The weather made me feel as if I were burning in hell. It felt oppressive and matched my mood. It must’ve been close to 42 degrees Celsius, and the sun was burning through my skin. I let my mind run in a hundred different directions. Forcing, out of my mind, all the thoughts that were making me want to wail. I focused on the view from my car window and concentrated on the dry barren land we passed as we sped at 90 kmph.
We stopped in a few places on the way asking people for directions. And as we approached our destination, my heart began to sink and this lump that always appears to form out of no where in my throat whenever I’m uneasy, made its presence felt. We were there, the place where we had to be. We were late by several hours, and though I felt a pang of pain because we couldn’t arrive in time, I didn’t let it show. I picked up my hand bag, swung it on my shoulder, and got out of the vehicle with a purpose in my stride.
I looked around for familiar faces, and when I didn’t see any, I started digging into my bag for my cell phone, just then I noticed a lean young man walking towards me. He stopped right in front of me and asked me, “Are you Freddy Thomas’ daughter?” I was shocked that a complete stranger actually recognized me as my Father’s daughter the minute he laid his eyes on me. I then remembered that I had a striking resemblance with my Dad. I nodded, unsure of whether my voice would betray what was going on within me. “Hi, I’m Jay. Please come with me!” He said. I turned to talk to my mother who was still seated in the Jeep. “Mom, you come with Manoj. I’m going with this guy now.” “Okay.” She replied.
I followed this young man, and with every step I took, the lump in my throat grew larger, and my steps became heavier. We were approaching a large group of people standing outside a stand alone room, which was closed with a shutter. As I approached them, they all looked at me with sympathy. My eyes kept searching for a familiar face. When I spotted one, the speed of my walk turned into a slow run, and the next thing I knew was I was hugging him fiercely. And his hug comforted me beyond words.
The sight of my Uncle, my Dad’s younger brother gave me a sense of relief in those troubled times. “Do you want to see him?” he asked, and I nodded, once again, not sure if my voice was strong enough to speak. “Where’s you’re mother?” he asked. “She’ll be here in a moment, my friend is getting her.” This time around, he nodded, and signaled for the shutter of the Morgue to be opened.
A man with white overalls, probably, a ward boy of sorts, opened the shutter of the Morgue. He signaled me to follow him. I instinctively tugged onto my Uncle’s arm like a small child and followed the man into the Morgue. As he lifted the white sheet off the face of the corpse, I saw the one person who has been running away from me all my life. There, lay my Father, lifeless, without a beat in his heart, and I stood there clutching my Uncle’s arm, unable to emote. I stood there like a stone, wondering what went wrong between us. Wondering why he couldn’t be the Father I’d always craved. Why he kept running away from me as if I were a plague instead of his own flesh and blood.
My chains of thoughts were broken when my Dad’s cousin approached. He simply hugged me and said something I don’t remember. I guess words become meaningless when you’re numb. I don’t even remember whether I was numb with pain or merely confused at my stoical state of mind.
My friend Manoj brought Mom, and I could see the crowd outside the morgue go into a hush. The widow was approaching, and people respected it. My Mom walked with a slump and drooping shoulders. I could see the pain in her eyes. I hugged her, “Are you okay, Ma?” “Of course, I am!” she said, in a tone that almost sounded like admonishment.
My parents started to live separately since I was ten, and neither of them had set eyes on each other in more than eighteen years. I knew for a fact that Mom still cared for Dad, but I also knew she was not about to show her true feelings. My Mom could put the Rock of Gibraltar to shame sometimes. She has an innate strength to go through the toughest of times in life with a smile. The best part about her is that she is so forgiving, and hence, in spite of the spat that made them go their own ways so long ago, she never really stopped caring for him.
If not for her, I would probably not have been there. When my Dad’s sister, called to tell me that my Dad had a massive heart attack and the chances of his survival were minimal. My first reaction was, “And so what can I do?” After a lot of cajoling from Mom, and some other relatives, I decided to go to the place where this mishap had happened. It was mostly because Mom said that if I didn’t want to go, she would go by herself, and so, I forced myself to go with her.
Mom made her way through to Dad, caressed his forehead, and kissed it in an attempt to say Goodbye. It was heart wrenching for me. I knew she always wished their marriage hadn’t failed, and to some extent blamed herself for it, but the last thing I wanted, was for her to feel guilty or sorry for whatever had happened.
Dad was a man who loved to live life “KING SIZE”. To him, his needs, wants and desires preceded everything else in the world and Mom was the other extreme. She put everyone and everything before herself. I’d seen them fight as a child. I’d seen Dad hit and abuse her all through my early childhood. All that had made me harness a lot of bitterness against him. And when I saw him laying there, all those memories threatened to surface to plague my mind.
After Mom said her Goodbye to him, and came out of the Morgue, the crowd of people standing outside started going inside to pay their last respects to my Dad. I was quite surprised at how much he was being revered by his peers and workers. They came and shook hands with all of us too -- Mom, both my Uncles and me.
In the mean while, the ambulance arrived. We had to take Dad back to Mumbai, our home, for his final journey and to be laid to rest with the other deceased members of our family. As he was being lifted from the stretcher in the Morgue to be put into the ambulance, I began a long journey. My journey of forgiveness and acceptance.