We meet almost every afternoon, when the unforgiving heat shrouds us like a thick blanket. He arrives before me, most of the time and would already be seated in the colorful plastic chairs lined in the school’s waiting area. Every day as soon as he sees me approaching, he gets up and offers me his chair, every day I smile at him and politely decline his offer.
We stay that way, in a state of suspended animation; two strangers with nothing in common expect the fact that we are there to collect our respective wards, his grandson and my son.
We attempt to make small talk, conscious of the silence that lies heavy between us; relieved when other parents start to file in. He is always immaculately dressed, as if he has just stepped out of a corporate office, slightly stooped, a newspaper in hand and a little red phone which he looks at from time to time, fishing it out of his breast pocket in one deft movement.
Ironically it is the insignificance of the phone, a tiny, shiny red Nokia 3330, that catches the fancy of his ‘grandparents group’. The grandparents’ group is a force to reckon with, tech savvy and boisterous. They tease him for carrying an ‘antique piece’. He tells them that it was gifted to him by his son at a time, when owning one of these was considered an extravagance even a luxury, by many. But then he concedes, his son has always pampered him, smothering him with gifts and love in equal measure.
“He talks to me about things, my little one; when I tuck him into bed at night” he tells me one afternoon. Slightly amused by my expression, he explains “ever since my son, his father, passed away 5 years ago, he has been in a very delicate emotional state”.” “His mother works in a different state and visits us for festivals.”
“My little one was telling me the other day about you. The way you smiled when you spotted your son among the crowd of little boys, the way you wiped a bit of pencil lead off his face, the way you held his hand while he chattered to you about something in school.”
"It was then I fully realized that my wife and I can only be a‘sister to the real thing’. Life is like a game of snake and ladders. I’ve slipped down to the bottom and am starting over again. I have to be strict like a father, even though I’m aching to pamper him like a grandfather”
I nod, no longer bothered about the tears welling up in my eyes. “You know, my son was a doctor" he continues, talking more to himself than me. "He collapsed while examining patients; a massive cardiac arrest. He was all of 39. This little phone he gifted me, makes me feel connected to him”
“When he was a child” he continues, lightly touching his knee, to indicate that the child only came up to his knees, as if by telling it out loud, the child would magically appear before us. “He would always pester me to complete his work, an unfinished coloring or the last problem in the home work series. My reward would be a big kiss with a “I love you appa”.
“I tell my wife, during our moments of inconsolable grief, that he has left us his unfinished work, and as I put my grandchild to bed at the end of another long day filled with struggles, I can almost hear my son whisper ‘I love you appa”.
We sit once more side by side in a state of suspended animation, but the silence between us no longer feels heavy and I decide to do what Angela miller has so beautifully put into words.
My child died
I don’t need advice
All I need is for you to
Gently close your mouth,
Open wide your heart and
Walk with me until
I can see in color again.
Angela Miller (http://abedformyheart.com)
ps: A big thanks to uncle for letting me tell his story and being kind enough to pose for a photograph.