I walk out of the airplane, keeping my legs steady towards the airport building. I know you are not going to be there and something moves in my gut – some anxiety, some insecurity and just something alien. I scan the faces on the other side of the glass window as I walk towards the conveyor belt. I identify Ma. She waves at me and our eyes collide in distance. I wave back, whispering – I am here. She is trying to smile, trying too hard. I can sense that she is crying and I feel some salty wetness on my cheeks. Next few moments are a blur. I don’t know when my luggage arrives and how it rests on my baggage cart. I move with a sad resistance. A few steps ahead, she stands with her arms open. I move forward and I pause. There is this small space between us, filled with your absence. Our glossy eyes soften and in that moment, I step forward and hug her tight – she breaks into sobs and I keep her head resting on me. People are looking at us but we keep hugging each other; perhaps making up for the void you have left for us to feel.
Our journey is quiet; words seem unnecessary. I catch sight of all old shops, the temple, the bumpy, almost invisible roads and the arid landscape of my hometown. A wingspan of your memories extending thirty miles seems to hover throughout, waving at me. The awareness of how death transforms a physical being into nothing and everything makes me shiver. I intently look everywhere, trying to catch a shadow of you.
We reach home and a flash blinds me – you are resting on the outside patio – covered with flowers, garlands; peaceful and ready for a journey that I have wondered about numerous times. I walk inside our home and go straight to the guest bedroom – your picture is placed on the night stand on the right side of the room. An incense stick, half-burnt is bent in prayer before you. I try to feel something but tears fail me now. I watch your smiling face and your eyes looking straight at me, asking if my journey was comfortable. I lower my gaze and brush my fingers on your image. The memory of your affectionate touch wakes up. In the meantime, Ma arrives at the bedroom door. She sits next to me, kisses my hands and the floodgates of emotions fly out. We cry and talk about you at the same time; we laugh and we wipe our soaking eyes. Your demise and life hangs between our tears and smile. Ma’s face looks like a sky that has just turned bright after a heavy downpour. I watch her tired eyes. She is trying to move on but she is carrying you – too much of you within her and all I can do is help her with this baggage of memories.
I sleep in the guest bedroom like I always do, this time to be with you. Jet lag keeps me company and I am wide awake at two am. I do not wish to wake up Ma – she may be sleeping soundly after many months. To live alone is to find the company of fear and sadness. Today my presence has given rest to otherwise an aching soul and exhausted body. I turn towards you. My mind wishes to ask all the unanswered questions but my heart wishes to feel the quietness that stretches between us. I recall my days as a little girl holding your hands, posing for a picture or walking with you. I think of the instant when I mentioned the accelerated growth of the tumor and how I’d looked away, staring into the wall, unable to face my helplessness. I remember the day when you held me tight before I left. It was the last time I saw you alive. After you died, I frantically searched on Google if afterlife really existed. I remember the times you showed up in my dreams giving me some explanation or perhaps it was a manifestation of my mind protecting my grieving soul. Over time, my restlessness vaporized and today, I can comprehend all the silly efforts I made to reach out to you but just as everything else, those were my little steps towards the realization that you’d left.
In days to come, I will meet everyone who loved you, cared for you and stood by us when you were gone. I don’t know if it will be easy to talk about you all the time or if it will be a vent for me. I will find out. Is there anything else I should do? Is there something I have missed?
Somewhere while this conversation happens, my eyes drop a bit and I almost feel you next to me, stroking my hair. I fall asleep. The next day and many other days happen and we talk every night when I cannot sleep. I meet everyone and each encounter guides me a step closer to you. And here I thought, I was closest to you. I also realize how all this time you have been the front line of our family of four and now I am a step ahead, facing everyone. I comprehend what existence means – a nebulous force if ever described but a precise presence if understood.
It has been four days and my time to return is close. I watch outside – the dark night, the chirping crickets, the whistling wind and your constant absence of past year and a half. Are you really absent, gone? As long as I have been in this house, I have felt you. There isn’t a corner or a chair or any place devoid of you. Where ever I look, I see you either dressed for work or in a simple white kurta-pajma carrying a book. Or working on the computer and turning around to smile at me. I follow you walking out of the shower in a haste so that I don’t catch a glimpse of you. But I do and I complain about your grown belly and lack of exercise in your life and you respond with a sheepish giggle. I observe you praying in the temple and I see you walking in the lawn talking pictures of the latest flowers to send us. You are seen nowhere but felt everywhere.
Before this visit, I felt a part of me died after you left but being here, I feel that all of you now lives within me and I carry you in everything I do, feel, realize. It is a feeling of profound sadness as it is of great bliss. If there is ever a feeling as love, I think, at this instant, I am beginning to understand what it means.
Happy Birthday Pa, I love you and I hope I can keep you alive in me for all that you ever stood for in your simple yet meaningful life.
This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. -Rumi