The days went on and on, and always the same. Wake up, rush to the communal shower, get back to bed, wait for breakfast. Pedro had brought me some contraband instant coffee and the kind cafeteria ladies would give me “water for my tea”, with a word to keep quiet so the others wouldn’t find out.
I had to ask the lobsters to refrain from visiting everyday as that left me tired. No matter how much I love each of them, I needed to manage my energy. On one of the visits they brought me a book (The Man in the High Castle) and some Magazines (Gerador, a cultural magazine, Scientific American, and a Playboy). Rebelo was the one who brought the “Man in the High Castle”, of course. And Jorge, who had been with me almost from the start, was kind enough to get me supplies from my apartment. A shaver, a comb, some clothes, headphones.
The nurses would take our temperature and blood pressure in the morning, come back in the afternoon for treatments and check-ups. The beds were changed while we showered.
One of the orderlies was a beautiful black woman, young and with a sweet accent. One day she caught me by surprise when she talked about her two children. Another orderly was from Cape Verde, City of Praia, and made me go back to the Plateau and how it changed since the last time she was there.
Some patients would take their meals in the cafeteria which was next door, I would stay put. “The medicine makes my immune system weaker, I want to avoid contact”, was a lie, I simply didn’t want to socialize.
The choices were fish or meat, the desert was a roasted apple or some sort of pudding. It was hospital food but it was good.
Then came the medicine. I got used to being poked every day because the catheter would rarely hold on. They brought me printed out flyers, the kind that were photocopied a million times, with the list of side effects to watch out for.
With symptoms going back and forth, I kept a small journal of everything I was feeling to make life easier for the doctors and nurses. In those notes I also wrote down some sentences in Hindi that K taught me. Most of them have gone, of course.
My mother’s visit was of course the one with the heaviest emotional charge. Instead of letting me know, she showed up. That woman hadn’t crossed the river in years, took the boat, took a cab, and rushed into the Hospital. Fortunately Pedro came to visit around the same time and gave her a lift back to the harbour.
I had taken every precaution to tell her gently that I was in the hospital. Letting her know I was okay, that I had friends looking after me. It was clear what was wrong with me, but I needed the right time to break that news.
She meant well of course, but worrying about her wasn’t very helpful for my recovery. “Remember, keep yourself happy, that’s the best way to speed up your recovery!” I will never forget Pedro saying that. He was the first lobster my mother got to meet, and left a huge impression. Later she would sometimes ask about how “Super Dad” was doing.
Happiness doesn’t come in spades when you’re in a Hospital. My mindset was in being optimistic and resting as much as I could. The medicine I was getting would give me headaches, and if someone came around I would always sit up to be polite. And with friends coming around frequently I couldn’t complain about being forgotten.
Nights were harder. Most of the time I could sleep and would hum a blessing to Célia for giving me earplugs. I would have spent many more sleepless nights if not for her foresight.
Night time is when the wolves come around. Some are gentle and simply lay there, staring with eyes that glow in the dark, some concerned, others waiting for a sign of weakness.
Lone wolves are hungrier and less patient. They approach in the dark, sniff out the weakness in us, growl to lure out the fear. They may strike in fury if we stare them dead in the eyes, or chew on our soul if we are already helpless.
I have been visited by all kinds of wolves and dealt with them in many different ways. I fought them off with steel logic and a fiery youth. Some times, feeling weaker, I would fight them off with alcohol and empty hedonism.
The wolf pack was growing and circling closer each night, like the one when I send a message to the emptiness. The predictable routine didn’t help. One day, after a night spent fighting them off, I woke up to a wolf lying at the foot of the bed. As I moved, it raised it’s head, looked at me, and curled back to sleep.
“You are new, what’s your name?”
“I’m not going to give the honour of having a name.”
Its eyes opened, glowing in the dark, and I stared back.
The distance from that insomnia to sending you a message was short. It’s not something that makes me proud, to succumb after holding on for so long, and to do it when I was in such a dark place. The next morning, still sleepless, I shaved, washed my face, looked in the mirror and said “I’m sorry” so that the mirror would wisper back “It’s ok.”.
Andreia, showed up for the usual check up on us. “Later tonight, do you think I can have something to help me sleep?”.
Deep breath, it’s a new day and we need to get back on our feet.
“Subadrina Maste, K. How do you feel today?”
K also had his own wolves to fight, and with less weapons to keep them off.