Inge Marry Shikangala
|Alike but Different, by Inge Marry Shikangala, 2017|
In April 2016, I took my father to Engela State Hospital at the northern border of Namibia. This was the nearest hospital, but still twenty kilometers away from where my father lived. My two cousins helped me get my very tall father in and out of my small car, which in itself was a mission.
Since my father was a pensioner, he did not have to go through the same route as everyone else at the hospital. The nurses took him while I waited in a big full waiting room. There were so many patients lying on hospital beds scattered all over the waiting area. Loved ones stood next to their beds.
I sat there waiting to hear from the nurse or doctor. A nurse called to me as she walked towards the far corner of the waiting room. Seeing an arm stretching out from the bed, I could tell it was my father.
All the nurse said was, “There is your father. Now you just have to wait until the drip finishes and then the doctor will take a look at him again.” Then she left.
I wondered if there was much they could do for him. He had been suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure for so long, and all those pills and injections had sucked the life out of him. My father had always enjoyed his life to the fullest, many times at the expense of other people. But he was true to himself. That part I admired. For the past sixteen years, his diabetes had continued to get worse. He had finally stopped talking and eating. He just stopped.
I sat on his bed and looked at him lying there, so helpless. It was like looking at someone else. He also just looked at me and I wondered what he was thinking. The two of us had never really gotten along. My mother always said it was because we were alike. Maybe, maybe not. He had been an absent father and we never really stayed under one roof for long, at least not that I could remember. I used to be angry with him when I was a teenager, but by the time I hit my early twenties he just did not seem worth being angry at anymore. So I let it go.
I sat there and thought about the many things that had happened between us. I wondered if he regretted those things, but knowing him I doubted it. But then I realized that I did not regret any of it either. Whatever we did to each other was well deserved.
We stared at each other for a while. His facial expression was confusing, unreadable. I wondered if he still thought that I was angry with him. In my twenties we grew so far apart. I never told him that I had forgiven him and was no longer angry. I wondered if I should tell him now, and whether he also wanted to say something to me.
I decided to tell him a little about myself, not that it would mean anything to him or change anything between us. But first I decided to tell him about my sister, who was at that time busy with her PhD studies in Germany. I knew he would love to hear about that, since he was always big on education. I told him all about her career and what she would most likely do when she came back. He did not look like he wanted to say anything but he finally smiled. I wish my sister had been there to see that smile.
Hours passed and the drip finished, so I called one of the nurses. The next thing I knew, she was putting in another one. I smiled at him and joked, “It looks like we are going to be stuck in the hospital for a couple more hours.” He just looked at me, and then the nurse.
After the nurse left, I resumed our one-way conversation. I took his hand and introduced myself as if I were in an interview. I started by telling him about my achievements in education and job experience, and then I went into the real stuff. I told him I was sorry for the many hurtful things I had done to him. I even apologized for those that I did not remember. Then I told him I had forgiven him and stopped being angry for all he had done to me a long time ago. I had drifted away in my adulthood and I know he tried to reach out to me years before, but we were already so far apart. He just looked at me as I talked and then he put his hand over mine, squeezing it softly. He looked like he wanted to say something but could not. And then the most unexpected thing happened. He could not talk so he cried; tears ran down to his ears.
I was shocked. I had never seen my father cry before, not even when my mom or my two brothers died. I too find it very difficult to cry, but at that moment the tears came so easily that it was difficult to control. I faced the wall and tried to calm myself. After a while I looked into his eyes again, held his hand tighter, and kissed him on the forehead. When we both finally stopped crying, a long silence followed. I was quiet because I was inside my head. I did not know what he was thinking but hoped that he too was processing our unusual and unexpected conversation.
The second drip finished and another one was started. I told the nurse that this was the third drip they were putting up. How will I know if he wants to go to the bathroom, I asked. All the nurse said was, “He will have to say something if he wants to go to the bathroom. And you have to take him to the bathroom yourself.” And then he left.
For a moment I panicked. It was getting dark and my cousins were nowhere to be seen. Taking my father to the bathroom meant getting him off the bed, into a wheelchair, and then onto the toilet pot. Because he was in no condition to stand, I was going to need help from someone.
I looked at my father’s face and he did not look well. When I got closer and looked into his eyes, I saw something I had never seen before. He had given up. It was right there in his eyes. He was not the type that gave up easily. My chest felt heavy and right there I knew his days were numbered.
I told my father I was going to leave the next day for Windhoek. It had been a busy week and I needed to rest before I started work. But I also did not want to be there when he died. My aunt, his sister, would come and check him. He did not react to anything I said. I remembered that my mother had sent us away on purpose when she passed. I still appreciate that. It was not something I wanted to see.
As we drove back home, the honest and truthful conversation I had in the short time with my father hit me. Perhaps we really were alike in so many ways, and that was why we had hurt each other. A few days later he passed. I was in class when they called.
INGE MARRY SHIKANGALA, MCom, BCom(Hons), BAcc, worked for years as an accountant for non-profit organizations. She has recently explored other career options, and in the process has discovered her interest in writing. She learned to pursue what she loves from her father.