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I have always been a Daddy’s girl. An only child, I received plenty of attention from my parents, but my father especially doted on me.

His big hairy bear arms never scared me, and I would scream and screech as he threw me into swimming pools or swung me through the air- somehow never doubting his hold on me.  He was known as a stoic man, but I found solace in his dark brown eyes and his rough husky voice- the same voice that would read me to sleep each night.

My favourite memory was of him and I on a stony beach, squatting between the sand and the waves, combing for rocks. Rocks with holes in them. We would collect them and string them together- my poor mother grew sick of our collection being strung across the windows. But whenever I think of him, I think of those rocks and the salty smell of the sea that never left his dark curly beard.

Once I started school, I saw him less and less. He would be called away to work for months, and with it he took our warmth. Still, he would come home and shower me with love and I found our time together even more precious. We would swap letters and photos and I proudly showed my friends the souvenirs he would send me- exotic candies and postcards.

Then one day he was gone for years.

No one could contact him, not even my mother. I was used to being a forces child by then, so no one told me. But as I reached my twenties I became more and more suspicious.

“Is he dead?”

“I don’t know?”

“Is he captured?”

“I don’t know.”

It was the not knowing that killed her. She died of a heart attack in her early sixties.

I had to handle the funeral alone.

By then I was used to being alone. Apart from my cat, Captain, due to his white patch on his eye. Well, an old flatmate’s cat whilst she went of to Peru. I had thought about going with her, but I found I couldn’t leave my hometown.

Just in case he came back?

It was foolish. I was stuck in limbo with nothing but a pipe dream. I had more pillows on my bed than loved ones, and a freelancing career kept me from interacting with anyone more than my agent.

It was fine.

It was just life.

Then one day watering another new succulent I hear the phone ring.

Not my smart phone, but my old flip phone- so old and worn it had to be constantly plugged in.

It had been his last birthday gift to me, and for some stupid reason I had kept charging it.

I had made my ringtone myself- the little 8 bit tune sounding like a nervous clash of buttons rather than the masterpiece I had though it being.

“Is This Miss Hosseini?”

I didn’t recognize the clinical voice. “Yes?”

“This is Dr Johan from Royal Hospital South, and I am looking to contact your mother. She hasn’t been responding-”

“I’m sorry, she passed away a few years ago.”

“Oh, I see. I’m terribly sorry.” I heard some papers rustling. “Then perhaps you would be able to come here? Your father is a patient here and he needs his next of kin to collect him.”

My father. The elusive man bear of my childhood dreams. A complete stranger.

“I can be there in an hour.”

“Thank you, Miss Hosseini.”

My leggings and Hoodie were house clothes, and I knew I shouldn’t meet my father in them. But looking at my wardrobe I felt even more dread at deciding what to wear.

What do you even wear to reunite with a lost loved one?

I chose jeans and a shirt, and the work shoes I had for meetings that were fancy enough, but more reliable than heels. I grabbed my keys and said my goodbyes to Captain.

I went to my car door and froze. My father had never seen my car. He hadn’t seen me get my license, or graduate from University. He hadn’t defended me or comforted me after my first relationships, never held my hand as I buried my mother.

He never even saw me turn ten.

I climbed in behind the wheel and cried. A hot blubbering mess, tears staining my cheeks and shirt. Why did I pick a white shirt?

I cried for everything. Everything we had had. Everything we didn’t. I felt so alone.

Eventually I pulled into the Hospital car park, with no more tears left to shed. I took a deep breath and checked in.

“Oh, Miss Houseini, right this way.”

They led me into the men’s ward, and every man I passed made me jump. Were any of them my father? What did he look like now? I could only remember big burly arms and seasalt hair.

The Nurse stopped me by the door. “Dr Johan is just through here.”

The Doctor was petite, but her presence was commanding. Her fierce red hair pulled back into a no nonsense ponytail, but her caramel brown eyes were welcoming.

We shook hands and sat.

“So, your father has been with us for about a year. I have been told he was part of a forces group, and then a prisoner of war. I know nothing else from his time before.”

I nodded. “I’ve always known he was forces, and that he went off the grid for the government.”

Dr Johan held up her hand. “That’s as much as I need to know. My job is to treat people, not keep secrets.”

“That’s all I knew anyways. My mother took everything else to the grave.”

“I’ve not told him yet. Mr Houseini has not been doing well psychologically. We were hoping familial contact might help him.”

“What is his condition?” I was crying, but I begged her to keep this professional.

“Psychologically, it is hard to tell. He is non verbal. His eyes were cut into and even with several operations we haven’t been able to save them. He is deformed from lack of use of his limbs and is wheelchair bound. With physiotherapy we have helped him with his arms, but it appears he had them bound behind him for a long time, and he often feels more comfortable resting them this way. In fact, these past three weeks has been the first time he has slept with them in front of him.”

“Anything else?” I breathed, barely able to process things.

“He is malnourished. We have gotten him to eat again, but he needs help holding utensils. Otherwise he is able to respond to simple commands, but we are unsure of his capacity whilst he can’t speak.”

I nodded, the shock keeping me numb.

“You don’t have to see him today, if you don’t want to. It’s a lot to take in.”

“He has been absent from my life for seventeen years, I want to see him again.”

She nodded, “Just be prepared. He has probably changed quite a bit.”

Be prepared? Is there a Wikihow for these kind of things?

I followed her silently to the room, and she let me in.

“Wait here, I’ll introduce you.”

I was his daughter, and I had to be introduced? I couldn’t help but ponder over her words, perhaps to avoid peering over to the bed.

She rounded the corner. “Hello Jansher. Hello Nurse Sorrentino.” She held my father’s name awkwardly in her mouth, unsure of how to pronounce it.

“Hello Doctor Johan.” The Nurse replied. “And you have a guest waiting by the door.”

They were deliberately announcing everyone for his sake, perhaps.

“I do. She would like to say hello. Are you ok with that, Mr Houseini?”

I didn’t see or hear him, but the Doctor smiled and waved at me. “He’s ready.”

I made my way towards the bed, only to see him sat by the window in a wheelchair. The first thing that shocked me was how much this man looked like my father, but also how much he didn’t. His big bear arms had deflated, replaced by skinny arms and legs awkwardly bent into his chair. He had my father’s beard- far more trimmed than he used to like it- with small flecks of grey. His hairline had receded with time.

Still I knew him. And I missed my Dad.

“Baba? Do you remember me?”

His head swung to me. He had bandages over his eyes, and a thin scratchy sound that echoed my father’s husky voice sounded.

“Sa…ma…neh?” I could see tears sneaking past his bandages.

The Nurse clapped her hands silently together, watching me.

I knelt down next to him, “Yes, it’s Sami. Your daughter.”

He flung his hands out, and the Nurse directed them to mine. He had many scars, but I remembered than he always had- he had loved getting involved in every kind of DIY project he could.  

His hands worked their way up my arm to cup my face. He gasped as his thumb brushed the mole on my cheek, right below my ear. I had never been more grateful for it.

 “Samaneh… Samaneh” He began to sob, and I gripped his hands tighter. I felt fear flood me as blood began to seep through his bandages, but the Doctor shook her head.

“We’ll check them later.”

I nodded, turning back to my father. It was so difficult to match this thin, sobbing man to the bold, happy, gentle man who had marched me through my younger days.

He got a little better with time. I started visiting him, bringing small toys and things for him to practice his grip with, a small radio, sweets. I told him about my life, my troubles with work, my cat. He always chuckled when I talked about my cat.

It took around half a year for him to be discharged. I sold my apartment, opting for a small cottage with an annex fitted for a wheelchair user near the coast. I had learnt how to care for him in the hospital. I had even started to casually date a physiotherapist there, Aiden, who helped me deal with the changes.

Things seemed to be getting better. Until we went out for a meal. It was a small family restaurant, and the waiters were all relatives. A teenager managed to drop the plate, a loud crashing sound that sent my father into a fit of hysteria. He rarely left the house after that. I often took my work to his annex, the French doors open to the sea and me sat drawing at the dining table, him facing out with Captain on his lap. They had started a competition on who could grow the most grey hairs it seemed, although only I noticed. Aiden had found that funny.

It was odd, to have a father who marched through life, and now to have a father I had to carry through it. I felt like we rubbed shoulders but never fully embraced.

Aiden and I had embraced, and then some. It was no surprise after three years when he popped the question. He had even asked my father first who waved towards me, speaking in his way.

“Good. Marry.”

We had many nights debating on the petty details. Napkin rings and a thousand shades of white.

I looked at my father in the midst of it. He was always facing the sea, feeling the breeze on his face.

“Aiden, why don’t we just have a small ceremony on the beach?”

“Why?” His eyes followed mine.

“I want my father to feel the breeze. And life’s too short to fight over champagne fizz or Ivory mist napkins.”

We married a few months later. The guests enjoyed the scenery, and the food. I wore my mother’s green veil, and my father walked me down the aisle with the help of a friend wheeling him behind us. It was meant to be my day, but I couldn’t help but watch him. Did he eat the food? Does he like the music? Is everything too loud?

Eventually I took him aside, rolling him as close to the beach as I felt was safe. He breathed in the night air. I copied him.

“Baba, I’m married now.”

“I know. Happy.” He smiled, staring away into the distance with closed eyes.

“I am wearing her veil.” He smiled at that.

“Beautiful. Samaneh.” I kissed his hands. One had been balled up tightly as a fist all day, and I made another mental note to check with Aiden he hadn’t regressed from the stress of the day.

But as I pulled away he stopped me, turning my palm upwards and placing his fist on top.

It was hard, and a little cold. As he moved his hand back, I saw it.

“Gift. Little Samaneh. Memory.” He smiled softly.

“Yes. I remember.” I bawled, clutching it to my chest. “I remember Baba.”

He had tied the rope haphazardly through the stone, but I hung it around my neck. A stone with a natural hole.

“Memory. Mine and yours.”

I realized then, finally, that I could connect them both. My big strong father so full of life as we combed the beach, and my soft gentle father breathing in the salty night air from the coast of my wedding night. They were both my father.

And he was here for me. 

October 13, 2019 21:22

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1 comment

James Offenha
14:36 Oct 24, 2019

Liked this story. Consider starting the story at a different place and making flashbacks.


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