‘Baba! Rida isn’t listening to me! She spilled all her milk. ‘ My son repeated himself almost four times but I couldn’t hear a word. Tears welled up as my children’s blurry faces screamed in front of me. Everything was incoherent. As far as I was concerned, my world had stopped rotating. The sun refused to rise. And gravity had pulled a disappearing act. Their mother, my beloved wife, was alone in the hospital, fighting a death sentence. And here I was, cleaning up spilt milk.
I dropped off the children at a distant relative’s house because my wife was in ICU. The city was humming with life. Whereas I felt as dead as an autumn leaf crushed under a heavy boot. Traffic was slower than usual. I saw happy pedestrians crossing the street. Mothers pushing their strollers with smiles of exasperation. The lights turned green and I didn’t budge. The car behind me didn’t honk. As if a sign from above, this little act showed respect for my feelings. Thinking that a rude honk could tear open a heart already on the verge of dying. The world showed me sympathy. Their eyes brimming with pity. I didn’t like any of it. I didn’t want any of it.
My car pulled up in the crowded parking lot. At home I wanted nothing but to rush to the hospital. And now that I was here, my legs turned to steel. My hands became numb. I couldn’t move. The thick air inside the car gave off faint whiffs of my wife’s favorite perfume. I opened the dashboard and found her comb and her pink nail polish. I always made fun of her fetish for nail polish. Ever since the children, she never got time to put on nail polish while getting ready to go somewhere. Once the kids were buckled up in the car, she’d take it out of the dashboard and apply it on her hands and feet. Every time I made an abrupt stop, she’d give me her infamous look. Eyebrows furrowed, a suppressed smile and wide open black eyes that made me burst out laughing. Who in her right mind would put on nail polish in a moving car? Only she had a plausible answer for that. She always had an answer. Almost always.
I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead on the steering wheel. Faint sounds of ambulance sirens and voices bounced off my ears. Tears rolled down like lost streams of water with no ocean to merge into. I was a man. I was not supposed to cry uncontrollably. I was not supposed to shake with fear and bang my head against the bathroom mirror. I was not supposed to do a lot of things. Yet control was the first thing to disappear like soul from a dead body. I opened the door without looking and suddenly I heard a scream. I jumped out and saw a small, bald child crying at his bottle of chocolate milk spilled on the floor. ‘I am so sorry I should have looked before I opened the door.’ I bent down to help his mother clean up. She apologetically said it was not my fault, as if it was her fault her son was crying. The child was pale yellow like a wilting sunflower. My heart jumped as I saw his sorrowful eyes. I could have done anything for those eyes. After cleaning up I asked the mother if her son was all right. ‘Nothing a little medicine won’t cure, right Sam?’ She lovingly hugged her son, but her eyes betrayed the truth. He was far from ‘all right’. But she was with him and maybe that’s all that mattered.
I went back into the car and took out my wife’s nail polish. I felt a bit better. What perfect timing as I smiled looking up at the feeble ray of sunshine peaking through overpowering clouds. Maybe the child’s pain made it acceptable for me to lessen my pain. As if his anguish sucked in some of mine. I pressed the elevator button and made a solemn prayer to God. To give me the strength to make her smile. To give me the ability to be the best father. To give me the power to make every minute of our lives matter.
** This story is inspired by a true incident. I hope and pray that Allah gives health and strength to the concerned family. I also pray for cancer patients and their families suffering all over the world. Only Allah can give them the needed strength to fight such a monster. Amen. **