2 Years: It’s been long, but not long enough

Let us take a moment
to pause and stare
Pause and stare at the fresh grave.
At the immeasurable spoonfuls of dirt
that will soon fill
it to the brim.

He died on a spectacularly sunny Saturday.  We left Canada almost a decade ago to relocate to the UAE, a country with one season reigning supreme all year long: summer.  Unlike this year, December wasn’t all that different from March or October in 2010.  To me, it had just been a day like any other in Dubai, hot, humid, and treacherously sweaty.

I had returned home for my annual winter break from college a few ago, and spent most of my time writing or playing with Ayana, my one-year-old niece.  Like my father, my brother was a banker and though Saturday is a working half-day for most banks in Dubai, my brother had been home all day.  In fact, he had decided to take his annual leave early and was going to be home every day for the next two weeks, a fact that did not register too well with me since I’d been planning on spending my days careening across the city and roaming the endless malls.  This would not be easy to do, with an older brother at home who had an inclination to call every hour, enquiring of my whereabouts.  Unknown to me, God had his own plans in motion.

Let us go
Let us embark on a journey
of thought, and descend
six feet under
to pause and stare some more.
Pause and stare
at the body that lies
beneath.

 4:30 pm.  I left the house with my sister, anxious to get some shopping done and spend some of the money Bhai had given me the night before.  This was new.  Usually, I’d have to pull my ‘I’m a poor, broke student’ routine to make him cough up some pocket money but this time, he had given me way more than ever before without even needing to be asked.  Perhaps I’d shouted out “Okay, I’m going now!” from my room downstairs or maybe I’d just flounced out of the house without a word.  Either way, there had been no real goodbye.

7:30 pm. My sister and I were browsing for sportswear, and dreaming aloud about all the things we’d do in London next month, a trip we’d been planning for the better half of a year.  At the same time, my brother had left home, bidding his mother, wife and baby daughter farewell for the very last time, to come to the same mall we were in, Mirdif City Center.  He had a weekly cricket match at its indoor play ground. Till date, I feel uneasy going near that area.

8 pm.  I was strapping on my seatbelt, and my sister and I were about to head out of the mall and back home when we received an unnerving phone call from my father.

“Beta, Bhai has collapsed.  Come to Playnation right away.”

My sister and I had been bewildered, but not as shocked as we should have been.  I’d always seen my brother as having a flair for the dramatic, with every little symptom exaggerated to generate the largest amount of sympathy possible.  I saw this as typical behavior, rolled my eyes and actually thought to myself: Well it’s not like he’s dying. But he was.

8:05 pm. As we maneuvered our way back through the parking lot, a series of phone calls followed with the last one falling like a jagged boulder on our souls.

“Beta, Bhai has died.”

How could my father possibly sound so calm?  His voice seemed wooden, jarringly inappropriate to the words he had spoken.  I couldn’t think, couldn’t move but knew we had to reach him.  I ran through the mall, panting and crying simultaneously, face etched into a mixture of disbelief and hysteria.  My sister must have been running with me but I was no longer aware of anything else but how fast my legs could take me to my brother.  I focused my thoughts again on my father’s tone of voice, the inflection in his words, rather than his actual words themselves.

Notice
the freshly cut nails,
the neatly trimmed hair.
One will yellow gradually,
the other will be nothing
but tufts and wisps
of dark brown.

I pride myself on my descriptive prowess, but even after all this time I cannot figure out how to fully convey the impact of what happened that night.  What i’ve realised is this: its not so much the immediate impact of the death that matters as much as it’s long-term effect.  Our swollen eyes, sleepless nights and struggle to put on brave faces were all just temporary afflictions. It’s what we’ve all experienced since then that is vital.

  • We can say your name without being overcome by a wave of tears every time.  When people ask me how many siblings I have, I am able to mention you.  I can say, ‘I had an older brother’ without my voice breaking.
  • We can smile and fondly remember things you liked to do.
  • We can do some of those things on our own.  We had a bbq last weekend, the first since you left.  You weren’t there to do all the work, but just as we were about to eat, it drizzled for a couple of minutes.  Was that you telling us you’re still with us?
  • We can talk to Ayana about you, and try answering her many, many questions about her Baba.  I can tell her that her love for singing and music probably comes from you, as well as her desire to have a pet turtle.
  • We can still go through moments of hysteria while thinking of you, but then we move past it.  Coming back from Karachi last month, I saw a man who looked a lot like you.  Same stature, same face shape, even a similar way of dressing.  I probably unnerved him by how much I was staring, and my heart broke a little when I lost sight of him, but I survived.
  • We can have dreams about you but still wake up to face reality the next day.  For the past few months, I’ve had this recurring dream in which you come back to us.  I don’t know from where or how, all that’s certain about it is the elation we all feel, and the sweet relief that this whole charade is over.  And when my eyes blink open and I see the framed photo of you I have on my bookshelf, I don’t need to lash out.

Notice
the glassy eyes slightly open.
They have witnessed the yellowing, falling leaves
Of only thirty Octobers.
Notice
the ears stuffed with cotton.
They have heard a crowd roaring, an audience clapping,
a baby crying.
These senses thrived for three decades
but now are dormant.
Not seeing, not hearing.

The truth is this: nothing fazes us any more.  Nothing rings truer than the oft-quoted saying: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  The cessation of your heart ended your life, but the end of your life did not kill us.  It made us stronger.  And with each passing year, our strength grows, our resilience grows firmer.  There are still moments of weakness, but that’s okay.  It’s been two years since you died, sometimes it feels like twenty, sometimes it feels like no time at all has passed.  That’s okay too, because though it has been long, perhaps it hasn’t been long enough.

Time has ceased.
Temporality is no longer
an affliction.
This body will lie forever,
Still and silent.

Let us go now
and ascend back into existence.
The moment to stop and stare
has passed.
It is time now
to let the spoonfuls of dirt
do their duty.

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One Comment

  1. Extremely beautiful words B. A few tears trickled down my face as I read, for the first time, how it had happened. I am happy to hear that you and your family have gained strength through it all.

    Reply

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