I was woken up by the shrill ringtone of my cell phone. I swear to God one of these days I am going to smash that thing on a wall. As I rubbed my eyes groggily and tried to focus on the screen, I wondered who on Earth was calling me at the ungodly hour of 3:27 am. It was Shweta. My best friend of, well, as long back I can remember. “What the hell is she doing, calling at this time!?”
I picked up, and suddenly my right ear was full of certain noises I could make no head or tail of. She was in hysterics. “What’s wrong? What happened?” My paranoia took the better of me, and all sorts of scenarios started crossing my mind. It took her awhile to calm down enough to start making any sense. “It's Amish. He…. he's gone. He's dead…” I nearly dropped the phone. Amish was her husband. My paranoia had not prepared me for that.
I took the first flight back to her hometown that I could find. I knew I would have to face the flak from my boss for taking off without any notice, but that was a trouble for another day. I had to be with her right now, though I could not possibly even begin to imagine a fraction of what she must have been going through. From everything that she had tried to say on the phone, I had gathered that he died of a stroke but had no history of cardiac trouble.
Amish and Shweta were college sweethearts, and still madly in love. Surprisingly enough, even I got along pretty well with him. Sensible and soft-spoken. One of the very few who could survive and cherish Shweta, the madcap. They had been married five years and had an adorable daughter Ananya, a little three-year-old munchkin. And as I remembered that my heart went out to that child, now left fatherless, who wasn’t old enough to understand death. What am I even talking about, I am a grown woman, and I still can’t come to terms with it. My paternal uncle died young, leaving behind his wife, two little kids, old parents, and my father in a state which haunts me to this day. I had felt numbness and pain at the same time, but I could not shed a single tear. I was fifteen, and all I could think of was that I had talked to him just the day before, and overnight everything was over. Just like that. Maybe that was the first time it hit me, the ephemerality of it all, of everything that we hold dear.
Walking into the house, I ran into Ananya, who seemed to be a little confused by all the people gathered around. I wondered what, if anything, had they said to her. "Papa has gone to a nice and comfortable place", or "Papa has become one of those stars you see at night", or perhaps “Papa has gone to bring you the prettiest doll anyone has ever seen.” I picked her up in my arms and steeled myself.
I felt like I had gone back in time. The weeping women, the men trying to hide their tears and stay composed, but failing miserably at both. There was grief all around. Death had yet again claimed a young life.
I found Shweta surrounded by women. She looked terrible, as if she had aged ten years in a very short time, with dried tears and red, puffy eyes. Seeing me, set her off again, and I held her tight. Again, all I could feel was a strange numbness, I was unable to shed a single tear for my dearest friend. I wanted to comfort her but what could I say? “He was a good man, I’m sorry he was taken away so soon.” It sounded so shallow. “He did not deserve this, you did not deserve this.” Well, who does? “It will be alright, all will be well.” I could not, in good conscience, say that to a woman whose entire world had come crashing down in a matter of moments. It all sounded so fake. Hollow consolations. So all I could do was hold her close. She was constantly shaking, sobbing, clutching at me. I felt so helpless, as I did all those years ago, seeing my own family in a similar state. It brought back memories of wails of mourning, which embellished stretches of anguished silence. Comforting words which felt so fake. The pain. The hollowness. And suddenly I started feeling nauseous and suffocated, and had to go find some air.
I could see Amish’s father sitting outside, who seemed more composed than anyone else. I could feel a resignation in the way he was talking to visitors, and then slouching over in his chair. Here I was, relatively an outsider, mentally hyperventilating, and there he was, an old man who had just lost his son, accepting the fate and putting up a brave face. I was having troubles not because my best friend's husband had died, but simply because someone had died. And now I felt an uncontrollable urge to laugh. Perhaps it was the irony of the situation, perhaps all the vain and insincere consolations going around, or perhaps I was simply losing my mind. I needed to get out.
I left the following morning. Shweta was a strong woman, I knew she would pull through. But I had realised that I could not stay there another moment. The place was getting on my nerves, overwhelming and overpowering me. Was I running away? Probably. But I was still doing it. I know I will have to deal with my share of the antics of Angel of Death in due time, but that is a trouble for another day.