‘Purple Dawn’ by @HL_Blue
“In the shadow of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.” – Robert G. Ingersoll
I have always thought of dawn as the most important part of the day. That eerie silence before the first birds wake up has always been poignant for me. In that moment, when the sun is just around the corner, the birds are silent and the sky is purple. Just before dawn. Just before the noisy din of birds that made their nests in the giant dogonyaro tree behind our family house began in earnest. Just before my alarm went off, signalling that it was time for the family morning devotion. The calm before the storm.
In my later years this haunting feeling would come over me whenever I felt everything was going too well, when life was too good to be true. I came to call it The Purple Dawn. I am a sickle cell anaemia sufferer. I hate the term “sufferer” because of the pity it invariably invokes in others, but the spade should not be called a large flat spoon. Whenever I was on the verge of some great success in my life, another close shave with death would pop up. I don’t know if it was psychosomatic, or if the universe was just playing a cruel joke on me (why would the universe care about my little life anyway?). I will never know, but whenever I felt life about to be snatched away from me, I fought desperately and held on.
Being the last born and the only sickle cell patient in my family did not help. I was doted on and never punished. I was constantly monitored for my location and the availability of my drugs, credit on my phone, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, proximity to hospitals, and the presence of friends to look out for me. I didn’t grow up into a spoiled brat simply because my frequent attacks reminded me of my fickle nature. All men are fickle, but not all men are as frequently reminded as I am. Not all men get to see their abdomen swollen with dark purple blood pooled into their spleen. Not all men suffer the sudden, inexplicable panic that comes when medication runs out. Not everyone has to see the light of attraction draining from a girl’s eyes, so quickly replaced by the glow of pity. People say they fall in love. I do not believe this. How could you fall in love and then the next second be so put off that you wish you had never ever said ‘hi’?
That was the case with my first and last true love. Jemimah and I met in graduate business school. Our meeting coincided with the period I had just made the decision to throw off the parental bonds of monitoring and “control”. I also stopped telling people straight up that I was a sickler. To hide my tell-tale eyes, I always went about with my designer sunglasses, as if to shield myself from the glare of public attention. I also went about with my Bluetooth headphones, as if to insulate myself from the blare of public opinion. Jemimah’s first question to me was all it took to break down my walls of security. She had asked, “Would you wear those shades and headphones to a date?” I was immediately charmed and embarrassed. I felt like a toddler caught hiding behind the couch to watch a late night movie when it was past my bedtime.
We started going out. And in her eyes, I saw hope for something more than my condition, something more than constant pain and medication. With her, Robert Ingersoll’s words became real to me. With her, I felt completely normal. With her, I felt love. Did I mention that her favourite colour was purple? She thought it was a royal colour but it only reminded me of the dead, static blood I used to see in the hospital. She never asked about my health status and I never volunteered the information. Who goes around doing that? (I learned later that some sickle cell carriers do that but she was not one so she was blissfully happy in the fact that she could marry anyone she pleased, or so she thought). One particular morning she was in my bed with her back to me when I looked over her shoulder out the window and saw the sky. It was another purple dawn. The familiar feeling of helplessness came over me again. I knew she would eventually find out. It seemed like I would have to face this one way or the other. As if sensing my laboured breath on her neck, Jemimah opened her eyes and looked over at me. “I have something I have to tell you…” I began tentatively. She froze, and I wondered why we humans inevitably had to be thrown down to the depths from such heights of giddy pleasure and happiness. Slowly I told her I was a sickle cell patient, familiar with death on occasion, especially during the rainy season, and how she was the first person I had opened my heart to.
I could almost see the wheels in her head turning. Well, they say to tell the dark secrets as early as possible, but how early is early? It takes time to win the trust required to open up, then it becomes awkward that so much time has passed without you telling the most important things. On the other hand, it is not dignified to go about carrying a condition you have like a signboard on your head as if it defined you. No. I would not be that small. But all these were my puny arguments. They meant nothing to the woman who had breached my walls with a sentence. Like a tortoise to its shell, I slowly withdrew, vowing never to venture beyond my boundaries. This would be the only time. At least I would have it on record that I had loved and been loved. Whatever that word meant, my quest for it had left me wounded. With every passing silent second, I felt love replaced by pity and fear and it hurt me deeply. Yes. I was a soldier for love and I suppose I deserved the Purple Heart medal for injury or death during military service. Whether I would wear it with pride was a totally different matter entirely.
Then she opened her mouth to reply…
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