The Embrace

This piece won the 19th Ming Chuan University Literary Prize for English Prose

Significance: “The Embrace” speaks of the power of human beings to communicate in ways other than words than in many instances are more powerful and appropriate than words themselves. It also shows how quickly lives can be transformed and how difficult situation tends to cloud our judgment.

Dedication: I dedicate this prize to someone very special – the one who inspired this work. This person constantly reminds me that the sky is the limit. This prize comes with a sense of achievement and I dedicate it to my fiancee, Symantha Walker.

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The Embrace

Their tacit communication told him that she needed to be held, embraced, reassured. And, as he brought her into his arms, the suffocating smells of medicine mixed with that underlying whiff of death instantly vanished. Only then did he find some much welcome relief from the cacophony of odors – characteristic of hospital wards – which had assaulted his nostrils just moments before.

In their stead were fragrances familiar – the scent of roses that envelop her body, a vestige from her shower two hours earlier on. Clinging to her hair was the aromatic fragrance of her African Pride hair food – selected scented oils and herbs, specially formulated for African-type hair.

Much like a babe needing no assistance in finding its mother’s breast, her head found the well between his shoulder and neck. As it lay gently there he couldn’t help but think that their bodies were designed for each other; each part like a jigsaw puzzle with its corresponding piece on the other’s body, designed especially for times like that.

In that moment of serenity, the river of tears that had welled up in her found an outlet, flushing with it all the frustration that was bottled up within. He held her close for a moment longer as sounds of her sobbing drifted to his ear and her tears moistened his clothing. Her embrace became more of a vice-like hold; her heart raced and her chest jerked as her sobbing intensified.

It was just the night before that he had held her in his embrace. Only that that caress was for a different reason. They had held each other closely for so long that the clamoring world around them had faded into oblivion, replaced by the reassuring rhythm of two hearts beating in unison. It was their way of reaffirming their love and commitment to each other.

Today, less than 24 hours later, her heart was galloping like a race horse. Her fingers did not move in circles or vertical lines along his back. Both hands were now gripping his skin, like a hyena clutching its pound of flesh. She knew that in him she could find an anchor, no matter how much the storm raged.

At that moment he reflected on the speed at which their lives had come to that moment, like a tornado reaching out of the cloud, lashing at the earth with its tail of destruction. Their world, like the clouds had been darkened and they were face to face with potential, seemingly, inevitable death and desolation.

His mind was still processing the scene that he had just witnessed: her mother lying on a hospital bed, her body moving in violent, seemingly uncontrollable jerks. Her speech resembling word from an esoteric language that person in that locale had long forgotten, were yet to learn, or were only able to speak in those conditions.

He compared her to the person that he had seen that morning, about four hours ago – a “healthy”, middle aged woman, a mother, going about her usual Saturday morning house-keeping chores. He knew that she was not hospitalized because she had bumped her head on the bus when the driver took a sharp curve on her way home from the market. However, she was right in believing that. What else could have explained the slight tinge that she had begun feeling in her head shortly after her arrival home?

“Everything is gonna be alright,” he finally mustered, trying to convince himself that what he was saying was true.

“I don”t want her to die,” she responded, her words punctuated by her sobs.

“Don’t worry, everything is gonna be OK,” he said again, this time with more conviction.

It was not that he fully believed what he was saying, but he did know that he was prepared to do everything in his power to ensure that whatever the outcome of her mother’s situation he was going to be a pillar for her.

And, even as he tightened his embrace, he reflected on the irony or her words. For in her mother”s situation, death is often a better option. However, it is always difficult to surrender a loved one to the jaws of death. He let his thinking take him a little further. Not very many people survive their first stroke, and those who do are often so handicapped by it that they wish they had not.


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