Seven months ago.
My to-do list that morning was very breezy.
I would go for an early morning walk. During the said walk, I would stop by the supermarket and buy breakfast. I would wake up the girls when I came back. Take a shower, take breakfast as I read my emails, browse the internet, etc. Then I would get down to work once breakfast was done. The girls would have washed their not-so-little faces and would be arguing about god knows what as they take their breakfast. I would not mind. These arguments don’t faze me anymore. Plus, what can I do? I can’t send them to school because coronavirus is roaming out there. So they would do their breakfast cum arguing, they would do their chores, and then I would force a book into each of their hands.
When I take a break from work, I will leave the house and head to hospital. There, I will find you. A nurse will be by your side connecting your IV medication. You’ll see me. You’ll say good morning, ask how the girls are doing. We’ll wait for the nurse to leave your side then we’ll start our daily routine of talking about anything and everything for an hour as you drink your porridge. We might start from where we left off yesterday. We might venture into politics and talk about our government. Or veer off to talk about your life in India. We speak a lot about your college days, for some reason. I don’t know what we’ll talk about today, but I’m looking forward to it. Maybe we’ll talk about my life choices? My feminist stance? We go places during these conversations, you and I.
At some point, I know you’ll cough. I’ll hand you your handkerchief from the nightstand. The IV medicine will wear off, I’ll fetch the nurse to come and put some more or remove the needle, whichever the case will be. You’ll be weak, but you’ll still be here. And for now, that’s all that matters; that I will go to see you in hospital and you’ll still be here.
When the nurses start harassing me for staying too long, I will beg to leave. And I’ll promise to come back and see you tomorrow. I will come back home and update the girls on how their uncle is doing. We’ll do lunch and then I’ll get back to my workstation. Save for a few yoga stretches later in the day, and dinner, my to-do list will be just about ticked off. And tomorrow, we’ll create another one.
It was a Friday. Fridays are supposed to be good days in my books. They’ve always been good days to me. The supermarket trip to buy breakfast was activity number one. The sun had started to peep out and I woke up itching to go outdoors.
I joined the buzz. I love the buzz. Watching people. Stepping off the road to let bicycles pass. Bumping into strangers and apologizing. It was early. The town was perfect. With people, but with not too many people. There was room in the walkways. The pickpockets were still asleep because their business was yet to open. So I took one step after another and reveled in it. Swaying my hips maybe more than is necessary. Smelling the fresh morning air and anticipating a beautiful day ahead.
I enter the store with no apprehension whatsoever. Because what’s the worst thing that can happen inside a convenience store really? Find out that they’ve run out of milk? That’s not earth-shattering at all.
Inside that store, one of the attendants nudges me, “I think your phone is ringing.” I place my hand over my purse and feel the vibration. I smile and thank her. Sharp ears she has this one. And I pick up the phone. And I know it’s you.
You died last night.
And then your story ended.
At that moment, what you were doing became what you did. Who you are, became who you were. No more presence. Ergo, no more present tense.
The hospital bed you had been lying on for weeks became empty. Clean. Disinfected. Waiting for the next patient. Everything you could ever do, you already did. Every word you could ever say, you already said. Your word count ran out. And I know a thing or two about word counts. All the words that were allocated to you, you used up. All the breaths that were assigned to your heart to keep it beating, you used that up too. You ran out of laughter as well. And it was no ordinary laughter. That beautiful hearty laughter. Gone, never to be heard again.
I lost you
And I was not ready.
Twenty minutes or so later, I had my question answered. What’s the worst thing that could happen inside a store where you’ve gone to buy breakfast? You could learn that your brother is no more.
And it’s not because the person on the other side of the phone is insensitive or tactless, but because I have a gut that works on overdrive. And as soon as I picked up the phone my core told me what the person on the phone was trying not to say. So while they only asked where I was, the response they got was, “Please don’t tell me he’s gone.” My Smile stayed inside the store and I left with Agony instead.
I keep replaying the last conversation I had with you. If I had known that it was the last time we were talking, I would have hugged you tight when saying goodbye. I would have asked you if there was some unfinished business that I could finish for you. When you asked to use your phone and I asked for your password in order to switch it on for you, when you told me to input my year of birth as the password, “I love you too,” is what I should have said. Instead, I smiled, handed you the phone, picked up a paper towel, and wiped some blood that had been left by an injection to your wrist.
So now I can’t smell the freshness in the air anymore. The cold morning is now hot and stale. An unforgiving sun is shining too bright, threatening to scorch us all. Burn us all, why don’t you? Burn us all to the ground. Come closer hotshot. Get hot and burn us to ashes.
I went back home with a burning sensation in my throat. With eyelids that were glistening with tears in a shy dance along its edges. All I wanted to bring back home was some milk. But here was Agony standing right beside me. And my daughters saw him as soon as I walked through the door. Their not-so-little hands went around me. And the tears were shy no more. My big brother had left the world. And I felt so small. So tired.
I had promised to cook you a nice meal when you got out of hospital to cancel out all the hospital food you’d been having. But the next time I saw you, you were in a casket. All life having left you. All promises having gone with it. No more words. No more laughter. Nothing left.
My to-do list had to be updated. We would cross everything out and put in the only activity for this fateful Friday: crying.
I lost my brother. I lost a lot of laughs. A lot of interesting conversations. A lot of knowledge about books and life. I lost a friend.
And it sucks.