well as the questions he’s been too afraid to answer. Surrounded by a cacophony of prattling nurses and security staff and a dying boy, Lewis had his first epiphany.