Toward the end of his life, my father began presenting many signs of senile dementia.
For instance, several times a day, he would call out for Rita, plead with me for a chance to meet her–Rita, a woman who was not my deceased mother and whom I had no knowledge of. And then, occasionally, with a faint smile on his lips, I would find him playing an invisible piano. But the thing was, he had never touched an instrument in his life, and as far as I knew he was tone deaf. He also got into the habit of whistling, and he would carry on with a single tune, on repeat, one that would itch at the back of my mind, probe at my own hazy memories, though I always failed to place it. And oh boy, was he stubborn too! There was just one chair in his room, and he would sit on it for hours on end. No matter how much I scolded or tempted or offered to help him off it, he never budged, clung to the wooden armrests for dear life. And he was equally difficult when it came to his diet. All he would eat, three times a day, was a bowl of rice soaked in milk–with a spoonful of sugar, if he was being co-operative. But perhaps the most peculiar habit of all was when he would pray to his God. Night after night. Without fail. This was particularly disturbing, seeing as how he was a lifelong atheist.
While my son tended to the various chores on the farm, I in turn spent most of my hours tending to my father’s needs. However, three months after becoming a centenarian, he passed away on his deathbed, and as he did, in his final moment with me, he left me with a surprisingly clear last word. His last breath: Finally.
I took it to mean that he was at long last relieved to be departing this world after spending a hundred years in it. Over four decades later, now being eighty-five, I realize that I was wrong.
This decrepit age is bewildering. Taking several trips down memory lane, I come to realize how quickly I have passed through the spectrum of life–from childhood to manhood. Speaking of childhood, even today I can remember the nursery rhyme my mother would sing to me at bedtime. I bet I could whistle it if I tried! And I always longed to learn the violin ever since I first heard its sweet, soulful music. Ah, if only I could play it today!
I can recall Sonia too, my high-school sweetheart, the only other woman I loved apart from my son’s mother. Oh, those days were fun! The silly adventures. The wild imagination. If only I could be young with her again. Oh Sonia, where are you, why aren’t you by my side? I need people like her at a time like this. A time when my knees are locked and leave me confined to this godforsaken chair. If it wasn’t for my pride, which I now loathe, I would allow my son to help move me.
And alas, taste has become a stranger. I must resign myself to rice and curd, for this mushy compound is the only thing that can satisfy what’s left of my fading palate. And finally, I fear that which I rejected all my life. A lifetime of rejecting an All Mighty comes back to haunt me, plays tricks on my mind. Perhaps I was an idiot to mock a life after death. Oh forgive me you divine being, if you are there, if you are listening. I didn’t know better. I was only a senseless fool!
I notice my son, my caregiver, now-a-days giving me such curious looks. My father was not happy to be leaving this world, but he was relieved because all this insanity, all this confusion and chaos, would finally end. I await my turn.
For now, all I can do is offer a smile to my son, rather grateful that he never married.
© Amaan Khan, January 18, 2018.