‘Funny how you’ve got to get your heart broken ninety-nine times to feel numb on your hundredth’, she tweeted.
Letting her long black hair on the floor from the edge of her bed, she took a look at her mother at a reversed view standing at her doorway with hands on hips.
“The first face you look at as you wake up is your phone’s screen”, she sighed and called her for tea.
Laughing to herself, Jamal sat up on the bed and turned the front camera on her phone and curved her smooth lips into her usual smile at what she saw every morning; a gorgeous, young and bold woman with beauty so naturally alluring. With no makeup on, the clear brown skin that she made sure to always maintain shone like wax to the sly rays of sun that fell on her through the lace curtains in her room. Letting out a grin, she touched the extra fat under her chin that doubled her face size and measured it between her two fingers. That did not bother her. She loved her looks like always, a little extra chubbiness never lessened how much she adored herself. Running her fingers through her thick hair from the front, she combed it to aside, revealing her neck and ear with her three beautiful piercings. The morning rays added extra magic to her beauty with no beauty apps required. A quick selfie to add to her ‘self-care everyday’ and Jamal jumped out of bed to water her peace lilies.
Jamal had a close connection with the lilies that she grew in her room. She had bought them from a nearby flower shop when she was schooling and had always made it a habit to take care of it just like she took great care of her beauty and mental health.
‘Are you going to come with me for the complete body check-up at least today, Jammy?’, she heard her mother from the kitchen as she adjusted the lace in her bottom.
‘Next week!’, she shouted and stuck her fingers in her ears, blocking it from listening to her mother’s rants.
For Jamal, her little world consisted of her parents, siblings and her husband who lived overseas. Everyday, she’d go out to work then come back to her mom who would prepare her favourite snacks to enjoy their tea-time together. At night, she’d spend all her time video calling her love and fall asleep with a heart so content.
She’s always heard her friends tell her that it must be her heart’s contentment that reflected in her appearance, making her look like the most beautiful woman anybody could meet.
Exactly three months before her first wedded anniversary, Jamal had gone to the hospital with her mother to finally have her complete body check-up done.
‘Everything is normal, ma’am’, the glum receptionist assured Jamal’s mother as she collected the reports. Rolling her eyes at her mother, Jamal began her usual ‘this is why I told you I don’t need a check-up!’ tantrums. Not satisfied soon, her mother opened the envelope and pulled out the sheets to have a look through, as they walked up to ‘Dr. Jahan’ as the receptionist had instructed.
‘Jamal. Jamal Muna’, her mother completed.
Looking at her through her clear ray bans, the doctor said, ‘You are a very beautiful girl.’
Jamal smiled and adjusted the bag on her shoulder and nodded as a gesture of thanking the doctor.
‘I hope the receptionist told you that Jamal’s reports were normal,’
‘But there is one more check-up we need to do and that’s all you need to do.’
Jamal rolled her eyes as the doctor went on talking to her mother about scans, tests and reports.
After about ten minutes, the two of them walked out the sliding door to the car.
‘Don’t pull me for another test, mom. Tell me we’re going home.’
Her mother shook her head and soon they were at another laboratory.
A week after, Jamal was again forced to go see Dr. Jahan for consultancy.
The wait outside the consultancy room gave Jamal a little time to look around.
Dr. Jahan Mukarram
Specialist – Oncologist
‘Why are we meeting an oncologist?’
‘Why? Who is an oncologist?’, her mother asked in return.
‘A cancer specialist.’
Jamal sat for another few minutes pondering over certain questions like; Why did she have to meet an oncologist for a chest pain? What did her reports really say? How long did she have to wait to meet the doctor? When can she go home? Why hasn’t her husband texted her yet?
‘Jamal Muna. Please.’
Jamal’s thoughts were shaken off by the voice of a nurse in blue uniform.
Jamal and her mother took the seats in front of the doctor’s desk.
‘Hello Jamal’, Dr. Jahan extended a smile.
Taking her eyes off her nails that she had been observing where her fresh nail polish was neatly done, she nodded and returned her best smile.
‘I do not really know how you would take this Jamal, but I hope you remain strong inside too just like you maintain a strong look on the outside.’
Observing a paper, what looked like the report Jamal had handed to the doctor, Dr. Jahan sighed.
‘It’s a rare case, dear. We will first need to take you through a surgery that will involve a lot of risk and then, start a therapy for which we will need your complete support.’
Jamal did not understand.
‘Why a surgery for a chest pain, doctor?’
‘It’s a mediastinal tumour, my dear. It is a rare type of tumour that grows in your mediastinum; the area that separates your lungs. So, it’s basically between your lungs and your heart. Since the tumour has grown in the borderline of your heart, we are going to need a lot of prayers and hope to treat this.’
Jamal remained quiet but she could feel her mother’s cold hand squeeze hers.
‘But Jamal, I believe you are a very strong woman. You can fight this. Here, meet me tomorrow. I think we must not delay the treatment’, she handed Jamal a sheet of scribbled writings.
Jamal underwent her surgery few days after her diagnosis and her chemotherapy had started two weeks after.
She was taken to a hospital in the capital city on given dates, where she had to stay for a day to receive her chemotherapy intravenously.
On the fifth week of her chemotherapy, Jamal woke up to the rays of the morning sun crawling through the embroidery of her lace curtain. Taking the phone to her hand, she opened Twitter.
“Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me”, she tweeted.
Turning around in her bed, Jamal kept her head on the edge of the bed that turned to her room door. She felt the soft edge of her mattress tickle her scalp.
‘Jamal. When are you ever going to stop waking up to that screen?’, her mother stood at the door with hands on her hip.
Forcing a laughter, she turned the front camera on her phone and curved her sore, dark purple lips into an unusual smile at what she saw that morning; a woman she could not recognise. With no makeup on, she could tell her brown skin had turned almost black and revealed bruises; dark purple and blue all over her body. The skin that shone like wax to the sly rays of sun every morning, looked like that of a rotting animal. Tears fell off her eyes, as she touched the extra fat under her chin that doubled her face size and measured it between her two fingers. That now bothered her. She could not love her looks like always, everything about her looks scared her. Running her fingers through her bald head, she recalled the days she had combed her thick black hair every day and maintained it without frizz. The morning rays highlighted her transformation with no extra lights required. Closing the front camera, Jamal sighed and kept unsteady steps on the ground. She could feel her whole-body ache, her intestines feel weird and her limbs so weak. Limping towards her pot of peace lilies, she took the spray bottle to water them. Her nails, she observed looked dead. Every single one of them were black with no nail polish on. Shaking her eyes off them, she continued to spray water for her lilies, that she noticed had started to wither just like herself.
‘Dr. Jahan wanted us to remind you that you have only two more sessions left’, her mother assured.
‘You are a fighter, my girl’, her father looked at her from his prayer mat.
Jamal looked at her old mother who, she very well knew was dead in the inside just like she was, physically. At her father, she looked with great concern and smiled.
‘These four sessions, they were for you both’, she said and walked back to her room.
That evening, Jamal was rushed to the hospital in her own city for breath and died after few tough attempts made by the doctors to save her life.
Procedures to handover her body to her family were done very soon and arrangements were made for her funeral.
In the same bed that she had woken up every morning to her mobile’s screen, she was laid silently. Like the lilies, Jamal died a painful yet silent death.
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Concept by: Heba Abdul Cader