The colours of the next town remind me of children's toys. Every red is the exact same one, a brilliant cherry scarlet. Every blue is a bright royal hue, neither dark nor light. There are no trees, perhaps the foliage does not cooperate to be the same shade on every leaf. The street-lamps are the same canary yellow as the rain-slickers and the taxis. There is no pink, no grey, no orange or violet; but it is more than that. Nothing is sun-bleached, nothing scratched or chipped. The street is free of litter, the walls are unvandalized perfection.
On my left, I see him. Ben. My Ben. I embrace him into a hug and tousle his hair. Again and again and again. His hands go limp against my hold. His honey-brown eyes dart restlessly over mine. Honey-brown, but my Ben had gray eyes. His smell makes me stop, makes me look at him and realize he isn't my son. It isn’t Ben. My throat feels dry. And my eyes well up with tears . The boy’s lips curve into a tight smile like he knows that I’m going to apologize next for misplaced identity. And that is exactly what I do. After apologizing, I part with the boy in a hurry and march down the lane, the tears in my eyes flowing like a waterfall now.
I'd forgotten to throw the trash away. It's the first thing I notice as I step into my apartment. Unwashed dishes meet my gaze and as I stand there by the door, I wonder what it'd have been like if my son had stayed. My phone has been buzzing and I know it's my daughter, Iris but I don't take the call. I simply want to drown myself in the welcoming arms of cheap rum and dirty house. I head over to my fridge, stepping over the pile of clothes dumped everywhere around. The whisky turns down the volume of my thoughts. It brings memories of good times past, and I let myself dwell in them rather than think. And at that moment I am here and not, existing in two perfect moments, somehow it steadies me, gives me the resolve to go on. Next, I turn on the TV.
The door to my apartment stands ajar and that is exactly why Zayn, my husband, doesn’t have any hindrance coming in. He picks up the clothes from the floor, closes the fridge door which I didn’t realize was open up until now. He grabs the remote from the couch and turns off the TV. He stares at my sad frame and gives me one of his piteous looks that I hate. I shoot him one of my looks. A look a mother gives when she is angry with her child. A look a teacher gives when she is disappointed in her student’s performance. A look a grief-stricken wife gives when she doesn’t want to get lectured on her life again. “Don’t. Just don’t get started again. You know how much I…I hate you.” I laugh. Soon after, I realize how much those bitter words must’ve hurt him every day. Every single day since we lost Ben.
“Leena,” he begins. “This isn’t how life works. I know, I know that your loss is big and it can’t be compensated in any way. But Ben…" his voice wavers as a tear falls from his left eye. He is weak. All these years he has pretended to be strong just for me, just for our daughter. But he is weak. Losing a son made him weak, just like any other father would’ve been. “But Ben was my son too,” he continues. “I’m alive. And living. You should too.” He is alive and living but my Ben…my Ben is dead and gone. I try getting up, I try to go over to him, to console him and apologize to him for reminding him numerous times a day that he doesn’t have a son anymore. To be sorry for him since he lost his son too. To make sure to tell him that his loss is as big as mine. I try but fail just like all those years ago.
My phone is buzzing again. I try getting up and unlike the last time, I succeed. I grab my phone from the countertop, the screen shows some unsaved number. So it’s definitely not Iris. “Hello?" I try to sound as composed as possible.
“Hey. Is this Mrs. Zayn?"
“I…I called to tell you that your daughter has met with an accident. She…some idiot driver crashed into her car. She has got a lot of injuries. Try reaching the hospital soon, please. I…” But I’m not listening anymore. All I can think of is my daughter’s green eyes, her pale pink lips that always remind me of a rose bud. All I can think of is the last time I heard the word accident: it was exactly when Ben had died.
I drive. I drive crazily. I have already lost a son, I don’t want to lose my daughter as well. Zayn is telling me to keep the pace low. But he doesn’t know what am I feeling. He isn’t a father. He isn’t a father. He isn’t a father. None of my kids ever compared their real father with Zayn. But I did. I always thought of how Zayn wasn’t handsome in a way Louis, my first husband was. How he wasn’t as tall as Louis was. How he couldn’t even make me feel better after Louis or Ben died.
I finally reach the hospital. My blood boils and my eyes sting. It's how the hospital still has that smell of burning paper and lives that end that makes me feel nauseated. All I can see are patients. Everywhere. Someone has their wrist broken while someone has got their knee fractured. On my left, I see a man with his left eyeball sticking out, oozing blood. Gross. On my right, I see a woman with her scalp covered in blood: so much so that despite her wearing a scarf, her entire face is streaked in red.
Someone calls out my daughter’s name. Iris. And that’s when I remember why exactly am I here. I squeeze in through the crowd, making my way up to Iris’ room. And I see it. I see in the nurse’s eyes. I see the fear in her eyes. The fear of not having the words. And that’s how I know. I’ve lost my daughter too. One by one, slowly and painfully, God took them all way. Louis. Ben. Iris. They’re gone. Every single one of them. I am once again left alone. I am, now lonely.