The Quiet

I wake up sweating; it is just after sunrise. I dress and leave my flat in a hurry. The streets are empty. I hail a cab.

The driver doesn’t know where he’s going; he’s been working all night. Several u-turns later I jump out at some traffic lights, his curses ringing in my ears, and jump on a bus before it pulls away.

I get off and walk for what seems like miles. I turn a corner towards a hospital and enter intensive care. I walk past an empty bed. I ask about the occupant; he has died. I walk into a side-room.

There’s a middle-aged man, machines, a tracheotomy tube. A nurse checking the equipment.

“It’s been a quiet night,” she says. “No improvement, but no worse.”

I sit down, waiting. I speak to the man. He is my father. His eyes are half-open and the breathing machine fills the room with sound. I tell a joke, no response. The machines start bleeping and the doctor and nurse rush in. They send me out.

I’m called in and told that my father’s blood pressure is dropping. It’s likely he is going to die, so if I have anything to say I should say it now. Taken aback, I stand silent. I hurry out and make phone calls. No-one answers; I leave messages.

I watch the doctor and nurse push medicines into my father. Tension rises as dad fails to respond. We all three watch the blood pressure monitor dropping.

“Leave him alone.”
The doctor insists he has to try everything.
“Leave him alone, it’s not working.”
I get out a CD and ask if my brother brought in the CD player.
“I haven’t seen one and they don’t have one on the ward.”
“He loves Mozart, it might help.”

The doctor informs me that if his blood pressure drops below 30 there’s nothing they can do.

I watch the machines. 65, 64, 60, 59. It continues. The doctor leaves the room. The nurse moves towards the door. I panic.

“Are you leaving?”
“I can stay if you want me to, but you better say whatever you have to say now before it’s too late.”

I hold my father’s gnarled hand and whisper in his ear. The nurse busies herself. She starts talking to dad about what she’s doing and what’s happening. I look at her as if she’s mad.

“They can still hear, you know,” she says.

I start singing Mozart, quietly at first then louder.

“Daa, da-da-, da-da-du-da-da-daah-,” 

I watch the machines. 36, 34, 33.



The heart machine slows, stops.


We both stop.

The breathing machine continues its shuttling noise. Suddenly, dad farts loudly. I suppress a giggle. The nurse watches me.

There seems to be a small breeze in the room, though the windows are shut. 

by Afia Nkrumah


  1. Very touching, beautifully told! I'm looking forward to reading more of your writing!

  2. I loved the pace of this and the lack of sentimentality. The Hitchcock-like false shock, immediately followed by the real drama was particularly powerful. I don't know if this was based on a true incident but it resonated with me as the all encompassing silence that followed the activity and noise immediately after my own mother's death. I think it is something that will resonate with many people. All in all, I was very moved and read to the last word. Thank you for this.


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