I met her before the drugs, the wires and the hollow look in her eyes. She was my friend’s mother. Atab and I met on the first day of resumption in secondary school. We shared the same dorm room, same class and somehow found ourselves in the same ‘special number’ band. In our time, we looked forward to the major visiting saturdays: not only for the reunion with our folks and all the home cooked meals one could stuff up on the spot, a major attraction for most of us foxes- all newbies were addressed thus – ’twas the extra bucks parents and guardians of friends’ would give. I named myself team leader on that project- project GFAA(gather from all angles). Thankfully, my pops also gave change to all who came with me to see him- none could accuse me of being avaricious.
After one of those very rewarding interactive session with families of friends where we had amassed enough wealth to last us a while, we were lounging in makeshift tents- all six of us band members- under the drying line in front of our dorm, when Atab startled us with her revelation.
Today hadn’t seemed different to me. Her ma was her usual bubbling self asking ten questions in one breath, expecting all of us to follow her lead, while simultaneously dropping quips and sage words- the woman could talk up a storm.
I was quite young then but I had read stories and seen a lot of movies to know the gravity of the condition. Atab was a private person and would only confide in you, when all her imaginary friends had gone deaf. Minutes after she had blurted out her thoughts, we all had similar looks on our faces – shock. The palpable silence, was finally broken by my inappropriately timed raucous laughter.
The look on Lizzie’s face was an unbelievable cross between remorse and hunger – her hand was frozen mid-air with a half eaten doughnut clasped in her palm while her throat was working overtime, calming the impatient worms in her gut with trickles of saliva. Five pairs of accusing stares turned on me, killing the mirth threatening to consume my entire girth. One of us was hurting. I hurriedly brushed off grass and pastry crumbs from my plain green day uniform as I stood up, to lead us in prayer- surely, if we all earnestly sought God, he would make it go away, right?
A lot had happened since we met five years ago. Even though Bee and I were no longer chums, I still got to see her mother once in a while. Things had gone worse. All that was left of her bouncy hair, were mere strands scattered here and there- it reminded me of lean cows grazing on a desolate land. The radiation had sucked a lot out of this woman- who needed to be alive and strong for her kids. She knew the end was nigh and came to see her kids as often as her weakened and drug induced state could allow. I even got to go away with some dough the last time I saw her – this time, she was demure, her eyes almost unfocused as she pressed the money to my palms. We watched unashamed as she kissed Atab and whispered words to her. Tears ran freely down my cheeks as I stared at her car. My thoughts, a world away from the scene- this strong woman who had built an empire for herself in the upscale part of town, on her own amidst trials and betrayal. This woman who’d been abused by her husband severally and later abandoned with two underaged daughters. Life was so unfair.
Two months later, just weeks before we sat for our GCE O’ levels exam, news of her death reached the school premises. The whole school grieved with them – her friends more so.
Recently, I came across a picture of Atab on the internet. She’d participated in the Canadian ‘Race For the Cure’ charity event for breast cancer and had actually completed the marathon. I was elated, as I exhaled slowly and allowed myself to reminisce. She was going to be okay.
The true heroes are all around us: the cancer survivors and their kin. These are the people who deserve to be celebrated. For arresting faith and hope and never letting despair sink in. For trusting in God even when all around spelt doom and gloom. For being brave enough to share their stories, inspiring millions.
We all have a part to play in this fight: awareness and early detection will go a long way to save another.
Let’s sound the alarm. Let’s spread the word.
PS: There will be a free breast cancer screening on the 28th of August 2011 at the Silverbird Galleria Abuja from 2- 6pm. Sell the idea of the test to as many people as you can.