I am a cherubic 16-year-old girl attending the neighbourhood high school. Thanks to my parents, life had always been kind to me. But it all changed one cold Tuesday morning six months ago in late January. As if it was not enough that I was carrying on with life burdened by the fact that mom was fighting a losing battle against cancer, she had to break another heart-breaking news to me. She found solace in death. But what about me? Here I am stranded on a thin rope bridge unable to decide which way to proceed.
Dad had buried his grief over mom's demise and gathered himself rather quickly. He is a tough guy - a fact I always knew. Also, since he doted on me, he must have felt compelled to put on a cheerful stance in my presence. I am sure I don’t have even a speck of his tough mettle and resolve in my genes. There is not much time left until I decide which way to go. Till then, I hang on to the centre of the rope bridge safe in its haven. I wring my hands in a moment of indecision.
Dad absolutely adored me.
When I was 8, I took keen interest in riding. It soon became my passion and with training and coaching, I got better over the next two years. I won a few local competitions in the amateur circle. My coach mentioned that I had all the qualities to be a jockey and he would not be surprised if I ended up becoming a professional jockey.
Close to the date of my tenth birthday, I had hesitantly asked dad if he could gift me a horse. He looked shocked and perplexed for a moment possibly because he must have not expected a 10-year-old to ask for a horse. Yet, on my 10th birthday, stood a royal stallion in carbon black that shined fitness and health on every inch of its body. I jumped up and down with joy as I took turns hugging my dad as well as my gift.
It was only much later that I learnt, he had spent all his savings meant for a new truck to buy me a horse. One amongst the plethora of sacrifices he made for the love of his life.
I walk to school, wondering
how much longer until I make up my mind. I recollect awkwardly stealing glances at him at mom's funeral. He looked at me very longingly and expectantly - if I would acknowledge his presence. He probably would have liked to hug me. Mom had shared the secret with me on her death bed, and besides him, there was not another soul who knew it.
It now felt awkward not to acknowledge the presence of a person who had been very close in friend-circles. A friend who had always gifted me thoughtful presents, who had stood by us in times of crisis, someone I naturally greeted and hugged, seemed a stranger that day. I simply could not bring myself to look him in the eye, let alone hug him.
I go through my school day
like a mechanical robot, physically present but mentally absent. I shove the books that I would not require for my lessons that evening into my locker. I put on my jacket and get ready for the long bus drive to the hospital.
At the tender age of 16, I feel the earth giving away under my feet unable to bear the increased weight on my shoulders. All through my bus ride, I ponder about my dilemma. I disembark and proceed towards the entrance. The lady at the reception gives me her customary smile. I smile back.
“How's he been?” I ask.
“I’m sorry to say, not really good” she replies shaking her head slowly with pursed lips.
Dad is on his path to crossing over to the other side, to meeting mom very soon. Mom's loss hit dad hard. How much ever he tried, his overall health took a downfall after she left. Though I tried to fit into mom's shoes, I realised they were tad too large for my feet. With none to regularly keep him in check and remind him to take his medications on time, dad's already bad diabetes worsened. The doctors had to amputate a couple of his toes. His heart was in a bad shape too, getting worse with each passing day. Doctors had spread their hands saying there was nothing much they could do and it was just a matter of time before his organs stopped functioning one by one.
I hold dad's hands. He slowly turns his head to look at me. His face lights up with a smile. He’s too weak to talk. We sit in silence looking at each other. My mind races back.
I met him again as mom had instructed a week after the funeral. He picked me up after school. He seemed elated by my presence while I sat in silence unable to adjust to the awkward situation I was pushed into. I tried to smile as much as I could, but I believe the expressions on my face gave away my thoughts.
“Relax! Everything in its own time. And I'll go with your decision” he smiled.
I smiled nodding my head in agreement.
“Doesn’t matter what you decide. Be assured I'm always here to support” he told me in a tone that sounded genuine.
I again nodded in agreement.
Over our subsequent meets,
I warmed up to him. We met frequently thereafter on weekends and after school hours, whenever he could eke time out of his busy schedule. He always took time out for me and sure to his promise, was earnest, just the way mom had described him. I was jolted to reality when dad gasped - short of breath. I hit the emergency button by his bed side.
The doctors and emergency staff stabilised dad. I see the deep worry in his eyes, the worry about my life after he is gone. I think it is about time. I decide and I make up my mind. I call and ask him to meet me at the hospital. He can sense the urge and rush in my voice. He promises to be there within the next hour. I know he will be there. He is a man who kept his promises, except for the one instance he did not.
Mom's words on her death bed play over in my mind. And she made me promise her, a promise that both knew I would keep. She smiled when she said, "You have your father's genes." Yes, I do feel strong in my resolve and mettle to fulfil mom's promise. Just that I never realised then that it would be this soon. I had even had wild thoughts. I may follow mom and die soon or dad will outlive him and I could carry the secret with me to my grave. But alas! Here I am, with dad outliving us both and time for me to let the secret out.
I see him walk in with a grim face. Dad is in bad shape. Yet, what has to be told - has to be told. That was what mom wanted. I wonder what dad wants. But that is not for me to decide now. Under the current circumstances, it is in our best interest to let the secret out. He rather die in peace.
Dad turns his face to meet our eyes. He seems troubled. Troubled by the fact that he has to leave me soon, all alone in this wretched world when I am only 16.
I hold his hands. He pulls me closer with his arm around me. Dad watches us for a long moment. I see dad go into a state of realisation, a bit shocked at first. But then he smiles.
“I always had my doubts. But thought it wise not to ask mom. I'm glad and happy for the two of you.” He says weakly.
Tears stream down my face overflowing from my eyes. The likeness must have been hard to ignore.
I didn't say it mom, yet I believe I fulfilled your promise - I tell a silent prayer for mom and now dad as well as he breathed his last.
I cuddle myself in his arms. I weep silently in the warmth and security of my father's hug.