By Themba Khumalo

Cigarette smoke whirled skyward as if it was running away from haunted lungs.

We were drinking whisky – an absolutely magical experience. I was sitting across the table from him in the shade of the restaurant, watching the smoke from his lips ascend to the space above us.

I took a sip of whisky and held it in my mouth for a few seconds, swirled briefly, then swallowed it. As I added some water to take the edge off the alcohol to make my drink smoother, he pulled hard on his cigarette as if he was filling his body with some life-giving substance. He then slowly exhaled, with just enough force for the smoke not to simply filter from his mouth, but he was not too aggressive, as if he feared messing up the blissful moment… nicotine hitting his bloodstream.

He is the kind of guy who appears to loathe letting cigarettes go to waste. Each cigarette he lit, knew it would be thoroughly smoked, and smoked to the harsh end.

He finished his cigarette, but had not put it out correctly – it was still smoking in the ashtray… he crushed it, grinding until it stopped burning. He never left any cigarette to burn itself out. The ashtray looked like a grave – a grave of tube-shaped bodies of burnt-out cancer sticks that had become colder after their poisonous life had been sucked out of them.

He lit another cigarette and took a long drag and allowed the smoke to stay inside him a couple of seconds and with measured force exhaled it, sending it to the atmosphere. It was as if he was chasing it so he could talk to me undisturbed. He crushed the unfinished cigarette into the ashtray with all his might. Another one in the ash graveyard.

He took a gulp of whisky and stared at me for what felt like eternity.

“Bafo, whatever you do today, do not miss a chance to hug someone and tell them you love them for who they are, not what they are. Never let a day go by without cherishing the people in your life. Be there for them, support them. Never ever break them down,” he said, as he poured himself another drink.
There was fleeting silence, then as I was about to ask why on earth was he telling me about love and support, he interjected.

“I have lived with the will to die for a while. One evening I reached a decision to fulfil it. I had lost the will to face another day breathing.”

He told me chilling tales of how his life had taken a turn for the worst.

“When you have hit rock-bottom, when you are low, lower than rock-bottom, you embrace death. You become one with it because you want to escape this blazing and dark hell called life. I spent nights figuring a way out of a life that had become cruel and brutal. I went through all methods on how I was going to kill myself.

“Each night, I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed penning letters of farewell. Hell, I even wrote my own obituary. The hopelessness blocked me from reaching out to someone who could listen and understand. I was consumed by this darkness of wanting to escape, reaching out for help, calling someone to take me in their arms and tell me I am worth something was no longer an option.”

The more I listened, the more I realised that deep down in his tormented soul he did not want to die. He wanted to escape the torment… he wanted the pain to stop. It was a pain that hemmed him in and squeezed his chest with unbearable force.

“The demons were out in full force, squeezing my chest so hard that breathing became a burden.

“I only wanted the pain to stop: the pain that engulfed me and squeezed my chest, the weightiness that enveloped my wits in haunting shadows, the torment that turned my whole world gloomy, was too much. I desperately wanted it to come to an end.”

His decision to consider suicide as a viable alternative was not brought about by one large ordeal, but a never-ending cycle of small-scale miseries that robbed him of hope. The day-to-day burden of life became a remorseless onslaught… a weighty hand on his shoulders that was smothering him.

“At the time, there was only one choice that made sense to me. In my moment of anguish and hopelessness I felt people would be better off without me.

“A thick and dark cloud had engulfed me to a point where I could not give much thought about my children. I wanted to escape the daily emotional and mental torment. Nothing in me, I figured, could make me see the beauty of life and the warmth of love anymore.”

The light of love in him had been switched off. Much as there was some love around him, he could not embrace it because he was trapped in a dark and bottomless pit. Anguish and despair had pushed him downhill and with considerable force and violence, ejected from his consciousness the desire to love and be loved.

“As a man, I felt unworthy. I felt I was a waste of a man who was occupying space he shouldn’t be. The voice in my head kept telling me there must be good reasons why the world couldn’t stand me. I was locked up and alone in my thoughts and my feelings of despondency. I was tired of trying to prove my worth as a man, only to be crushed time and again.

“Those I thought had my back repeatedly broke me down. My reality at the time made me think I would be doing everyone a favour by ending my miserable life. I did not deserve the air I breathe and it was only logical for me to die and let these people have it because they needed it more than I did.”

He was up the creek without a paddle.

“I was destitute beyond any measure. I was overcome by a feeling that there was completely nothing I could do to alter the position I found myself in. Everything was pointless. It is not as if I never tried. All the forces of doom and gloom seem to have conspired to stone-wall and cut me short before I could achieve some modicum of success.

“Lord knows, I tried many times, but the hurdles were just too colossal for me. The universe seemed to have given up on me. I stopped believing I was capable of doing anything. I had deleted from my mind the thought that there could be anyone I could lean on.”

He planned his suicide down to the last detail. A heavy-duty rope and a gun. He prepared the garage where it would end. His plan was to get the noose around his neck and put the gun on his head and pull the trigger. He was going to do it in the middle of the night.

As he sat down going through some of the letters he wrote, with tears gushing down his cheeks, there was a knock at the door. He ignored it but the person persisted. He wiped his tears and slowly walked to the door. When he opened it, his uncle was standing at the door with bags.

“One look at me, he could tell I was in a bad space. We spoke till the early hours of the morning. He convinced me to seek professional help. I listened. He came along. That man held my hand through the whole process.

“I received the correct diagnosis. Counselling and medication have made a huge difference. There is a bright light that has been lit on my fatigued and confused brain. The change has not come overnight. The doctors worked on me for a while to find the accurate dosages and the right prescription.

“I am grateful that my uncle showed up in time and helped me find the care I needed. It hasn’t been an easy journey but the progress I have made is significant.”

Suicidal thoughts are a reality, they are ever present and human. Those who have them are not attention seekers or weaklings.

So, to all the heartless, dumb and uninformed judges, suicide is something that will always be with us. All you can do is to climb down from your high horse and be the reason somebody gets out of a dark hole.
Learn to spread love, listen without judgment and you could be the person who makes a difference in someone’s life…

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