The Introduction26 mins 2.7K 26 mins 2.7K
It was time. Prabhat looked around the table at his incomplete family. To his left sat their eldest son Suraj, his beautiful wife Nazia and two year old toddler Amaanat. To his right was their daughter Chandni and next to her sat youngest son Ishaan on the chair Prabhat usually sat on. Next to Ishaan, across Prabhat the chair was vacant. It had been lying empty for the past five months, ever since Dr Firoze at Fortis Hospital, Bangalore had made the terrible prognosis about Nisha, his wife and companion for the last thirty two years.
He had never imagined that the family would be together again so soon and in such trying circumstances. In fact Nisha and he had painstakingly planned all the wonderful things that they would do to reclaim their youth once the children were gone. They had promised themselves never to allow the customary ennui of empty nesters to get the better of them. They would roam the world together visiting places they never could, see all the movies that they had missed, visit all their relatives who they could not make time for and go for every college reunion. After all, that is where they had met and fallen in love. They would plant a tree, support children in an orphanage, work for the betterment of the community around them. By the time Ishaan had flown from the nest, their bucket list promised to keep them occupied into their next lives.
One evening as they both sat with their crystal glasses of single malt enjoying the cocoon of silence around them and added yet another “to do” item in the list, Nisha had remarked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, ‘to accomplish all of this, you will have to spend another lifetime with me. Think you could handle that?’
Prabhat had taken her hand in his and had simply said, ‘Every time. And again.’
Then suddenly without warning, their life had fallen apart. A month after Ishaan left, Nisha had complained of breathlessness and dizziness. Prabhat had joked that it was because she was rediscovering the man in him now that she had his undivided attention. Routine blood tests revealed elevated liver enzymes which their family physician Dr Firoze had attributed to Nisha’s long use of statins to keep her cholesterol in check. When Nisha’s health continued to deteriorate and her blood sugar shot up to abnormal levels, they had got worried and done all the scans and tests before the worst was confirmed. Nisha was in the advanced stages of pancreatic cancer which had metastasized into her liver and lungs, causing pulmonary embolism and diabetes mellitus.
Prabhat remembered the passage connecting the ward where Nisha lay to Dr Firoze’s chamber where he had been summoned when the test results were done. While Nisha fretted about the unnecessary tests being done by the ‘mercenary medical system on hapless retirees and eating into their travel money’, Prabhat felt himself unable to complete the journey to the doctor’s room. He felt the sterile walls of the walkway close in upon him as a thousand possibilities and apprehensions enveloped him. The look on Dr Firoze’s face confirmed his worst fears.
‘I am sorry Prabhat,’ was all that Dr Firoze could muster for his childhood friend.
Nisha’s delicate state and the spread of the disease precluded surgery leaving chemotherapy as the only solution.
‘What are her chances Firoze?’ asked Prabhat. ‘Give me a percentage.’
Dr Firoze had shaken his head.
‘Dammit!’ swore Prabhat. ‘She has been the healthy one in all the time that I have known her. She can outrun me, outplay me in squash, gets the better of me in mental calisthenics when we play chess or bridge! How is this even possible?’
‘Pancreatic cancer is the most insidious and the most silent of all cancers. I am sorry my friend.’ Dr. Firoze had said. ‘I will refer you to the best I know; Dr. Ambrish. Try and keep her as cheerful as you possibly can.’
In his life this was the second shock for Prabhat. Fifteen years ago, his younger brother Sumeet had slipped and fallen from the terrace of their apartment in Mumbai. Sumeet had come with a job and was staying with them. Prabhat was on tour and had come rushing back. It had been traumatic and Prabhat was feeling a strong sense of déjà vu.
Fighting back tears and his emotions, Prabhat walked back slowly to the ward managing to even brave a smile as he walked in. Nisha had dozed off. On the table next to her bed, she had scribbled on a pad, ‘Feeling tired again. Warm the vegetables in the small fridge on the first shelf. Do not touch the chicken on the second shelf- we will have that when I return tomorrow! I have also checked the level in the whiskey bottle. No stealing a drink when I am away!’
Nisha had not returned the next day or the next. Her first round of chemotherapy left her weak with profound nausea. She had lost weight, and had become pale. There was brief let up before the disease retaliated with a vengeance. Two more rounds of chemotherapy spanning three months followed during which time she was mostly confined to the hospital. When the remission this time was longer, she was adamant that she be allowed to go home. She had come back weaker this time, with a tonsure but determined in her battle. As Prabhat had wheeled her around, she had fondly touched the furniture, gone through their albums and looked around their home forlornly. Then she had sat in front of her dressing cabinet, seen her reflection in the mirror and had begun to cry for the first time. Prabhat had never felt more helpless as he sat at her foot and put his head on her lap.
Finally she has said softly, ‘It’s time to tell them.’
This was a moment which Prabhat had been dreading. The children’s upbringing had primarily been Nisha’s responsibility and she had shielded Prabhat from most of their issues. Prabhat found himself an inept and a gauche dad, especially when they were in their terrible teens. He was quite happy to play second fiddle as the kids confided in their mother and had minimalistic interaction with their father. Now he felt vulnerable and unsure on how he should handle them.
Prabhat decided to call them at 8 pm India time after supper and putting Nisha to bed. That would be 10:30 pm in Singapore, where his eldest son Suraj lived. Suraj was with the investment bank in Singapore and never reached home from work before 10 pm. It would be about 8:30 am in Austin, Texas where Ishaan had recently secured admission for his MS. Chandni was taking a break after completing her PhD in Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and was backpacking somewhere in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh with her friends and could be reached , he hoped, on her cell phone.
He wanted to speak to each one of them independently and not have them speak to one another before he did. This painful news had to be delivered from father to each of his children and he would not delegate it.
Suraj’s residence number kept ringing which surprised Prabhat. He had expected Suraj’s wife to be at home. He knew that Suraj hated to be disturbed at work, but he did not have a choice. He called Suraj on his cell phone.
‘Mom, I am still at work, can I call you back in a bit? ’ said Suraj as soon as the call connected. Prabhat could not understand why Suraj was whispering.
‘It’s your father,’ he said.
‘Just hold on a moment,’ said Suraj and then after a brief while he spoke again, a little testily, ‘What a surprise dad. However this is a bad time. Can I call you back?’
‘Your mother is dying,’ Prabhat interrupted. ‘Can you come?’ Briefly Prabhat spoke to Suraj.’
‘I am coming,’ said Suraj, his voice trembling.
‘I am calling your brother and sister now,’ said Prabhat.
It took a while for Prabhat first to connect with Chandni and then get past her clouded senses. She seemed to be in a remote mountain with very poor telecom coverage and appeared to be in a highly inebriated condition. Prabhat tried his best to get her to stop crying but had to disconnect once he realised that it was of no use. He was also running out of time and had to speak to Ishaan before he left for his classes.
Prabhat was especially fond of Ishaan and became emotional as he conveyed the news. To his surprise Ishaan sounded distant.
‘I don’t know dad if I can come now. I have just joined. Research Assistantships are extremely rare but a position has opened up and I have applied for the same. Tomorrow they will evaluate and interview candidates. I….’
‘You will return by the first available flight Ishaan, else I will stop funding your education next term onwards. I will now send a mail to your University explaining the emergency. I am shocked by your reaction.’ Prabhat slammed down the phone shaking with anger.
Now as he looked around the table he knew he had to tell them. Nisha and he had debated last evening, deep into the night. She had motioned for the nurse to take her off the ventilator briefly while she spoke to him
‘I cannot take the pain anymore,’ she had whispered feebly. ‘I have met and spoken to my children. Let me go.’
A week earlier, the children had all gathered around their mother awkwardly, unsure of whether they should hold the frail body and let their emotions flow or keep them in check and her at peace. She had motioned for every child to come to her bed separately and had spent some time with them, whispering and talking to them, while the others stood outside. Prabhat had felt that great secrets he was not privy to were passing from one generation to the next.
Last night he had seen the last light of fight go out of her eyes and had gently squeezed her hand and said, ‘If that is what you want, I will do it.’
Now he raised his hand and a silence fell around the table.
‘Your mother and I have decided that it is time to let her go. She has suffered enough and we do not want her journey into the afterlife to be so troubled and painful. Tomorrow when I leave the hospital, I will disconnect the ventilator and increase her morphine drip so that she passes painlessly in her sleep. I have spoken to Dr. Firoze and have convinced him to handle any legal complications.’
Suraj was the first to react, ‘You cannot do it. Euthanasia is illegal in this country dad.’
Prabhat turned to him and said, ‘So is so much suffering for one person to take. I am not asking for your permission. I am telling you all because this is what your mother wants.’
‘As her children we will not allow it,’ cried Chandni in a high pitched voice. ‘As long as she is alive, there is hope.’
‘There is no hope Chandni. Do you think that after all she has done for this family, she deserves all this suffering? She was fighting because she wanted to see you all. Now that she has, she wants to go. Please understand that she wants this.’
Prabhat looked at Ishaan, ‘And what do you have to say, young man?’
Ishaan fidgeted momentarily and in that brief hesitation, Prabhat saw through his favourite progeny- Ishaan was worried that prolonged treatment for his mother would eat into funds reserved for his education. ‘Well…if you feel...,’ he started lamely.
‘I have already told you what I am going to do.’ Prabhat cut him short. He got up. ‘I have to go to the hospital.’
He looked around the table at the bowed heads, each trying to handle the moment. Gathering his essentials he left, stopping on the way to the hospital to buy roses, as he did every day.
Nisha was in great pain and despite the ventilator, her breathing was laboured. Prabhat sat immobile next to her just holding her hand and letting memories flow. Beautiful vignettes of their first meeting, their courtship, their togetherness, their fights, their ups and downs, the arrival of their first child and a million more such incidences which had made up their life. He now wished that he had been less busy at work and given her more time. The irony of life! We plan for the future not knowing what the future has planned for us. The children came late in the morning to visit Nisha and later left without being able to speak to her. Chandni was inconsolable and kept crying incessantly. Suraj stopped momentarily before they left and squeezed his father’s shoulders. Prabhat did not move, nor did he let go of Nisha’s hand.
It was evening. Prabhat had left Nisha’s side only once to relieve himself and have lunch at the hospital canteen. Now he got up and drew the curtains aside and looked out of the window. Dusk was fast settling outside –in the same fashion that that his life was ebbing away inside the room and he could do nothing about it. The vulnerability and helplessness of mankind despite the strides made in science and technology overwhelmed him. Prabhat felt tears well up and blur his vision. There was a stirring behind him and Prabhat was immediately at Nisha’s side holding her hand. He felt a weak squeeze and immediately removed her BiPAP mask and bend so that he could hear her.
‘Ready for tonight?’ she whispered. ‘You have done well love and given me a wonderful life. I am sorry but you will have to complete the bucket list alone. Promise me that you will.’
With every word, Nisha’s breathing became more difficult. Prabhat hugged her and said, ‘Yes I promise.’
‘There is so much I needed to tell you and so little time…The children..,’ Nisha was unable to speak further and collapsed back on her pillow.
‘Shh…it’s okay…I will wake you up once before I leave.’ Prabhat said. But Nisha had already drifted off. The doctor had increased morphine dosages to ease her pain and Nisha could not remain conscious for more than a few minutes at a time.
It was 9:30 pm. Prabhat had tried in vain waking up Nisha, but she wouldn’t respond. Her breathing was regular and Prabhat took one last look at that beautiful yet frail face. He bent and kissed her forehead leaving a tear upon it when he moved away. ‘Farewell my love. Go softly into the night,’ he said. He got up and increased the morphine drip flow to the maximum and slowly removed the BiPAP mask. He turned and walked out of the room.
Nisha passed away in her sleep. The next day the family had to get the body home, book for cremation and handle the stream of visitors, friends and well-wishers. Dr. Firoze embraced Prabhat and whispered in his ear, ‘I perhaps would have done the same. I have handled the hospital and Dr. Ambrish. Do not worry.’
That night, Prabhat woke up suddenly. He felt that he was not alone. Then he realised that one window had opened and there was a draft of cold air coming in. As he shut the window, a gust of wind blew in and a paper fluttered down from his night stand next to the bed. Prabhat picked it up, bleary eyed. It was the note from the hospital pad she had written on the day of her tests. Prabhat could not remember having brought it back with him. As he opened the bureau to put the slip inside, he saw the words written in a scrawl at the bottom of the note after the line- ‘No stealing a drink when I am away!
“Hold children back few days”
Prabhat felt a chill clutch his heart and he looked around the room wildly shouting, ‘Nisha! Nisha!’
Hearing his cries, Nazia who had woken up in the next room came running in. She calmed Prabhat down and he sat on the bed, hiding the note under his pillow. When Nazia went back to her room, Suraj was awake. When she told him, he was silent and then spoke in the darkness, ‘He was never there for us. First it was his work and then one day when he had taken premature retirement and quit in a huff, it was mother. Perhaps he was acutely aware that he had denied her a lot while he was at work and she was there to welcome him back. However for the children, he was too far gone and we had grown up and did not really need him. Mother was the only parent we really knew and had. Her death has affected him far greater than it has affected us.’
Nazia said, ‘You all have separate lives now. He doesn’t. I think we should be with him for a little while till he is able to come to terms with her death.’
The next morning when Prabhat woke up, he put his hand under the pillow and took out the note. No, it had not been a dream. The scrawl was still there. At breakfast, before he could broach the topic, Ishaan and Suraj started speaking simultaneously. Ishaan said, ‘Suraj Bhaiya (brother), you first.’
Suraj said, ‘Dad is it okay if we stay back for a few more days after the last rites are done?’
Prabhat was taken aback, wondering if Nisha had managed to reach out to Suraj as well and said, ‘Of course Suraj, it’s your home as well.’
Suraj thought to himself, ‘House perhaps yes, but not home. It was home when mother was here. We are doing it for her.’
Ishaan looked relieved and said, ‘That’s great Suraj Bhaiyya. Then perhaps I can leave early?
Prabhat did not answer Ishaan. Turning to Chandni he said, ‘And you Chandni?’
Chandni, whose eyes were still swollen from crying said quietly, ‘I do not know. Is this something we have to decide now?’
‘Of course not,’ said Prabhat chastised that he had vent his ire with Ishaan upon her.
In the next two days life somehow limped back to some semblance of normalcy. Although he hated having to deal with it, Prabhat tried to complete as much work as possible related to bank accounts, lockers and investments as his children were with him and necessary signatures and authorisations could be taken. It also allowed him to take his mind off Nisha and that note. For the last 2 days, Prabhat had also softly called out her name when he was alone. He had left a sheaf of writing paper and pens on his writing bureau, hoping that she would make contact again. Nothing had happened. He had always been a strong disbeliever of the paranormal and could not believe that he was actually hoping for the supernatural. He gave up on the note as one of the many inexplicable quirks in life and promised to destroy the same in the night as it was causing him too much pain.
That night, after dinner as he sat at his desk staring down at the sheaf of white paper and reached out to retrieve the note to destroy it, words began to form on the first sheet of paper, in the same, almost indecipherable scrawl.
“Reach out To Suraj. Lost job. Hated engineering. Loved theatre. Nazia’s past”
Prabhat waited for a while and then as he picked up a pen to write on the paper, the scrawl started again.
“Speak. Can hear. Can’t make you.”
Prabhat spoke up, “Where are you? How is this happening?” The scrawl came back, through slower and fainter than before.
“Speak in your mind. Hear your thoughts. Let Ishaan go. No more now.”
Prabhat sat for a long time at his desk trembling. He had a million questions for Nisha in his mind. The scrawl did not respond.
The next morning, Prabhat knocked on the door to Suraj’s room and awkwardly entered the room when Suraj called, ‘Come in.’
Suraj was surprised to see him and closed his laptop. ‘Yes Dad?’ he said.
Prabhat said, ‘Needed to go to the market. Could you come along? I am not feeling too strong.’
They had shopped around, speaking little. As they were about to get into the car, Prabhat said pointing to the café across the street, ‘How about a cup of coffee?’
As soon as they were seated and had ordered, Prabhat said, ‘How is work coming along? How is Singapore treating you?’
‘Financial Markets have never been the same again after the sub prime crisis in 2008. With America taking forever to pull out of a recession and there being little hope in Europe, its downward spiral for many of the big banks. Add to that the sanctions violations, fines for money laundering, LIBOR rigging scandals; it’s a holy mess out there.’
Prabhat said, ‘I am sorry to hear that. I do not understand much of what you say, though. Is your job safe?’
Suraj was silent for a moment. ‘When you called that night, I was still at work because I had just been handed my pink slip. In fact my entire team at the Fixed Income desk were called in and told to leave our belongings, car keys and given half an hour to clear our desks. We were all in my boss’s room when you called. That’s what two years of flat interest rates can do to the profits in bond trading I suppose.’
‘What will you do now?’ said Prabhat. ‘With markets down, another job in the same space is difficult. There comes a time when you need to step back from life and do a course correction. You could come back to India. Take a less stressful job. One that leaves you with enough time to pursue what you love. Theatre, for example?’
Suraj visibly started, spilling some of his coffee in the saucer. ‘You hated the idea of me doing theatre! You remember you almost threw me out of the house when I came back late from my play rehearsals two days before my Class 10 exams?’
Prabhat spread out his hands, ‘We all make mistakes Suraj. Another one which I made was in forcing you into Engineering. You hated it didn’t you?’
‘And you wanted to increase my agony when you goaded me to do my MS after my suffering for 4 years. Just to spite you and in sheer desperation, I worked like a maniac for my MBA entrance examinations. Thankfully I made it to a prestigious B School and was able to redeem my poor grades in Engineering. Then I escaped into the world of Finance. I know you were heartbroken and didn’t even know that I was taking my MBA entrance exam. Mom helped me there! And then you got after Ishaan. He could never oppose you openly so he went along.’
‘That was because I believed that technocrats would rule the world, not MBAs! I still do and you can already see the tide turning. I agree however that Ishaan was more amenable as he did not have a strong passion or proclivity for anything.’ Prabhat then paused and softly said, ‘I have always wanted to say this Suraj but did not know how. I am sorry about the way I was against your marriage and didn’t even go for it. I couldn’t bear the thought of your marrying a Muslim girl and not one from Hindu community. In some ways I blamed you for the demise of your grandfather who was a devout Hindu. I felt that he died of shock upon receiving the news of your wedding. However I have seen Nazia now for and she seems to be a very balanced and fine person. She has been the one most concerned about me, despite knowing the grudge I had against her. And so domesticated! One would never know that she is a topper in Economics from St Stephan’s and an MBA from Wharton! And Amaanat is such a doll! Your mother was with you when she was born …Amaanat was born prematurely no?’
Suraj seemed to be fighting a storm within. Finally he said, ‘Dad, you need to know. I fell in love with Nazia at the bank. She had joined earlier than me and was one of the best. Naturally, there were many besotted by her rare combination of beauty and brains and yet resented her superiority because she was a woman. Then one night after a party in the office, a very senior executive made a pass at her and she slapped him. He and his friends who were very drunk waylaid her when she was on her way to the restroom, assaulted her, knocked her unconscious and raped her in one of their office cabins. As those involved were very senior executives, the bank tried to hush-up the matter and offered her a sizeable compensation if she dropped charges. She was adamant but then her family was silenced by the bank for a princely sum. Disgusted, she quit the bank, severed relations with her family and went into a shell. She was working in a school when I tracked her down. I could do nothing, as I feared for my job with the bank. And Amaanat was not born prematurely. Nazia was two months pregnant when we got married.’
Suraj looked up to see for the first time, pride in his father’s eyes.
‘I am blessed to have a son like you Suraj and I am truly sorry for not being able to be with you in your formative years, though your mother seems to have done a fine job of it!’
Suraj looked at his watch and said, ‘Do you realise dad that this is the longest you have ever spoken to me?’
They both laughed as they got up. As they approached to get into Prabhat’s car, he hugged Suraj, stood back and said, ‘Son, you now no longer work with the bank. We must ensure that Nazia gets justice. If you want, I will come and stay with you and take care of the house and Amaanat.’ Suraj held on to his father and wept, oblivious to the crowds around.
Ishaan left that evening and Prabhat did not try and hold him back. As his son walked out of the front door to the waiting cab, Prabhat hugged him once and said, ‘Every night before you go to sleep, look in the mirror and satisfy yourself that you could not have done better today. Remember the purpose of an education is to build a better human being, not better grades.’
Prabhat checked the sheaf of papers that night. There were no further scribblings.
Next morning as he picked up his cell phone from the writing bureau, he saw the familiar scrawl on top of the while sheaf of papers:
“Well done! Steel yourself. Tonight.”
Prabhat could concentrate on nothing for the whole day. Several times he ran into his room to look at the paper but there were no further scribblings. He could not understand the last three words and they sounded ominous to him. He saw little of Suraj that day as Amaanat was running a high fever and they were busy with doctors and medicines. Chandni had kept to herself ever since she had come and Prabhat saw her only during meals. She worried him.
That night as he sat down at his writing bureau and reached out mentally to Nisha, ‘Can’t take the suspense any longer;’ words began to form on the paper next to him:
“Sumeet abused Chandni. Handle with care.”
Prabhat felt the room spinning and closing in upon him. How? His brother Sumeet! Who he had sheltered and fed! Oh God! What else did he not know about his family? And Nisha! How could she have braved all this alone? He cursed himself of trying to build equity at work when his home was under attack.
Prabhat tossed and turned the whole night unable to sleep.
Next morning after an early breakfast Prabhat said, ‘Glorious weather today. We all seemed too cooped up at home. Why don’t we go to Cubbon Park?’ He then looked at Suraj and shook his head.
Suraj said, ‘Amaanat is still recovering. She may catch a chill going out. Chandni, why don’t you go with dad? You could also visit the State Central library there?’
Chandni had always loved books since childhood. She had shrugged her shoulders and said indifferently, ‘Okay.’
Now they were walking side by side, father and daughter, in the lush gardens in Cubbon Park like two ships which travel together but have never met.
Prabhat tried to make small conversation but could not vault the wall which Chandni had built around herself. She had thrust her hands in the pocket of her jeans and was walking with her head down.
‘In the last few days of her life,’ began Prabhat hesitatingly, ‘your mother told me things I never knew. The more I learnt from her, the more I began hating myself and being ashamed for failing in my duties as a father. And I realise that with her gone, you feel vulnerable once again with me, your father, who failed you when you were young. I really do not know why Nisha tried to protect me with my cloak of ignorance when I failed to protect my children.’ Prabhat’s voice quavered.
Chandni stopped and turned to her father, her eyes blazing, ‘Because you were blind.’
‘Believe me Chandni, if I knew, I …..’
Chandni wasn’t listening; she was talking incoherently reliving her nightmare.
‘He was so gentle and kind. We will play a game, he used to say. Just you and me on the terrace…At first it used to hurt. He would give me chocolates. Different kinds every time. I would bear the pain because I wanted those chocolates. Toblerone, Ferrero Rocher, Cadbury, Lindt, Patchi. Later when the pain went, I waited almost every evening for the chocolates. He kept saying, “If you tell anyone of our little game, the chocolates will stop.”
‘Why didn’t you tell your mother or me?’ cried Prabhat
‘Because I did not know!’ screamed Chandni. ‘I was only nine when he came, remember? One year, for one whole year he abused me. When realisation dawned, with it came fear and shame. I hated myself and my body. I felt dirty all over. And I got angry. Very angry. I became a recluse, failed to make good friends, got into bad company in college and messed up my life. Mom was there always being patient, guiding me and talking to me. She was the only real friend I ever had.
Prabhat tried to embrace his daughter, ‘My dear, my dear, if I only knew I would have killed him with my bare hands.’
Chandni pushed him away, ‘He died, didn’t he?’ she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. ‘And this is something mother too did not know. He didn’t slip dad, I pushed him over.’
Prabhat felt the earth give way beneath his feet. He clutched the nearest bench and sat down heavily burying his face in his arm.
Chandni sat next to him and put her arms around him as he wept freely.
‘He ruined my life dad. I have never been able to get into a relationship because of him.’
Prabhat raised his head, ‘I am proud of you and shameful for myself because I failed in my duty as a father. I do not know if or how I can ever make amends. But I promise to you today that I will try. Try really hard.’
Father and daughter sat on that lonely park bench hugging each other and frequently crying till their tears dried up.
They then got up and walked hand in hand towards the exit, speaking no words. None were necessary.
That night when the family sat down to dinner, Prabhat looked around the table. They were all smiling. The ghosts had somehow been exorcised. Their wounds still had to heal. They looked new, he felt new. When they looked at him, he saw for the first time care in their eyes. It was still not love, but he would work hard at it.
Retiring into his room that night, Prabhat stood in his balcony. He looked up at the clear sky with its blanket of twinkling stars and the moon and said, ‘Thank you Nisha for introducing me to my children.’ Then heaving a sigh, he walked to his desk. Sitting down, he took out the bucket list and added to it:
As he folded the bucket list, on the white paper beneath was the scrawl: