I checked the caller ID, as my phone rang.
I dropped my pens, cartridges and my essay, and picked up the phone. As I watched the phone ring, I breathed through my mouth and cleared my throat. It kept ringing the whole while, the second’s hand of my watch, in pace with each of its ring. I checked the time.
Why was he calling now? Gramps . . . No. It can’t be.
To live in this world
You must be able
To do three things
I tried to calculate Papa’s expression once again, by replaying the scene.
He’d been arranging his documents and files, when he got the call. And I’d watched as his mouth parted into an ‘O’ and his expression became sombre.
“I need to go now. His health is—” his voice had cracked, leaving me with dreadful thoughts. His health is what? Deteriorating? But wasn’t he doing better yesterday?
Papa'd cleared his throat, “keep these papers back, please.” And without waiting for my response, he had rushed, snatching the keys from the rack in the process.
I knew mother had called. I knew that look on his face. But my mind had refused to piece it together.
Funny, how you knew something and yet, you didn’t.
I’d wanted something to do, something that required thinking, loads of thinking; had desperately needed the distraction. Consequently, I chose my essay.
But now, as I watched the ink from the cartridge pool on top of the paper, I regretted that decision. Even more so, when it reminded me of Gramps’ glazed blue eyes, his skin crinkled just like the rough surface of the paper.
To love what is mortal;
The phone almost slipped through my hand, as it vibrated again. I caught it, but locked it in the process. I wiped my sweaty hand on my denim and used the other to unlock the screen. For a moment, there was just a plain black screen on which I saw a girl with square, black specs — one that her grandfather loved to see her in; “very smart lookin’” he had said — and then the colours poured back in and highlighted the incoming call.
Why was Papa calling? My mind asked again. There could be only one reason, and yet, I tried to defy it; tried to formulate a better reason.
Perhaps, he left his wallet? But no, it was too late for him to realise that. It’d been two hours since he left, and the hospital was only ten minutes away. Maybe he was running late? No, he always called around nine p.m. if he was going to be late. And now, it definitely wasn’t close to nine.
I swallowed and tried to even my breathing. My nose didn’t seem to be working— I was continuously taking in huge gulps of air through my mouth.
Why was I getting so panicky?
To hold it / against your bones knowing
Your own life depends on it;
The phone won’t stop ringing soon, I knew. Gramps and I, had once counted the seconds to see how long it could ring — he’d wanted to know how long he had, to know if he needed to rush when he was watching a match, or having a drink, and the phone was in the bedroom. I could have Googled it up, but I was insistent on doing it by myself that day, to help him.
Mom, and Gramps had shared a look that day, and smiled at my childish innocence. And now here I was, seconds away from a piece of possibly hurtful news.
Why was it so damn hard to keep your mind optimistic?
If only I were like my parents, cheery for almost half the time. Though, admittedly, it wasn’t very pretty to see them in a despondent state.
And, when the time comes to let it go,
Mom. She was so attached to her parents. What would happen to her? And Papa? Papa loved them too. Gramps had such immense trust and warmth towards my father after all.
And me? Would I cry? Was I attached to him? Gran often told me stories of my infancy, of how grandpa always managed to keep me distracted from causing a ruckus. But the older I grew, I was having less shared memories with him. Mostly, ‘cause, he was bedridden for a long time.
Throughout the past two weeks, I’d been sure that Gramps would come back healthy. Never once had I imagined otherwise. But now . . .
I ran a mental search, jogging through all my memories, trying to find out how much I knew him.
From all the tales I’ve heard about mom’s childhood, and all the letters between the two, that I’ve read, he was a great person.
And the more I thought about it, I felt like the edges of some memories gnawing at me, like the one with him entertaining me and my cousin, by performing a few party tricks. Another, was him teaching us state and country capitals. Yet another, of him reciting age-old poems and proverbs.
I almost chuckled then. Gramps was nothing if he couldn’t employ at least one saying, from bygone times, in his witty quips. I wondered when would be the next time I could hear one of those.
I sighed, tired of my own dark, pessimistic mind.
The ominous second’s hand was certainly not helping either.
Why was I not picking up? My fingers were hovering above the accept button. It’s my throat, I convinced myself, my voice was rusty, and dry.
Dry? I swallowed. Oh, I realized, it’s quite parched.
I could have fooled myself.
Just pick up the damn phone! I screamed mentally.
My hand quivered, as my fingertips faintly brushed the screen. I put the phone to my ears and licked my lips. My legs, it seemed, were moving of their own, nervous accord, tapping away at the floor.
I heard my dad suck in a breath. He seemed to be in a crowded place — there were whispering voices nearby.
I opened my mouth, to reply, but at that moment, I heard more than just whispers.
I heard wails.
I heard mom and gran sob loudly. My mouth was left hanging, as a chorus of “No” played like a busted repeat button inside my head.
I watched the cursed second’s hand tick away and remembered suddenly reading it somewhere, that time “froze” at points of overwhelming emotions.
Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. But at that moment, all I could see was nanoseconds ticking away, milliseconds ticking away, taking his breath away.
Or maybe, it’s already taken.
And, when the time comes to let it go,
To let it go.
“Hello?” Papa spoke again.
My vision blurred out for a moment then cleared up again. I blinked a few times and — I gawked stupidly at the droplets falling from my eyes — tears?
They’re wrecked. I could hear them more clearly now, mom and gran. I could imagine mom’s tear-stained face.
Something broke inside me, releasing something from deep within myself. I put a hand to my chest, and curved inwards into my own body, as goosebumps erupted on my hands.
Was I feeling cold?
My eyes darted quickly to the windows — it’s closed. I wiped my face on the sleeves of my top, shook my head to clear it up and, almost as if in a trance, opened my mouth.
I won’t crack, I intoned, I won’t crack; I won’t cra—
“Hello.” My voice cracked.
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Note: The verses aren't my own; they're from "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver. Thanks for stopping by! :)
Holy pickles this is beautiful.
Thank you, Emmie!
Hey Neha, this was so emotional and written so beautifully! I loved the ending phrase, I love the whole thinking dialogue as she comes up with an answer herself. It was really just so sad. I liked how you wrote this, I loved the "Tick, Tock" and how you split up the paragraphs to fit each phase. It was beautiful. Great job Neha! Keep writing!
Thank you so much, Ugochi! I appreciate it a lot.
I loved the tension, the underlying sadness and everything else. The ending was pure and full of feeling. Great job!
There is so much deep and visceral emotion in this piece, Neha. You kept the agony in the character's head all the way through - a beautiful, moving, and deeply felt piece. Well done.
Thank you so much, Elise!
wow, i really enjoyed this!! awesome job!
Thank you, Ink!!