‘Put that down.’
Clive always said that, if he thought I turned a phrase neatly. That’s good. Put that bit in.
‘In’ to the ongoing double narrative of our lives that we were both writing separately even in our moments of togetherness on the Addenbrooke’s infusion ward.
We met on one ward - D4 – hooked up to the same treatment of intravenous immunoglobulins, both under the care of the same wonderful immunology consultant, Dr Kumararatne - and then a few years later, on G2, the new incarnation. There is going to be a third iteration, but Clive will miss that one.
Death is so annoying. I feel a bit cheated as we all do when the continuity of our conversation with friends gets interrupted. But the nature of a writer is to personally provide the material for imaginary conversations to continue for all of time. Meet a person once and if they make an impression, you can re-meet them. Take down the book from the library of your mind and find the chapter titled ‘Clive’ or ‘Shaista’. In our case, that first meeting in April 2012 on D4 was not destined to be our last. Four years passed from our first meeting and one day a nurse told me that Clive had gone up to another Indian patient and hailed her across the tubes, ‘Shy Star! Lovely to see you again, kid.’ Except it wasn’t me. So I asked the nurse to book our next slots together if possible and on we went for the next three years, him booking in concordance with my dates if I hadn’t done so. We emailed throughout the years.
It was a strange friendship because Clive saw himself as mentor to a new young female writer. But the not very new or very young writer had no such notion. I was often and often extremely direct with Clive when he made remarks that didn’t sit well with my own sense of self and my feminism. Dude, seriously. You can’t say that! Or at least, you can’t say that and then expect me to take your praise of my work seriously. Clive once said I had a type of arrogance not dissimilar to his. Eek. Make of that what you will. But presumably he never imagined a pipsqueak would squeak back. Or roar back, baring her teeth. Mostly it amused him, and probably made him want to persist with that thread but for the fact that he genuinely cared and eventually ceased to undermine a real friendship. One during which he swiped my favourite snuggly hat. One during which he introduced me to Tom Stoppard. One during which he offered to send an essay of mine about Les Murray to Les Murray. But I never got around to it, because life with illness is an interrupted life. Hold a thread here, concentrate on keeping it unbroken, and another one, just over there, breaks. Les died six months ago.
Clive’s eyes would light up when he saw me. And this was because if I walked on to the ward, I was still alive. If I was alive, there was conversation to be had and a moment to be shared. Preferably a merry one but I never held back on sharing my sorrow, depression or painful reality. I lifted up my eyelid once to show Clive the various shunts and blebs that my glaucoma surgeon has sown in over the long years to save some sight. And Clive wove the moment into one of his poems.
A year before we met for the second time, Clive had been in correspondence with and then lost a fellow cancer patient. She was, believe it or not (but if you have read that article you will know this to be true), also Indian and, also a blogger. Shikha Chhabra wrote under the pseudonym Oblomov; her blog was titled Oblomov’s Sofa, and Clive mentioned her in the Guardian. It was a respectful nod he offered her, one that meant for a brief sweet while, Shikha was the acclaimed writer she was always meant to be. She died at 24, so losing me to an early arrival of Death was not implausible. And I have brushed that cloak - or did the cloak brush me? Either way, it has not been my time yet to cause that particular clutch to the heart and breath that hearing of Clive’s death caused me. I am writing because he would expect me to. Because he’d think it a wasted opportunity and because I know he always checked my blog, ostensibly to see what I was up to, but also to see if I was writing about him. He was rather disappointed that I hadn’t brought the ‘yoof’ in as he once had hoped I might.
I have IVIg tomorrow. It’s a Thursday. And Clive won’t be there as he hasn’t been for the past several months. In his last email he made light of a recent operation, and I chose, ridiculously, to pretend he just might merry his way back to the ward. Even though I knew he wouldn’t. But he had already outlasted that type of ‘knowing’ for ten years.
Death is so annoying. I am so tired of it. I ought to respect it and fear it, but really... I can’t. Not this death anyway. It was preceded by so much humour that the cloak looks a little less terrifying now. A cheery pathway is being cleared for us by the kid from Kogarah.
And presumably, heaven and hell aside, I will hear him hail me again someday, his eyes lighting up and my cheeks and lips curving up. Unless of course he mistakes that other Indian girl for me...