He was looking at me when he passed away.
I got up from the side of the bed and touched his face and let my fingers run from his cheeks to his lips as I always did. He always responded by kissing my fingers, always until this time. I stood for a while looking at him expecting that he would feebly open his eyes and hold my hand again. He did not.
A tear left my eye and I sighed. A sudden emptiness engulfed the house. The silence was deafening and I was too stupefied to know what to do. I had known that the end was near for past couple of days now. The doctors and medics had given up on him weeks ago. It was a hopeless case they had said. The ailment when it had been detected had already taken him to a point of no recovery or return. Since last week, we had known that the pain would not last longer now and silently made a pact to be with each other all the time that was left to us.
The children lived about an hour’s flight away and went about their businesses and work just as they had been doing without any knowledge of the premonition that we had. He knew it that it was about time now and I could see it in his eyes. He continued to smile the way he always did and I attended him and continued performing my daily duties normally to keep his smile intact. Often he held my hand a little longer than he had ever done so in our 35 years of marriage and covered it with his other hand and would gently whisper “take care.” I would smile and turn away to pick up an odd paper lying on the floor or to get him his tea, mostly covering my face and hiding a tear or two.
We had been there holding and supporting each other through thick and thin, for three and a half decades. All this time we had never lived away from each other for more than a day. It became unbearable to think and to know that he had left me forever now.
I wanted to cry aloud, wail and sob and torment myself. I was angry and furious and wanted to pull him back from wherever he was being taken. I felt desperate and helpless at not being able to do so. Perhaps I would have resorted to the behavior of a commoner had I not been alone with him in the house and would have broken down and cried my heart out.
Maybe it was because that my head was now a cauldron of a heady mix of emotions that I could not single out anything or a silent reminiscence of the fact that I had promised him that I shall not let him down when the inevitable happens. Mentally, I just gave up everything and came around and sat on the bed by his feet, watching him, in vain hope that he would soon ask for his evening tea.
He lay there in his white sheets, clean and immaculate as he had always lived. It was about 4 in the day. Almost half an hour had passed since he smiled his last. I still did not know what to do. Perhaps I should make the necessary calls and then wait for children to turn up and take over.
I moved over to the side table to pick up the telephone. I dialed in the number and the machine answered back. My eldest son was out and unavailable till 6 in the evening. After the beep I could only muster “Come home, your pa…” My eyes welled up and I hung up the phone.
The sun now filled the room with its orange and golden flames and from that distance I could faintly see the pale colorless tips of his hair where the sunshine touched him. His face looked radiant as ever, much like as I had always seen him. Though wrinkles had taken over and in the last few weeks his skin had become pale and thin, he still retained most of his features from the first time I had seen him through my flowing veil when he had come with his family to seek alliance.
My whole life flashed before me as I stood there watching the golden rays of sun kissing his being.
I remembered the time I had come into the house as his bride and the years that followed. I could see myself holding his arm sitting through the various movies that he took me to. Cinema was the only luxury and the form of entertainment that we could afford and indulge in during those days. We would often walk back and sit at the stairs of the local temple for a while before going back to the house and he would often croon a song or two from the show we had come back from.
It was almost one and half years after our first son was born that he coaxed me to take up studies again and pursue my post graduation. Had it not been for his support I wouldn’t have ever dreamt of going back to the college. I remembered the time he would wake me up and scold me for not studying enough for the exams. He would sneak right behind my study table and stand there awhile watching me doze off on the open book under the table lamp.
I could recall all the moments that had been imprinted on my memory forever. I could see him come into the kitchen and lift the covers and lids off the pans to see what I was cooking and smile and wink at me mischievously if something held his interest. I could see him at the wheel of the car and hum with the radio and allow the boys to stand on the rear seat and make all the noise in the world, much to my displeasure at times.
He never forgot any of our anniversaries or the birthdays and special dates about our marriage or children. He never forgot to buy me a strand of jasmine for my hair whenever he spotted one at the market. He did little subtle things which made me feel special and made him all the more special. The way he laughed clearly and the way he stroked my hair, even when they were all grey.
He made it a point to tell me that he had never lied to me in his entire life and would follow it up with his “You are the most beautiful woman on the face of this planet” line and I would blush and call him a liar.
I also could recall the day when he came after seeing the physician and brought his reports. He had called me inside the room and lay open the piles of papers and X-Rays and other reports on the bed. As I looked at him, he grasped my hand and made me sit next to him over the piles that he had scattered on the bed.
“I have never lied to you”, he said, “You are the most beautiful woman on the face of this planet”, he paused as if waiting to see something in my eye and with that easy smile on his face continued in the same tone “The doctor tells me I have about 3 months left.”
For once I knew for sure that he had never lied to me and perhaps I was possibly the most beautiful woman who ever lived, I also knew for sure that a dark and sorry fate awaited me at the end of 12 odd weeks that I had. My eyes welled up and I clung to him. He held me close and said “Don’t worry. I shall prove the idiot wrong. Promise me that this is the last time I see you crying. I don’t want to regret being truthful to you all my life.”
I could not say anything else. I gave him my word and we guarded the secret of his falling health from everyone else.
He braved all pain that shook and stirred and ate him inside. Never once I saw him without a smile on his face, his eyes without love or his hands not within my finger’s reach. He proved the doctors wrong on more than one occasion and pulled and plodded along even as they gave him fresh deadlines time and again.
He fought his battle for 23 weeks, almost double the time that was prophesized and it was only the last few days that his eyes told me that it hurt badly inside. He rolled and churned full nights and I lay there next to him, not wanting to acknowledge that he was losing out lest it might break him.
He had been an early riser throughout our lives and it was him who would normally wake me up. And he had his own impeccable style of doing that too. He would call out my name and tell me that it was 6 in the morning. He would nag me on and on till I opened my eyes and looked at him and then would just smile and let me catch a wink or two saying “OK, I give you 5 minutes more. 10 if you get me the newspaper and tea when you get up now.” We would normally stretch that to 15 – 20 minutes before he often literally pushed me out of the bed.
That last week I passed sleepless nights and allowed him to wake me up just as he always had been doing.
Evening came. There was a bluish gleam outside the window. The sun having had his fill of my husband’s light had receded and he looked a little whiter now. I went by the bed again and looked at him.
I couldn’t let him leave me like that. He had vowed to me on numerous occasions that he would never desert me. He had promised that he shall never leave me alone. He could not possibly do this to me. I knew he never lied to me. He had always kept his word and I trusted him. I trusted him to not leave me half way like this.
With this thought, my pain and commotion eased away and I felt lighter at heart. I wiped the tear drops that were shelving at the corners of my eyes and tried to smile. I climbed the bed and slipped into the sheet next to him. I rested my head on his chest and let my left arm wrap around his shoulder, my body next to his. Silence became predominant voice in my head and I felt a strange calmness come over me. A tranquil peace prevailed in my heart.
I closed my eyes and slept…forever.
It was 8’o’clock the next morning when Rahul, the eldest son stepped inside the room where his father breathed his last. The room did not in particular smelled foul. He went by the bed and saw his parents in a loving embrace.
The doctor who came in with him examined them and announced that they had passed away at about the same time.