I was with him the night before he died…
Stale September night. The usual damp air carries a soul-numbing silence that could stop a person in tracks. The kind of silence that howls, shrieks loudly, make itself known; silence that terrifies. The only sound to be heard was coming from the abandoned corner of house, the corner where only disease and ailment and suffering resides now. The sound of an irregular but continuous hiccup, like the mechanical beeping sound that tells if a person is alive or not. The hiccup that is evident of a meagre life spilling, drop by drop, slowly, painfully. The hiccup that is there as a proof of life, a proof that there is still something left to be saved, something to hold onto. The hiccup that was actually a cry for help. Slow, continuous, rhythmic hiccup that eventually killed him.
There are certain things and memories that I associate with Dada Abbu alone, like sitting with him in a blanket, eating peanuts, on January nights and listening to tales of Prophets, Djinns, angels, and ordinary men. Like going on a morning walk before dawn, learning to read Quran from him. Like asking him questions about when they migrated to Pakistan and what it was like before. Like learning the real meaning of struggle. But as we grew up, the bed-time stories grew shorter and shorter, the morning walks became a rarity, and he’d forget the answers to questions we’ve asked so many times before. Seeing someone get old, weak, and frail right in front of your eyes stays with you for a long time. Old age is a cruel, cruel thing.
I was with him the night before he died. I listened to his impatient hiccups all night long. Imagine having pain that you couldn’t even describe in words! He didn’t or maybe couldn’t tell me what was wrong, so we waited, alone, quietly, with only an echo of a small hiccup in the background.
There is no emotion more bizarre than grief. Every time, I forget how to use words while trying to come up with some description that might remotely relates to grief, how it feels, how it clings to your heart most ardently, how it plays hide and seek with you, how it makes you smile and cry your heart out at the exact same moment, and how it eventually transforms into a painful reminder, a broken memory. Grief makes you question the validity of your thoughts, of all the other emotions. Just like Schrodinger’s cat, grief is neither dead nor alive, but it’s always present, a reality that carries an abominable secret inside of it. As long as the pandora box of hurt is closed, grief is humanly bearable. As long as we don’t know the definite, everything is survivable, everything seems easy. But there’s no other way to realize the absolute truth until that door is opened, until the box isn’t locked shut anymore. Grief is a paradox to which we’ll never find a way out. Our lives are centered around it, serving as the foundation on which all our hurt and broken dreams will be built. It enshrouds you like an unnamed curse; it will accompany you every step of the way like a faithful escort, it will stab you in the back like your archenemy when you’re vulnerable, and eventually it will leave you to starve in the midst of the ruined valley of dying stars.
Today marks a whole year, since dada abbu died and all of it feels unreal. I couldn’t cry when I saw him laying lifeless in front of me. He’ll start hiccupping any minute now, I was sure of it. I watched him do it before, he’ll ask me to bring water again, I knew it in my heart. But as the night grew darker, he didn’t move, or speak, or wince in pain. He laid there in peace, without any hiccups.