It is a pleasant evening. The twinkling stars still not out, the moon shy of the twilight sun, the horizon a startling deep hue of pink; beautiful sights for one who could stand and admire the beauty of the visual feast laid out in front of him, not for someone like me. Battling my shock whilst trying to reason with the brain that in some deep corner I did know that someday soon the outcome would be this, I tried my best to put up a brave front. The thing about bad news is that even if you knew it was coming, even if you saw all the signs, the moment of truth when the news actually hits you is still a shocker.
For months I roamed this city and its uninhabited streets acquainting myself to the various creatures of the darkness, asking to no one in particular why things were happening like they were, seeking any excuse to not go home. The need to be normal again gnawed at my being, I wanted my family to go back to what we were – laughing at the breakfast table, quarrelling over the remote and not talking to each other for the silliest of the reasons.
These days it was a gloomy silence and meaningless smiles that dominated the atmosphere. We would take extra care to be quiet and nice to each other, under the effort of blanketing the gloom that had descended upon us and the spirit of the family had withered away, we were just people who tried to move on holding on to the last shreds of happiness from yesterdays that merely existed in our hearts.
“I’m afraid, his days are numbered, Kashish” Dr. Nair had been so casual about it.
Did he have no clue of the intensity of the words he had just spoken? Final stages of lung cancer, he had said. I had no clue what it meant, except that whatever it was wasn’t good for any of us. The days after that were followed by meeting experts who had miracles in their portfolio – from medical to spiritual. It was after all the case of my father, the man who made me, the man who made me who I am today.
The realization soon dawned upon me that all our efforts were in vain and that beyond a particular point we would not be able to help him. Still, for the man who taught you to walk, even the moon is a small gift. Love was such a heartache.
There had been no clues. It was so sudden. One morning, he did not wake up at 5 o’ clock. This was something that had never happened before, but none of us had thought much about it initially. It would be a shock for everyone who knew him. People would say they need not look at the clock, that Gopal was enough to replace the watch. It did seem strange to us that he was sleeping late, in fact mummy had woken up and made tea and brought it to bed and only then did dad wake up; but at that time, we did not think much about it.
Maybe, just maybe we should have noticed something.
Another day he came back early from the office sweating heavily and collapsed into a heap on the sofa in the hall, that was the moment mummy sensed something amiss. Even then we had to force him to go to a hospital with us. It was only in the doctor’s consultation room that dad confessed to having health issues and chest pain. It was a heart disease that we suspected, but it was only when the test results came did we realize the journey we were into.
It did not take him long from that fateful day to fall sick, to become bedridden. My strong dad, the man who would carry me on my shoulders, lying in the bed, almost invisible amongst the sheets that kept him warm, it was a sight that broke my heart every time I saw him. I hated to see him like that, my dad, my strength lying so vulnerable, so fragile.
It was his birthday. I had no clue what to make of the feelings I had. Was I happy that he would be celebrating another birthday? Was I sad that he might not be around for his next? I cannot completely ignore the fear that he might leave me alone any moment and go. What am I supposed to? How could I even suggest that we should celebrate his birthday when he was so unwell and the whole family was depressed?
That was when Keerti had suggested to me that probably, this was what he needed the most. Something normal, something like what we would do every year rather than treating him like a patient. I had ordered a black-forest cake – his favourite. Together Keerti and I had convinced the family that this is what he needed now – a surprise and a normal day. A day where we would forget the condition he is in and lead a normal life for just a day, for the sake of the good old days. The plan was that we would convince him to take a walk that night, get him to walk into a dark room and there we would have his friends and close relatives waiting to surprise him. But the only worry was, would it make him angry? He was very short tempered and impatient these days. Most days he would shout needlessly at one of us and would reduce mummy to tears at the drop of a hat. Keerti would say that it is his reaction the pain and irritation he was going through.
I watch him carefully as he walked to the door, ready to steady him in case his steps falter. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
I wanted him to be surprised at exactly 12.00 am. I knew that he had always had this wish to cut the cake at midnight and this year, I wanted it to come true. Who knows if I have a tomorrow with him or not, it is this moment, this instant that I want to be perfect for him. The next few minutes would be the best few minutes of his life, it had to be. As soon as he entered the room, the movie started playing – pictures of his youth, our childhood and all the happy memories.
I saw his eyes glisten and he broke out into a smile. That moment I saw my dad, the one I thought I had lost months ago. Unknown to me, my eyes too welled up and Keerti took my hand. That moment was a revelation – that is when I knew I could have my dad and keep him happy, at least till the time he was with us. That life is made up of such moments, each made perfect in that instant rather than holding onto the memories of the bygone yesterdays and sighing over what had been and what could have been.