By  Chaher Alzaman

 

Someone might ask: Where am I right now? I am bit exhausted to speak. But I’ll
give it my best shot. I am at what seems to be a locker room of some sort. Wait a
minute! I remember now. Just a while ago I was with my team – a team of experts
and trainers. They were getting me ready for the match. Yes, ‘match’ was what
they kept mentioning. I don’t remember their names except for Faith: That’s the
only name I remember. They will rejoin me soon – once I enter the arena.
Oh, God! They told me so many things but I don’t remember much. Fortunately,
they said they will remind me of them once the time comes. I must step into the
arena.
As I enter, my eyes shutter to keep the blinding lights out. It’s not only the
lights. I place my hands over my ears to protect them from the deafening
noise. Here’s my team. They are circling me. Expert is leading the way. That
feels wonderful to have them so near. I stretch my arms out.
‘Wear the toddler carrier,’ Faith says. I start wearing it. She hands me my almost
two-years-old daughter. I fastened her in. It feels comforting to have her so
near. This helps me ease the pain. I kiss her on the top of her head. I look
around. The spectators cheer for me in a storm. They are holding signs. There is a
lot of ‘Think Positive’ signs. There is a big wide sign that reads, ‘HOPE.’
I am getting closer to the ring. I can spot other rings too. There must be ten of
them. I should be able to see my opponent right now but I will avoid that: It’s too
terrifying.
‘What does it look like?’ I ask.
‘Have you met a person with perfect symmetry?’ Expert trades a question with
another.
‘Yes,’ I respond.
‘Your opponent is exactly the opposite of that,’ Stat joins Expert in saying.
‘Its eyes are un-proportional. The right eye is away from the center of the face by
at least an inch. The nose dropped an inch from its original place. Also, it has
shifted to the left by at least half an inch. There is a hole in the bottom of its face
that hasn’t mature yet to what you can call a mouth. Its ears are beginning to take
shape. The body is heterogeneous with locations resembling a normal human body
while others resembling layers of skin erratically laying over each other. It has two
arms like a human with a large slab of concrete strapped on its right elbow. It must
be at least six inches in length and four inches in width. The legs are
numerous. Two have matured to what you find on a human. The rest are just a
guessing game. They resemble many things you see in the animal kingdom but
nothing in particular,’ Stat narrates. My thoughts wonder.
Stat slaps my face gently and yells, ‘Focus! Remember what we’ve said. In the first
round, you will spray it. Get as many sprays as you can.’ Stat was a man in his
mid-fifties, tall and skinny. He smiles often but frowns often also.
‘It will bleed. I want you to collect as much blood as you can in a container. We
want to know everything about it as soon as we can,’ Expert says. She is a woman
in her mid-fifties. She knows the match so well and has trained so many. ‘Faith, get
the stuff ready,’ she enunciates. Faith in a hurry opens her bag and takes out a
spraying bottle. She fills it with a transparent liquid. Then she pulls a small
cylindrical container.
‘Here is the spray and container. Fill the container with blood samples and put the
cap on once you’re done,’ she tells me in a heartening voice.
‘But I don’t want to touch it.’
‘Blood should drip on the floor you can collect it from there.’
‘Also, it will hit your daughter and she might bleed. That’s going to be
controllable. Don’t worry about it. But as we mentioned, avoid being hit by the
concrete slab. That will make your daughter really bleed. Try to get as much of the
sprays on the slab – that might shrink it,’ Expert says.
‘Remember if you fall unconscious, don’t drown into thought flashes. Flashes are
just a waste of time,’ Stat says.
‘Do I have to look at it,’ I exclaim.
‘You don’t have to look at it directly. But you must at least locate the concrete slab
so you’re not shooting in the dark,’ Stat explains.
‘Your daughter might vomit. Some of the sprays will get over her. There is no
way around it. Not a worry. We can manage that. Faith, get some of the antivomit
stuff,’ Expert enunciates. I gently kiss my daughter on the top of her head.
‘Here is the anti-vomit. I’m going to get you all organized. The top right pocket is
the spray bottle. Left pocket has the container. Lower left has the anti-vomit stuff.
The lower right will have the feed. Nutria is going to tell you all about it.’
Nutria approaches us with a calculator in her hand. ‘She needs at least five
thousand calories. You need fifteen of these,’ she points to the juice-like bottles
she is carrying.
‘That’s going to be difficult. She won’t take that under normal circumstances,’ I
object. Expert, Stat, and Faith – all – enunciate, ‘she must be fed.’ I place the bottles
in my lower right. I feel quite heavy.
‘Remember, if you manage to finish the first round and spray a lot, then the overall
chance for survival is going to go up to ten percent,’ Stat exclaims.
‘These are good odds. If I have a business deal getting me ten percent
return. That’s wonderful,’ Entrep says – a man in his mid-thirties with massive
eyes.
‘Get into the ring,’ Stat says. I rub my eyes to relieve a newly developing itch. The
strong lights make it hard for me to see clearly. I massage my lower back. Fatigue
and stress are taking their toll on me. I feel the world is spinning around me. I
haven’t started the match and I’m already feeling nauseous. Expert holds my hand.
‘I know it’s tough. Hang in there,’ she stresses.
I kiss my lovely and insert myself into the ring with the spray in my right hand. I
direct my vision away from it and attack. I spew while trying my best to shield my
precious. I’m getting plenty of sprays. I must be hitting the target because the
spectators are applauding.
I direct my vision on the slab. I get a squirt straight on it. I get hit and my daughter
bleeds. I continue to spray. My daughter holds me tight. It seems like she is
going to vomit. I grab the anti-vomit and offer her. She refuses. ‘You have to
force it in,’ Faith yells from behind the ropes. She vomits. She holds tighter on
me. ‘Keep spraying,’ the crowd yells – Expert yells – Faith yells.
‘My daughter – so weak,’ I cry.
The crowd projects in a unified voice, ‘Stay positive. Stay positive.’
I rush to it and spray directly on the concrete slab. It retaliates with a strong
blow. I fall. I feel the thought flashes – they warned me about -coming. I feel
sleepy. I haven’t slept in days – actually in weeks. I must not succumb to the
temptations. I stand up. My vision becomes cloudy. I launch myself towards it
and spray away. It bleeds. I kneel down and collect some blood in the
container. But as I stand up I receive the strongest blow yet. I fall. I feel the
flashes coming. They’re so dreamy. I give in and allow myself into them. Oh no –
not those memories. The tears of my daughter. How precious. Her smile: I cannot
bear. Oh, those screams – how dreadful. That’s the time when I started calling her
my daughter. Before then, I called her by her name. Now, I call her by- the only
thing she ever was and the only thing she will ever be – my daughter. It sums all
those unbreakable bonds that tie me to her. My daughter! I love the sound of that
on my lips. It relieves my pain. I hope it relieves hers. I recall people telling me,
‘we feel your pain,’ whenever I was faced with hardship. I’ve always understood it
in a metaphorical way. There was no way they felt my pain in a tangible/physical
way. With my daughter, I truly feel her pain – literally feel it.
I feel a stick poking me. It’s Faith rescuing me from the flashing thoughts. ‘Get
up,’ she screams. The bell rings. I get up and rejoin my team. I hand Faith the
blood sample.
‘You haven’t fed her anything,’ Nutria exclaims.
‘She was vomiting: I couldn’t.’
‘She must’ve lost like a kilo. That’s like fifteen percent of her weight,’ she
crunches the numbers on her calculator. Faith hands me a bottle of water. Entrep
approaches. ‘Man! You look really down,’ he utters.
‘I’m ok.’
‘Ok is not good enough. This is not the right attitude. We should only have victory
in mind. We’re going to win this. Just keep positive.’
Stat, Expert, and Nutria call my attention. ‘You finished the first round
successfully. But you must feed her. That’s not acceptable. We might need to get
the feed through a tube if you don’t – maybe through the nose.’
‘Nose!’ I groan. I clear my throat. I feel uneasiness. Expert signals Faith to take
me aside.
‘Let’s talk,’ Faith says while steering me aside.
‘Things are moving too fast. Too fast. So many things. I don’t want to lose my
daughter,’ I scream.
‘How do you feel right now.’
‘The flashing thoughts are killing me. The odds they’re giving are too low. I’m a
statistician. With odds like this, there is no point.’
‘It’s ok to feel like that. It’s normal to have these thoughts.’
‘I feel guilty for not being able to be positive.’
‘It’s ok to have negative thoughts. But don’t let them control you. You must take
care of yourself.’
‘Maybe I need few moments alone.’
‘Yeah sure,’ she says.
A guy wearing a cowboy hat approaches me. ‘Can I speak to you privately,’ he
whispers. I nod in agreement.
‘You can call me cowboy,’ he says as he flicked the tip of his hat.
‘What you think of the stuff you’re spraying.’ I gave a puzzled look as a response.
‘Well, I tell you: It’s not made of the good stuff coming from this Earth,’ he says
while tapping on the ground. ‘Your team is not telling you the whole story. They
don’t understand your opponent. A kid in the ring – number ten. They gave him
few days to live. I got him set-up on some natural herbs coming from this
earth. He is running around playing with other kids right now.’
‘How can I get them.’
‘They’re a bit expensive but hey there is no price on your child’s health. Give me
$400 to start you up.’ Part of me wanted to discredit the whole thing. Another part
put me into a guilt-trip with a spiral of what-if questions. Guilt wins. I hand him
the money. He hands me a bag full of bottles that look like the ones my daughter
already gets.
I return to my team. ‘Next round, you’re getting a more potent spray. It should
improve your statistics by fifteen percent. The overall survival is going to be
twenty-five percent if you get to the end of the round and spray a lot. But, this
spray is really strong, your daughter might develop a hearing loss.’
‘What?’ I scream.
‘These are the risks. Also, the kidneys might suffer.’
Faith places the spray, anti-vomit, feed, and a hydrant to keep the kidneys hydrated
– all in my pockets. The bell sounds. I hold the ropes and launch myself into the
ring. I start spraying randomly at it, then I remembered that I must target the
slab. I target the slab few times. My daughter starts bleeding. Faith calls me over
from the ropes. I hurry to her. She hands me a blood line and instructs me to
connect it to her intravenous port. I slouch my shoulders.
‘Don’t worry I’ll take care of it,’ she comforts me.
‘Hydration, don’t forget,’ she then says.
‘We can’t risk it, give it through the I.V.,’ Expert rushes to say.
Faith connects another line for hydration. ‘You must be really careful now. Any
jerk movement can have the lines entangled. You can’t fall – that will put pressure
on the lines.’
I get back into the ring but at a slower pace. I start spraying. The audience shouts,
‘To the right… To the right..’ I project the spray to the right. The crowd applauds. I
direct my sight on the slab. It’s shrinking! I spray some more. My daughter
vomits. I struggle but manage, to get the anti-vomit into her throat. The lines get
entangled. I slow down while trying to feed her. Success! She drinks the feed. I
feel rejuvenated. I slowly untangle the lines. I attack to the rhythmic cheering of
the crowd. I expel more content of the spray with joy. I get one spectacular spurt
across the slab. It retaliates with a blow. My legs become shaky. I hold firm. I
must not fall. I approach the ropes and hold on them to collect some strength. I
look at the lines: They’re entangled again. I carefully separate them. I move with
more prudence. I spray it – a couple of times. The bell sounds. I made it without
falling. I walk to my team. For the first time in weeks, I see smiling faces.
‘I think it’s time to remove the slab,’ Expert says.
‘Maybe we can wait a little. It’s shrinking,’ I argue.
‘I know you’re worried about the risks. But remember any procedure involves
risk. The biggest risk is internal bleeding. It’s a risk we have to take,’ Expert
argues back.
‘If we get rid of the slab we should be at thirty-five percent survival,’ Stat produces.
‘Let it shrink some more, please,’ I plea.
‘This is the right timing. We must act. These things are unpredictable,’ Expert says
with bulging eyes. She hands me a pair of scissors. ‘You are going to cut the six
straps holding the slab in-place. It’s going to fall right off.’
‘I don’t want to look at it,’ I groan.
‘Just focus on the slab.’
The bell rings. I climb into the ring. I attack with the scissors. I get one strap cut –
right off the bat. My daughter points to her abdominal and cries. I know it hurts
but I must. I kiss her on the top of her head. Out of a sudden, and for the first
time, it speaks: ‘Who are you?’
‘We are the parents,’ I say firmly and proudly. I work the scissors again and cut two
straps at once. My daughter screams in pain. I fall on the ground. Faith signals me
to come near the ropes. I can’t get up. I crawl across the ring. Drops of sweat roll
down my forehead. ‘Pain! Pain!’ My daughter screams. I keep crawling. I get to
the ropes with my body drenched in sweat. Faith holds my hand and pulls me
towards her. ‘Your daughter is in excruciating pain,’ she says with wide eyes. She
then gives her morphine through the intravenous.
I must finish this. I run and cut the remaining three straps at once. My daughter
bleeds and I feel instant dizziness. I fall on the ground. The flashes come. How
wonderful! Memories from my old life resurrect. I can sense the texture, the aura –
the visuals – of my old life. The old me! The old us! How wonderful! We were as
we always were – a happy family. A family that would get up and dance to any
tune on the radio or TV. I never forget my beautiful wife’s words – right before our
wedding ceremony. She said, ‘I want our house to be a house of love and
sincerity. I don’t ever recall our house being anything but that. We were a
delightful little family tucked far and away from the world’s troubles.
This was before the match of death and life took root in our lives. It all started with
a visit to the emergency room. I didn’t think much of it. We waited like everyone
else. We must’ve waited for hours. My daughter was terrified to be in such a
foreign place – for so long. Suddenly, everything changed. We were no longer
waiting like everyone else. We suddenly started to get attention. We started seeing
nurses and doctors. We started getting the VIP treatment. And believe me: The ER
is the last place you want to be treated like a VIP. It’s a tumor, they uttered. I
panicked. I searched for good news in the midst of all the bad ones. I found
none. How can I see the cup – half full – ever again? On that hideous day, I got
served a series of half cups – all half empty.
A nurse greeted us in the ER and said, ‘You will meet many people. You’ll hear
many things. Just take things one day at a time.’ She spoke of many procedures to
come – all which will cause my daughter pain. I feel something poking me. Oh, it’s
Faith trying to wake me up with a stick. These flashing thoughts must have kept
me idle for a while. I hurry out of the ring.
‘Great work,’ Expert and Faith say.
‘It spoke to me,’ I enunciate.
‘That’s good news: It’s maturing. It’s becoming more human. You can see its
mouth fully developed. Its legs and arms are also taking better shape,’ Expert
describes.
‘Your survival numbers have really improved,’ Stat says. I became aggravated.
‘They are still very horrible odds. I can’t live with odds like these,’ I confess my
feelings.
‘It’s what it’s. These thought-flashes are doing a number on you,’ Stat declares.
‘It feels hopeless. Hopeless!’ I scream out. Faith intercedes. She grabs a chair and
makes me sit. She then kneels down.
‘US, outside the ring, we can afford loosing hope, once in a while, but you
can’t. You must have hope at all time. You have no choice but to have hope every
round – every day – every hour – every second,’ she says in a low tone.
‘So many thoughts in my head: They’re killing me.’
‘You must stay strong for her.’
‘Why did it happen to her. Why her? She is so fragile,’ I enunciate.
‘The chatterbox in your brain is going to keep bringing up these thoughts. It’s
totally normal to have them. But you still have a choice to not let them lead youtake
you away from the moment,’ Faith says. I don’t know why but I became
relieved.
Expert approaches. ‘Sorry to interrupt. The next round is the laser beam
round. You must point the laser at it,’ Expert says. I stand up.
‘This should bring your numbers really up. If you complete this and the round
following, we can get to seventy percent survival.’
‘The odds are becoming good,’ Stat continue to say as he noticed my smile.
‘Well, let’s get going,’ Expert announces.
I grab the laser gun from Faith and hurry into the ring. I couldn’t help but feel like
a Jedi trying to save the population using a gadget that shoots laser. Except, I’m
saving the life of the population’s most innocent, most vulnerable and cutest – a
two-years-old child.
The good news made me quite upbeat. I start shooting the laser at the location
where the concrete slab was. I point the laser gun for few minutes at a time. My
daughter didn’t feel any backlash. I continue to project the laser on other spots – at
the legs – at the abdominal. I even pointed the laser at its face without looking at it.
My daughter is taking it well. I offer her food. She accepts. I smile and hum a
tune. I get back to shooting the laser.
Out of a sudden, I hear screams coming from the neighboring ring. I run to the
ropes. ‘What is it? What’s happening in the next ring?’ I yell.
‘It mutated,’ Expert says. I get out of the ring; coincidentally, the bell resonates.
‘What does that mean,’ I scream.
‘Once it mutates, none of the stuff or tricks we got works. It becomes
resistant. But we’ll keep trying with that boy,’ Expert says with a sad face.
‘Basically, all we can do at this point is prolong the match,’ Stat says.
‘Oh God,’ I utter. I kiss my daughter.
‘I know this might be not the best time to tell you this: But your daughter has a
special gene that makes her numbers go down. We just go some results from the
labs,’ Stat says.
‘How down,’ I say.
‘Fifty percent.’
I groan. How terrifying! It’s like flipping a coin. I kneel down and sit on the floor.
‘Statistics, sometimes, don’t mean much. I’ve seen kids with 98% chance of
survival but yet they happen to be part of the 2% that don’t make it,’ Expert
reasons.
I disregard her statement even though, deep-inside, I know it’s wise. I remain on
the ground.
‘It’s tough,’ Faith pronounces.
‘Everything is happening so quickly. I thought this match would save my
daughter’s life. Fifty percent is not something I can live with.’
‘It’s what it’s. Even if there is a five percent chance, we would still press
forward. Let’s win this,’ Expert says with transforming facial expressions that
edged towards optimism.
‘I have faith that your daughter is going to make it,’ Faith says with her eyes and
mouth smiling. I look upward and breath deeply. I stand up.
‘Next round: we are spraying again. This time the stuff has no long-term
effects. However, it’s going to really hurt. Don’t worry, we are equipped for this.
Your daughter is being connected to a morphine cartridge. As soon as you feel she
is in pain. You just press the button and she’ll get a bolus,’ Expert explains. Faith
hands me a spraying bottle and places a short plastic rod, with a red button on the
top of it, in my other hand. ‘Press on the button whenever your daughter feels
pain,’ she verbalizes.
After so many months, my entries into the ring are becoming less and less
spectacular. I casually climb up to the ring. I approach it and shoot few sprays. My
daughter doesn’t feel any pain. I follow with a second wave of sprays. She
screams. I press the button. I use the trick of looking towards the ground and
away from her whenever she feels pain. It never fails me. It makes me forget for
few moments. Forgetfulness is a blessing. Oh, those flashes, are so seductive but
trying. I sense them coming. I swing into action. I spray again. She screams. I
press the button. Out of a sudden, the lights in the next ring turn off. I run to the
ropes. ‘What’s going on?’ I demand.
‘He’s no longer with us,’ Expert says. I get out of the ring. Faith rushes to
me. ‘You must finish the round,’ she yells.
‘To hell with the round,’ I exclaim.
‘You can’t just leave like this in the middle of the round,’ she pleads.
I walk away towards the next ring. I heard so many stories about that little boy. He
was quite vigorous and energetic. You would never think he’s having a match. His
mom must be devastated. I keep walking. There are no more spectators. No more
noise. The lights are dim. I can spot the mother. She is packing up. I have the
urge of speaking to her. Yes, this might be not the best time to speak but I’m sure
she’ll understand. I approach her. ‘Sorry for your loss,’ I say for the lack of
anything else to say in such circumstance. She didn’t reply.
‘How is your daughter,’ she says after a thoughtful pause.
‘I don’t know. She has a special gene that makes her match really difficult,’ I
respire.
‘Well, a match is always better than no match,’ she thoughtfully and calmly says.
‘Sometimes I feel I’m just prolonging her life.’
‘Well, we’re all trying to prolong our lives- one way or another,’ she pronounces.
‘Sorry but I must go,’ she says. I linger around the ring. Memories shuffle in my
brain: One, in particular, becomes vivid. It is the memory of the first time that I
stood to speak in front of a class. I was terrified. I picked my concentration in
college in a way to minimize the possibility of this. But it did happen and there
was no way around it. I needed the course for graduation and the instructor
insisted on a presentation in front of the class. I thought my life was going to
end. All my insecurities got exposed. I sensed my comfort zone departing while I
watched its trail hopelessly. The night before the presentation, I was in a dire
state. I didn’t fall sleep for even a moment. But when the morning came, it was all
as usual. I drove to school like nothing was awaiting me. It felt like any other
day. There is something wonderful in meeting your destiny. Because it’s
there. You no longer need to anticipate its arrival. You no longer need to be in a
state of alert. No more does uncertainty dictate your world. The trail of what-ifquestions
halts and your mind gets cleared up. I delivered the presentation. I
wasn’t great but I didn’t die as a result of it. I can’t control what will happen to my
daughter – or for that matter what will happen to me – but I can control the very
moment I am living right now. I stare at my daughter’s face – full of life and
giggles. I shut off my mind and venture in the playful aura she emits. She
embodies everything that is pleasant – that is wonderful. She is here and fully
animated – very much anchored in the moment.
I must return. I thought I would never say this: But I actually miss all the noise – I
miss the blinding lights. I decide to return to the ring. I walk seeking the noise. As
I walk, I sense someone padding me on the shoulder. I turn around.
‘I’ve been following your match since the very beginning,’ a woman in her midforties
says. ‘My son went through it all. We had to go through one year’s worth
of a match. My son has been in remission and match-free for five years. It’s
difficult. I know. But there is hope. I don’t want to stall you any longer. Go
along. Get back to the match.’
I keep on walking. I inch towards the ring. The spectators are cheering. The
lights are so intense. Faith runs towards me. ‘Are you getting back to the match.’
‘Of course, I am.’
Expert and Stat give me the thumbs-up. I enter the ring and for the first time ever I
stare directly at it.
The End

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