My early memories were as blurred and confused as I could remember. As I sat thinking about them, flashes of color swirled in my head causing mixed emotions. My black eyes became clouded as I dissolved into a whirlpool consisting of my own thoughts. As I looked at the people rushing by my memories faded away, leaving an identity. The vision became stronger and stronger until I shook myself back to reality.
Having nothing else to do, I got lost in my thoughts, but forcing my mind not to stray anywhere near him. One year had passed yet the memory remained raw and fresh inside me. “Train number 12696, Mavelikara to Chennai will arrive at 7:45,” Informed the latest announcement. I glanced at the time. It was 6:45. 'One more hour,' I thought, 'then I would be free from this prison.' I felt like running away and never looking back. A horn was blown. I watched as the train started to move slowly. A desire to run and board the train rose in me like a fiery lion pouncing on its prey.
Yet I sat down, all thoughts of running away abandoned at the moment. A person settled himself in the seat next to mine but I did not have the strength to see who it was. A string of memories that I had so far tried to avoid recalling rushed at once like a movie waiting to be played. I became so desperate to run away from the cruel reality that I closed my eyes and let it play.
There I was, in Class one, staying in my uncle’s house while my mother and father used to go to the hospital regularly for treatment. “We are going to work,” Explained my mother one day as she left me on the doorstep of my uncle’s house, “And will be back by Eight pm.” Days went by like that, until one day my father was nowhere to be seen.
I came home from school that day, praying that I would not be dropped in my uncle’s house again. I did not see my father sitting in his usual chair by the center table. I found my mother in the kitchen. “Where is Dada?” I asked my mother. That was the only question she failed to answer. After a few minutes of thinking she said, “He will not come back for a month.” “But where-” I started again. “He went for work,” She cut me off.
I went back, thinking that it would have been better if they had dropped me at my uncle’s house. ‘A month!’ I thought sadly, ‘that’s forever.” I dropped my bag lifelessly and stood at my favorite place, the dining room window. It was the place where I could see my father going out with the car and hear the sound of the car door closing. My eyes searched for the car. ‘It’s parked…’ I realized.
Days, weeks and a month went by with every day only passing when I spent ten minutes at the window, sometimes searching for the car or just lost in thoughts. But then one day when I came home, I saw him sitting in the bedroom. He was bald. “What happened to your hair?” I asked. “Your mother cut it off.” He replied. “Why?” I questioned. “I wanted her to.” He said. “But then why can’t she cut my hair?” I asked. “She doesn’t like cutting hair.”
He had an art of spinning lies, but often I could identify whether he was lying or telling the truth. “You’re-” “Let’s go to the terrace!” He cut me off. The happy announcement made me forget what I was going to say. I ran to the terrace as fast as possible.”
The video stopped playing and I found myself face-to-face with reality again. ‘I should have realized,’ I thought, ‘that something was wrong.’ But I didn’t. God had given him a first warning to change; to change for the better. But he did not. My mother was right; she was the one who suffered. She was the one who sacrificed everything to let him know that she was there for him no matter what. A part of me knew that he was not meant to live. But I didn’t want to accept the fact. ‘He would have changed,’ I told myself. ‘God gave him two chances!’ said a small voice inside me.
Defeated, I let the second string of memories play.
“It was four years after the strange incident about my father’s peculiar haircut. I was standing in front of the hospital room with my mother while the doctors diagnosed him. After a few minutes, a man clad in a white coat came out with a pad. I glanced at my mother’s face. It looked as if she was hoping what she thought was not true. “He has Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.” He informed her.
Her face shattered. Hopeless, she nodded. I was confused but could tell it was something serious. I was about to tell her that the doctors could cure anything when he said, “It can’t be cured.” “Why?” My mother asked. “When Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma relapses, it is incurable. He is already in the fourth stage.”
“But people have already been cured!” She said desperately. “I am sorry, Madam. But we will try Chemotherapy.” He said.
‘What was Chemotherapy?’ I thought of asking but gave up. Some questions are best left unanswered. I caught a glimpse of my father as I headed out. The thought of him dying never came to my head.”
I opened my eyes suddenly. That memory seemed so real. I looked at my mother, the bravest woman I knew. I closed my eyes as another string took over and obstructed further thought.I was sitting in the chair, a month later, as we waited for my father’s report. My mother was next to me and kept reassuring herself that everything would be alright. We sat while all the remaining people went. I looked at the time. It was 12 am. I dozed off. My mother woke me up after two hours and we went to the guest house.
At six in the morning, we received a call. “Yes, we will come immediately.” I heard my mother saying and we rushed to the ICU. My mother and I prayed all the way to the ward. When we reached there, my mother told me to sit while she went inside as children were not allowed.
I sat and held a place for her while I waited with bated breath. After half an hour she came out. She walked towards the far end of the hall and rested herself on the wall. “Mama, I caught a place for you!” I said but went and joined her when she didn’t respond. I sat next to her and asked, “What happened?” A doctor called me inside.
“He’s gone!” She told me on the way, “He left us…” I felt as though my insides had frozen. All thought vanished while a smiling face swam in my mind.
‘It couldn’t be true,’ I thought, ‘Dada would never leave me…’ I entered the ICU and journeyed towards the first bed in the structure of white. There was my father, spread on the bed and breathing. For a minute I thought this was all a big joke. He is still breathing! He is alive!’ I thought happily. I tugged on his hand and said, “Dada, please wake up. Don’t sleep.” The doctors around the bed rubbed their eyes and turned away. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t wake up. ‘He should,’ I thought, ‘and he will…’
“He’s gone, Riya,” I heard my mother saying as thought from far away, “He won’t come back.” “But he’s breathing!” I tried to argue but a part of me had already accepted that he was dead; that he was never going to come back. “He's on a ventilator…” My mother said. I did not need to ask what a ventilator was. The room became blurred as I remembered an earlier memory - My father was sitting on a bed in his private room. And he said, “I want to be on a ventilator”. I did not know what it was but at least he had gotten his last wish.”
I fought to bring myself back to reality. Hot tears were falling fast from my eyes. I let them fall, assigning each to be a particular memory and letting them be a part of the Earth. I let the last string unfold:
People gathered around a coffin carrying the person who mattered the most to me. I recognized some people; those people were genuine and were deeply affected by his death, while some others were happy and had come just for the society's sake.
The people who knew him could not bear to look at him. They preferred his “happy, laughing face” they said. Some people shared their secrets with him; secrets that they did not want anyone to know. They did not trust him to keep them with himself and so was happy that he took them to the grave.
When my name was called, I walked towards him along with my mother and could not bear to see him like that and started crying uncontrollably. My mother did not cry but her face remained expressionless.
A lady who was my father’s relative and had the job of wiping his face came over. “He is crying tears of blood,” She said to us.”
Anger rose in me like I had never felt before, forcing me to say something. I felt as if one sentence could pour out all my anger into the universe. I wanted to stop time, to not feel anything nor think anything. I opened my mouth and the words that came out sounded as though I had not said it. “You wait and see what I will do, you have no idea of what would hit you.” I said unconsciously, remembering my other memories of the same lady. “What?” The word jerked me back to the present. I looked around for the source of the question. My eyes met the man who had seated himself when I dissolved into my whirlpool of thoughts.
He had black eyes and was fair. He looked strangely familiar. My head was too full with thoughts that I found it difficult to focus. “N-nothing!” I stammered, still unable to bring myself back to reality. “Where did you read it from?” He persisted. “Nowhere, it just came to my head,” I replied. Silence followed. “You could become a writer...” He said after a while. ‘A writer! For that?,’ I thought, 'Maybe he is talking about something else.' I wanted to say something in reply but could get only three words out of my mouth, “Who are you?” I asked.
I looked at him expectantly like a child waiting for her father to return home from work. He just smiled and handing me a piece of paper, he got up and left. I stared after it as things fell into place. My mind became oddly clear all of a sudden. An impossible idea came to me. ‘No,’ I thought disbelievingly, ‘it couldn’t be…’ I too got up and rushed after him.
The crowd washed over me like fierce waves. “These small children, I tell you-” Said one lady angrily. I pushed past her. “They think they can do whatever they want!” One man said. “Uncontrollable monkeys,” Grunted an old man with a walking stick, adding fuel to the fire. The crowd thinned and I could make him out at the exit. I ran and as soon as I was within seeing range, he turned around. The absence of pain in his eyes made him unrecognizable. It was surprising how much pain could do to a person. I opened my mouth to speak.
“I am sorry,” He said. My mouth stayed open in surprise. That was not what I had expected to hear. I had expected him to run and hug me, or laugh and say this was all a joke- that he really was alive and was ready to come home; that he had never really left us. “I am sorry to have not done anything for your mother. I did not take my chance to change myself. And I could not. It is time for her to live her life without me stopping her. She has a destiny and so do you, and with me, none of you will be able to fulfill it.” “But-” I said, “I love you, Riya. Bye.” And with that, he disappeared.
“Riya! Wake up!” My mother called, “The train has arrived,” “Coming!” I replied, taking the luggage and hurrying onto it along with my mother. Seating myself by the window, I was once again lost in thoughts.
Four years later, I sat in the same seat by the window.
Time had changed me. I was no longer the girl who cried at night, longing for her father's bedtime stories. I was no longer the girl who woke up at midnight, nightmares overcoming her memories. I was the girl who had taken an oath to live life to the fullest one month after her father had died. I was the girl who never felt bad despite her classmates' boasts about their fathers'. I was the girl who knew her father would always be there for her no matter what happens; that he would always be there to guide her.
"One day I will do it," I whispered, my breath fogging the glass, "I will write my story, the story of my life." I looked outside, a doubt already forming but was too sleepy to ask. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Little did she know that there was magic in the air that night. A soul had returned to Earth to answer an unasked question. The part of misted glass which her warm breath had created now held an answer. Her father smiled at the sleeping form of his daughter.
I woke up. Our eyes met. "Dada," I said, surprised. He nodded and disappeared. "Wait, will you be there for me?" saddened by his disappearance, I continued to stare at the spot where moments before, my father had been standing. My eyes fell on the misted part of the window. In his neat, cursive handwriting, his answer was written - 'Always'. That was his favorite word.