In a house paved with shards of the past and accumulated filth, Ekile’s room was bare and uncluttered. Lewis had left the front door open as he walked in, taking off his shoes by the door so they wouldn’t get scuffed. He left Ekile’s ring of keys in the lock, neither of them would ever need it again. It was an important day, he wanted to look as put together as he could, for Ekile. He’d felt claustrophobic in the house which hadn’t been lived in for nearly a month, with the sheen of dust covering everything like a layer of matt foundation. He picked his way through the filth, slowly checking the rooms till he found Ekile’s room. A two foot high air mattress still blown up lay in the middle of the room, flanked by three knapsacks piled into the corner. By the door was a massive vanity table, painted seashell pink, with plastic conches screwed on to the small square drawers and decorating the vanity mirror that was perched atop the table. Lewis recognised it immediately, the vanity Ekile had told him about, the one he said he’d inherited from his mother, after she ‘left’. He walked over to the table and looked at his reflection, he looked out of place in the black suit and tie he was wearing, his head freshly shorn and his eyes bloodshot from all the crying that involuntarily sprung out of him, surprising him each time he thought he had tamed the bottomless sadness inside him. Even then, he felt the tears, caged in his belly looking for the slightest excuse to pour. He wiped his face with his palm and tried to concentrate on the task at hand; Ekile’s favourite things.
“I wish you would go away.” Ekile had said to him, the day before it happened.
It was a Sunday night and the day before the first of March, Casimir Pulaski day. His father had let him sleep over at the hospice to keep Ekile company because he’d had tests all week and hadn’t had time to dash in to check on him. He’d waited till the nurses left for the night before he crept into the narrow hospital bed and cradled Ekile in his arms, the younger boy swaddled in a blanket as they huddled for warmth. He’d been horrified at how light Ekile was, he felt like a sack of feathers in his hands, tiny and unimportant. He’d pulled him unbearably close, heart beating in his chest as he waited for Ekile to pull away or say something to the effect. But all Ekile did was stiffen before the tension in his spine eased.
“I’ve tried, I can’t.” Lewis whispered back.
“Most of time I catch myself hating you.”
Ekile snarked. “I know it isn’t true but I can’t help that I find myself doubting your motivation for all this. It just feels like that you are more interested in what’s happening to me than me.”
Lewis was surprised at how much bitterness carried in Ekile’s voice and each word sliced deep, even though he knew Ekile didn’t mean what he said. Even he doubted his reasons for coming, even after Ekile had rejected him. He put his nose to Ekile’s neck and breathed deeply, searching for that fragile hint of who the boy used to be underneath the cloying smells of antibiotics and disinfectants, trying to reassure himself of why he was there. He couldn’t reach past the surface smells, it was such a trivial thing but it made him grieve.
“Did you know that I’ve never even kissed a girl before?” Lewis asked out of the blue.
Ekile shifted on the bed, and Lewis took the hint and helped painstakingly turn him around so they lay face to face, raising his hand over his head so he wouldn’t get entangled in the drip’s tubing. Surprise had contorted his brows.
“I never knew. So that means-?”
“Yeah,” Lewis laughed. “You were my first.”
Together they sighed, like an involuntary reaction, acknowledging all the unspent emotions that suddenly rose to the surface. It was as though Lewis finally got to wear Ekile’s skin for a second and feel the things he felt. The enormity of them lying side by side in a hospice, Ekile enduring things he would never be ready for, not even if he got the chance to add sixty years of living to his fifteen. Everything felt vastly larger and smaller at the same time. The moment they were sharing felt more important than everything he’d ever accomplished but it also felt worthless because it couldn’t make things better for Ekile. Ekile rarely spoke about the pain, even though Lewis knew that it was constant now and the morphine did nothing to help. He bore it alone and spent every waking hour trying not to crumble under its weight.
“Funny how much I prayed for death these past few months and now that it’s certain my time’s run out, I’m terrified.”
The resignation in Ekile’s voice was startling. Lewis watched him in silence, stalling as a number of possible platitudes have been rewrote themselves in his head, built up slowly and torn down, none sounding genuine enough for a fifteen year old to tell a sixteen year old who has just found he has a few days to live without sounding false or worse contrived. In the end, he didn’t say anything. They just lay, Lewis watching Ekile till he fell asleep.
The moment Lewis woke up, he knew. Ekile felt heavy in his arms, the feather bag now a sack of stones. He slid his hand out from under Ekile and ran for the morning nurse. He didn’t even notice that Ekile’s drip was now reddish black, or that Ekile’s lips stood slightly open, a small pool of blood flecked drool on the mattress. The nurse chased him out of the room and shut the door behind her. He didn’t wait for a confirmation, he fled the hospice because he knew.
Lewis’s head whipped up, startled. He patted his pocket and took out his phone and cursed quietly, it was a quarter to ten, the funeral and internment was by twelve. A number flashed on the screen, one he hadn’t seen before. He reluctantly pressed the receive button and put the phone to his ear.
“Did he suffer? Ekile, when he died, they say you were there. Did he suffer? I need to know.”
“Who is this?” Lewis said at first, irritated that someone would ask a question like that. Then he realised who the caller was and felt his face go numb.
“No, sir.” He said, struggling not let fly the string of choice insults that lurked on the tip of his tongue. “Your son didn’t suffer.”
The phone clicked and Lewis flung the phone away in rage. He didn’t remember the call until he hears about the man who committed suicide by driving off a bridge nearly a month later when his father recognises Ekile’s features in the picture used to run the article.
Lewis knelt down and began to check the drawers of the vanity, starting from the lowest pair; sifting through the mementoes of Ekile’s mother’s life. He finds her diaries from when she was a teenager, and a journal of Ekile’s infancy, filled with charts and little anecdotes and little Polaroid tacked to the pages that signified a new month. He found pictures of her, before him, with her tiny waist and her friends who all had a partiality to flip-flops. Then the pictures of Ekile as a child, running around, wide eyed and fully trusting that he would live forever. It made Lewis teary eyed, to see a side of Ekile he never knew immortalised forever. He tucked in a handful of the pictures into the pockets of his jacket and added the rest to the small pile he will bury with Ekile. Obscured by mouldy clothes and wedged into the top drawer, he found Ekile’s journal from before the cancer. He could not help himself as he turned the first page and began to read. There’s so much anger, manifesting as savage, curse filled rants, and long winding poems with themes of resentment and abandonment. He noticed the pages that chronicle the onset of Ekile’s cancer, misdiagnosed then as his sadness manifesting physically. And then Lewis stumbled on the page, the one that broke him again. The page was bare save for two pictures; the first of Ekile and his parents on their personalised Christmas card, all grins and satisfaction, surrounded by a sea of wrapping paper under the Christmas tree. The second was Ekile’s father by his mother’s hospital bed, his mother bald in a hospital blouse managing the most watery of smiles. Underneath the first was the phrase
“All the glory, when he came to take our place”
And on the second
“And he takes, and he takes, and he takes…”