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African Writing Archives


Chuma Nwokolo



Chuma Nwokolo

Nwokolo, author and advocate, is writer of Diaries of a Dead African and publisher of .

Terminal Talk is short fiction from the series, Tales by Conversation


 Terminal Talk

I llololove you my darling, like a bee loves his honey. Like a monkey loves his banana. Like a, like a... I don't know, I just lllove you my darling.

I'm in hell.

So how are you doing, Etie? Ssame as ever, eh? Well, as for me, the honest truth of the matter is that I’m doing really well. As you can ssee, my ssstammer is fully gone now. I know it’s sounds a little callous for a husband to say to his comatose wife that things are going sswimmingly. But after ten years of marriage, you know me, Etie, the truth and nothing but the truth... left to me, I won’t go into details, but it was Dr. Busa who said to me, just yesterday, that you’re not actually in a coma. (Can you imagine that!) He said you were probably in a locked-in state: that you can hear and understand everything going on around you – unless you’re sleeping of course. He says I should do more to draw you out, that he has seen you open your eyes, and sometimes move your pupils. – Is this true, Etie? I’ve visited you almost every day of these nine months. I was even here when they took our baby from your womb and I’ve never seen your eyes open. And yet, this is Dr. Busa swearing that you’ve opened your eye in his presence… could it be, Etie, that even now, I still bore you to death, same as before? Well if that is so, I’ll be more interesting, I promise you, I promised Dr. Busa as well. I think he has been spying on us, the way he said I shouldn’t just come and sit down, change your flowers, and hum Bob Marley's Easy Skanking


while I read newspapers till the end of visiting time. He said I should talk to you - about the things you used to like, the things we used to do. He said that kind of talk can pull you out of your locked-in state. He even told me of a young girl who was in a coma for fifteen years before recovering miraculously. She wrote this book about her life in the coma, about all the things she heard and all the things that went through her mind. Yes, Etie, she claimed to have been conscious most of the time. Is that where you are, Etie?

Please scratch my right armpit, please,

So I promised him I'll try to draw you out. So I’m thinking to myself: what’s the best way to stimulate you, pull you out of that comfortable sleeping place where you are? And just like that, I see the answer: I have to share everything in our life with you – which is mostly me, since you’re lying here, you see.

God, take me away, please, do I have to listen to this? How can You leave alive a man like this, who does not even know what to do with his life? How can a man have boredom trailling him like an odour? What terrible sin did I commit that this should be my punishment? To lie here and listen to this drivel?

So as for me,

Fine! Let him speak. Maybe the boredom will kill me finally!

the honest truth is that things are going well. I don’t know how, but the tragedy of your accident seems to have turned things for me. It has been just unbelievable, Etie, you should have been at the office to see how they received me that first day I returned to work after your accident.

I can imagine, you pathetic thing.

I that thought my boss would be vexed because I took so many days off… vexed! If only I knew! He called me conscientious, for coming in to work at all,

Indeed! Will you recognize sarcasm when you hear it?

There was nobody who didn’t hold me, shake my hand. Even BBBeatrice –

Here we go

I know you've always accused me of messing about with her just because we hot-desked for a while, but honestly there was nothing between us - even Beatrice who never speaks six words a day to me, she came over and hugged me

In your dreams! I suppose you and that medical student of a doctor have concocted this silly plan to provoke me back to life with a dose of old-fashioned jealousy? How pathetic! As if I need any motivation to get out of this bed!

and said how sorry she was about your accident. And it's been like that, Etie, it is a little like that Tsunami thing that was all over the papers, like how tragedy, sort of, brings people together. That's the thing. That’s the way it was, Etie, the kind of sympathy people have shown us. I know you haven’t had many visitors, as such, it’s not that they don’t care, I promise you that, it’s just that when they heard you were in a coma they must have thought, what’s the point, she won’t even know we came. That’s the thing.

It’s my weight, I know it. What won’t I give to see how I look now? Everything I eat goes down to my hips, all that sugar they syringe down my mouth; and then the baby! I don't want to think what my stomach looks like now! That blasted accident beat my abortion by a week!

So most of the time they just give me whatever they have for us. And it’s been mostly money, Etie, - apart from all the baby things. Mostly money. You'll want to know that our baby is the handsomest boy. I'm so proud, Etie. I don't know why you didn't tell me you were two months pregnant, were you trying to surprise me? Anyway he's so lovely - and fair too. The other day, the night nurse even called him 'half-caste', but my great-grandfather was an albino. That's where he gets his fairness from. So people have been so generous, you won’t believe we’re no more in debt. Oh yes. Well, that is, apart from our mortgage, but as for all those store cards and credit card bills, Etie, wiped out. Every one of them. Don't worry about the hospital bills, we’re sitting pretty Etie, particularly after I sold your shop,


we’re really sitting pretty. Well, maybe I shouldn’t really say sitting, with you and the baby always lying

Tell me about my shop you moron. You sold my shop? You dared to sell my shop? Oh God just give me strength enough in one fist, just strength enough for one good punch!

Let’s say we’re lying pretty well, eh? Holy Moses! Etie! you opened your eyes!

Of course I did, do you take me for a vegetable?

Can you blink? Go on and try, Dr. Busa says open eyelids can damage your eyes, that’s why they moisturize you from time to time. You can blink, Etie, go on and try, go on,

O please! Tell me what you did to my shop, you creep!

blinking is a normal reflex, Etie, Dr. Busa says that ten percent of comatose people manage to blink. Go on and try, Etie, try. Was that a reflex or did you mean to blink? Was that?

Enough already!

God! I know you'll be healed! I know it! We'll be a happy, healthy family again. What should we call the baby, Etie?

The shop! Talk to me about the shop!

If it was a girl I'd have called her Etie, of course, but Etie is no name for a boy. And I know how much you hated my name. I don't know. You sometimes called me ‘Eddy’, didn't you? Sometimes when wwwe are..when wwwe wwwere…. will you like me to call him Eddy?

Oh Christ!

I don't know. Anyway, I’ve sold your shop, Etie. I know you’ll understand. I did my best but I don’t know the first thing about men's fashion. And all the stock you have in the back, I had no idea what their prices were. And that cash book you have under your desk, it’s like you wrote it in a kind of code or something. And your customers, Etie, it seems they come to look for you, not the clothes, when I tell them what happened to you, those young men, they just stand there and begin to cry; they don't buy anything. So I sold it all to that your Hausa neighbour, Amina, and she paid me cash. So we’re doing well, Etie, concerning finances,

how much cash?

we’re doing well. You don’t need to worry about me. I know you’ve always said that without you to manage things,

I said how much cash? How much?

I’ll go to pieces, but we’re doing well. I get so much help with the baby. People just see a clumsy man with a child and they shake their head and come over to help out. Even, take away the money from your shop, you won’t believe the kind of money in our bank. It is like this tragedy has opened doors for me, Etie. I mean for us. So many, many kindnesses from everyone... you won’t believe the envelopes of cash, the handshakes, the hugs… even BBeatrice – but I've told you that, haven't I? In fact, she just came up to me back in February and hugged me! As for my boss, Etie, he said to me: Jonkey, come in when you can, and what you can do at home, do at home! Imagine that sort of language coming from bossman! No, it has been simply unbelievable, Etie.

I'll kill Dr. Busa for this. How can I get this man to shut up?

It is going to be a little difficult, Etie, filling these remaining three or four hours of your visiting time with talk. When you were well, I rarely ever talked, did I? Not because I didn’t want to, of course, but you talked for both of us, didn't you. Now I know how difficult that can be. I usually took too much time thinking of what to say. By which time we’re talking about something else. But it is so... quiet now, Etie, almost unnatural. I can take my time to ..think and And all I really want to tell you is tha-tha-that I llololove you, Etie.

If you llololove me you'll scratch between my breasts right now, oww!

There's another woman in the ward next door who is in a coma as well. Her husband comes only once a month; he's living with another woman now and last week he was telling me how he was trying to get them to switch off his wife's life-support machine! You don't need to worry about me Etie, I will love you till, till... I will love you Etie. See, I love you even more now that you can't talk anymore. Do you realise we have spent more time together in the nine months since your accident than in our ten years of marriage? It's not that I'm happy for the accident, but... I'm running out of things to say, Etie,

Thank heavens.

but I promised Dr. Busa. I'm going to try, Etie. Even if it is just to describe the weather for you, I'm going to try... I can talk at my own pace, Etie, but what do I talk about? You have this large ward all to yourself. See, the view from your window is good for talking too. The lawn is a neat, green handkerchief... it is looking like it is barbed with a pair of scissors rather than trimmed with a mower. There's an old woman in a wheelchair there... like Eduardo.

You could tell me how I look, you could tell me how my hips look. I know it all piles up down there. Bring me a mirror. I'm a red-blooded woman but all the nurses keep shoving in my face is Eduardo's baby - bring me a blasted mirror.

About Eduardo - you remember Eduardo, don't you? That our Dutch friend in whose car you had the accident? His wife divorced him! And he was still in his wheelchair too, two broken legs! That was just so callous. Why are people so mean Etie? 'Till death do us part' doesn't mean ten kobo anymore. Dr. Busa suggested that I might read to you, so I have brought you books, Let’s see, I have brought you Amos Tutuola's The Palmwine Drinkard and p'Bitek's Song of Lawino...

o God...

..but Etie, you didn’t really read much, did you? And I am so afraid of boring you to death. I can imagine myself in your place,

no you can’t

lying with a living mind, trapped inside a body that isn't working anymore, and then some do-gooder sits beside me, hours on end, reading one of Shakespeare’s horrid plays to me... It would probably just drive me mad. Yet, this Palmwine Drinkard is really funny... ha ha.. but then again... I've also brought your diary, I don't know what you prefer me to read… between Okot P'Bitek's… your pu-pu-pupils moved, Etie! Your pu-pu-pupils moved! Holy MMMoses, Etie!

He didn't just say diary?

This is a miracle! Goodness gracious God! What did I ssay? Was it the bbooks? You want me to read you Song of Lawino? Or was it The Palmwine Drinkard... ? Was it ...  why are you bbblinking Etie? Why are you doing that to your eyes, Etie? Should I read to you? Which one? Should I throw them away? Read them immediately? Holy God. Goo-goo-gooosepimples are growing all over me Etie! I’ll call the doctor... no? The reverend? My God, Etie, I’m all sssscattered up. You see what you do to me… you move your pupils and I’m sssscrambled up again… No I didn’t mean it like that. I’m excited, that is what it is. I know I don't say this often Etie, but I llolove you, Etie. I love you like, like

Spare me!

I don't know, I just love you. You may not think it, remembering all the harsh things you said to me, but that first night after the accident when I thought you would die, that emptiness, that... that... what-am-I-going-to-do-now type of emptiness — I think that is what love is, Etie, a helpless what-am-I-going-to-do-now feeling. I cried, Etie. Stop moving them around now, Etie, don’t damage the only working part of you. Let’s work on the other parts, okay? What were you moving your eyes to see? Your diary?
                         It was your diary that roused you, wasn’t it? I guess you were shocked I found it, after all you said about me looking for car keys when I’m holding them in my hand. Well, you’re right – I didn’t find it, it was Amina’s workmen. She was putting in a new floor in your shop so all the floorboards had to come out. They found this under the floorboard by your chair,

Now I'm really in hell. Amina read my diary? Why o why? Please burn it! God! All that money I gave to charity...just one favour: make him burn that book!

it would have been there for the next hundred years otherwise. So far I haven’t read it, Etie, you know I’ll never read another person’s diary. I wasn’t raised that way. I don’t know about Amina, of course, she was acting a little... strangely when she brought it to me. But as for me, you know I will never read your diary.

Good! For both our sakes!

– Oh, and I’ve got to tell you this, Etie, I can now cook drawy okra soup! You don’t know how excited I was to discover how, Etie. This was only five months ago. I was down to your last bowl of okra from the freezer and I stretched it out like you can’t imagine. Then, finally it was finished and I was back to cooking and eating okra soup that tasted like boiled salad. Then one day I stumbled on the secret, and it was quite simple really. You blend and blend and blend the okra until it is this ball of gluey paste, and then you simmer the soup with the lid off. Low heat, no lid. That's the formula, wasn't it? The result was the drawiest okra I ever ate. It was so good... it was so good... it was... no. I won't start lying to you, Etie. Not now. You know me, Etie, the truth and nothing but the truth... it was BBBeatrice who told me how - she just described it, mark you - she didn't show me. She's never been to the house or anything.

O come on!

Is it not funny Etie, how the silences grow? And even though we have been married for ten years, just like that, I've run out of things to say. You never used to run out, Etie, you could talk through a whole weekend and there’d be so much left to say. I’ve become better at speaking, now that you can’t any more, although I'll never get to be as good as you. Maybe that's what they mean by 'compensation'. When other parts of the body become stronger because one part is dead - although you're not dead of course, that's not what I meant! You’re alive and we’re going to get you out of this so-called locked-in state, eh? We are like one body, aren’t we, Etie? I’m scattered about this, Etie. Should I read you your diary or should I not? I like how the mention of it woke your eyes up. Maybe reading one page will wake your right hand up, eh? I really need your decision on this one. Can you blink once to say 'don't read' and twice to say 'read' - woooo! That's one!
.         ...


... and that two. Although that was quite a gap, wasn't it Etie? Can't be sure now if you blinked twice or if your eyelids just got heavy after the first blink,.

Bloody cheat!

maybe it’s just my curiosity, because after all, you wrote it, didn’t you? You won’t need me to read it over to you, will you? ... Unless of course the accident damaged your memory. Maybe reading it will remind you of our old life, like Dr. Busa said, jog your memory, help unlock you? You don’t think? After all, we are one body, aren’t we? And we have no secrets, have we?
     Maybe I should just toss a coin, Etie? At least then I can’t say I took the decision myself. Here goes, Etie, Heads I read your diary to you, tails I don’t...

There is a God! There is a God! There is a forgiving God!

Well, that settles it. I won't read you your diary. I'll keep it Etie, or maybe burn it. Maybe I should just burn it Etie. Should I burn it or keep it?

Here we go again! Look, Jonkey, make yourself useful, give my knees a good scratch, please,

If I keep it, one day I’ll eventually have to read it to you. Otherwise what's the point of keeping a diary? So keeping it is equivalent to reading it. Isn’t it? So, should I keep it or burn it. Burning seems such a terminal thing to do. Maybe I should toss another coin. Heads I burn the diary, tails I keep it, and read it later...

Tails you what? We had settled that! Double cheat!

Tails. Well, that settles it. I'll keep it.
      I've run out of things to talk about. Might as well just read you your diary, Etie.

You, you, you...

Tossing a coin sounds so juvenile, you always said I was a ditherer. Oh well, I won’t dither anymore. I'll just do it. Here goes Etie. We'll start from your last entry on the day of your accident and work our way back over your life. Our life. I always wondered where you were going with Eduardo when you crashed. You’d told me you were stocktaking that evening. This is January 30th, 2008, Etie. This is your life:

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