The first thing that hits me as I enter the room is the pungent smell of Dettol mingled with a hint of sandalwood incense, clearly a failed attempt to hide the blanketed air of sickness. He lies on an ancient bed, wearing a pair of black shorts and a thin vest that covers his chest. His flaccid skin is patched with scanty white hair, face freckled with dark spots resembling the shell of a quail’s egg, toe-nails stained dark yellow with jagged black edges. The maid tells him I have come to see him. His cataract-chewed eyes blink away at the ceiling as he takes time to register the information. With a lump in my throat I sit beside him and wait, thanking the fan’s noisy whirring for ebbing away at the morbid silence of the minutes. How can time do this to someone, eat away at their body like ravenous maggots, erode bones that once held up a fierce giant of a man. He who once walked everyday for miles in blistering summers can now barely get up to go to the toilet; living a life reduced to being bundled in adult diapers.
He starts to talk, in croaking whispers. I struggle to understand the words and lean in close, his magnified shriveled face alarms me with a sense of sorrow that jerk the tears to my eyes, but I look up and blink them back. Health… job… husband… child – his established repertoire of concerned enquiries. Holding his hands, I feel the bumps of his swollen veins snaking through the folds of the leathery, dry skin and tell him everything is fine in my life. In the quiet that follows my answers, I think about the things I want to ask him but stop myself, for the answers are already there, floating in his indigo pupils. Disappointments, pain, regret, loneliness. Loss of his wife at a young age and a subsequent life battling with children who’ve permitted their love to be surpassed by greed; the Gods have dealt him a fair share of shitty cards. Money came and money went; vultures were always waiting outside his door step to tear away at him.
Now he lies alone, cared for by someone else’s child, waiting for the end. There is unfinished business to be taken care of and he tells me about it. I don’t know how to tell him that none of it matters anymore. A memory flashes of a day when I was a young girl, listening to music through my headphones, when I suddenly turned to see him and let out a little startled yell. As I switched the walkman off, I heard him say, “How can you know what’s happening around you when you wear those things in your ears? Play the music out loud.”
He was right. Music adds magic to life, but getting lost in it means you don’t hear the tip-toeing of thieves coming to get you. I only wish he’d taken his own advice.