Samer offered to take Karim to chemotherapy the next day, but Karim thought it was more appropriate if his father did. The appointment was around noon, and when Karim got into the car, his heartbeats started going faster that it was finally happening. But he decided to maintain a smile, just like he’d promised himself the night before. He would get through this, and he would get back to everyone he loved in no time.
When he got to the hospital it was difficult for him to maintain that positive attitude. As soon as he stepped into the door, flashbacks of his accident suddenly hit him with a jolt. He was walking on Spears Road, a car hit him as he walked into the blue. He remembered the smell of the hospital when he first awoke. The doctor, telling him he had cancer, the crying, the tears, his mother’s prayers. The pain, and Karen.
These images flashed and Karim had to shake his head to keep them from haunting him on this particular day. His father was ahead of him, leading the way. And Karim looked at him, his eyes saying what his lips were too weak to pronounce. This man had stuck by his family for all that time, even after knowing his wife was cheating. But why did he do it? He could have just left them. He could have just given up. But instead he had decided to fight for them, to keep them all a family. To keep the fire between them alive.
Karim and his father were being led by a nurse into a giant room that had about 10 electric chairs plugged and wired into monitors and all sorts of devices. A few of them were occupied, and the nurse led Karim into one of them and asked him to sit as she started plugging tubes into his skin, and turning devices on and off, while sounds of beeping started from a monitor behind him. Each of the other patients had someone sitting next to them, some were talking to them, others just holding their hands as their faces winced in apparent pain.
“Are you ready?” The nurse said as she put her hand on a red button.
“Yes, I am. You can go now dad, I’ll be fine.” Karim looked at his father who smiled.
“You’re kidding me? I’m not going anywhere.” His father put his hand through Karim’s hair. “I’ll be right here.”
Karim could not help but smile. He knew his father had taken the day off from work to come with him. And he secretly thanked for it, even though he was sure he didn’t need him to stay. But as the chemo started, and the pain started shooting, he was comforted beyond measure that his father sat across him, holding his hand, whispering words that it will all be alright.
Chemo was scheduled once a week for the coming 4 months. And each time, Karim would have to sit for an hour or so, taking the drugs into his system as pain shot across his limbs. His father came with him for the first 4 weeks, until Karim asked him to go to work. He told him he would be fine, and that his friends would happily come with him. At first his father seemed reluctant but later agreed that his friends should be allowed to have their turn sitting by Karim, helping him through his pain.
When sessions would end, Karim would feel an enormous amount of fatigue. He would sometimes find it difficult to walk to the car. And when he got home, he found it hard to move from one room to the other. Most of his friends stuck by him; he would get a phone call now and then from them, asking about how he was doing, and how he was dealing with the excruciating pains, and Karim would say he was okay. He would say it was fine, and that he had never felt better.
Samer, Mahmoud, and Karen did not call him at all. In fact they never needed to, because they were always there with him along every step. Karim’s parents overcame the issues they had had with Karen being Christian because they knew how much better she made their son feel, and they welcomed her lovingly into their home every day, where she would sit with the exhausted Karim in his room. She would stroke his hair, and kiss his forehead every night until he would fall asleep. Samer and Mahmoud would force him to eat, while Karim’s relationship with his mother was growing colder every day. The more time elapsed, the more they grew apart, distant and silent. He didn’t hold any grudges, but dealing with her would mean dealing with the past, with more pain. And his mother knew her son is better off suffering from his cancer than her adding to his pain with the mistakes she’d done in the past.
Karim’s friends often slept over at his house. Making sure he was having his liquids before his meals to control the nausea he would frequently feel. They would have him take short walks or exercises to help his body cope with the physical fatigue he would feel. These three friends divided their days by shifts, each one would come at a certain period of the day, to be with him, and help him as much as they could. And later, every night, Karen would sit by Karim’s bed. She would open Karim’s laptop, and he would dictate her words for her to type, because no matter what was going on with his life, the only thing that would keep him going, was the fact that by the end of each day he would make progress on the book that had started the day he had had his accident. And as the days went on, the book was finally coming along much to Karim’s satisfaction.
Week after week, Karim’s skin began to turn pale, his nails yellowed and teeth almost falling off. He started getting thinner, his eyelids barely able to blink. But against everything his body told him, he would go on writing his book, for every day for the rest of the chemo period. At night, sometimes he would wonder if he had done the right thing. If he had made the right choice. He would wonder maybe he had better off doing the surgery, but as he read the book he’d been writing, his doubts would fade away. It was by choice that he was lying there so weak. And if he should ever go back in time, he would choose the same exact thing, he would choose the pain, and the slow agony. He would choose the excruciating hours of painful chemo. He would choose the ability to write.
One night, as he finished dictating Karen a section of the book, he started to doze off into sleep. He heard the silence that followed Karen stopping to type, as he closed his eyes. He felt the light issuing from the laptop go off as she closed it, and he felt her shift next to him as he lied on the bed. He felt her touch on his head, as she started to stroke his hair like she did every night. And just as he was losing complete consciousness, he heard the slightest hint of her gasp as she stopped stroking. He opened his eyes slowly, to see tears filling Karen’s eyes, as she held her hand in front of her face, and his heart started racing when he saw the strands of his silky hair stuck between her fingers.
He had known this day would come. He had known it was only hair. He had known it was part of the process. But the sight of it in her hands for some reason made him feel like it was real. His cancer was real. And everything he was going through was not just a dream he could wake up from, and he knew Karen felt the same way. He knew she had been dreading that day for a long time now. He knew how painful this must have been to her, not only to have to care for him, for days on end, but to see proof that was too tangible, that Karim was sick, was the most difficult part. To have to feel the hair she had lovingly stroked for the past years fall into her very touch, it was more than anything he had ever wanted her to go through. He grabbed her hand, gently pulled her towards him, and he felt her shaking. With tears in his eyes he looked at her, and kissed her on the lips.
“It’s just hair, my love. It’s just hair.” As both their tears started falling.
[…to be continued]