“Well I fell down, down, down
Into this dark and lonely hole,
There was no one there to care about me anymore
And I needed a way to climb and grab a hold of the edge
You were sitting there holding a rope,
And we'll go up, up, up
But I'll fly a little higher
We'll go up in the clouds because the view is a little nicer
Up here my dear
It won't be long now, it won't be long now."
-Clouds, Zack Sobiech
She sits there, waiting, her eyes partly closed. A look of annoyance washes over her round face as her mother asks her if she wants water for the hundredth time. She purses her lips and replies with a controlled voice, "I am okay, Ma. Relax."
Her mom looks at her with a worried expression, but doesn't say anything. Deep purple bags are visible beneath the mother’s eyes; strips of grey hair shine out among the black ones. Her wrinkled face, her hunched shoulders make her look like she is in her late 40s; when in reality she is in her late 30s. She quickly looks away from her daughter as if reminded of a tragic memory. "I can't do this, no, not again," she whispers to herself under her breath. She blinks and a tear rolls down her cheek and onto her hands, and suddenly her resolve breaks away, she gets up and runs out through the white door leading outside.
2nd March, 2008
Baba is getting sicker. His heart is not doing so well. Oh I am so scared D. What if something happens to him? No, no nothing can happen to him. No. Please, please make baba better, God. Please. I love baba, he can't leave us.
I can't live without baba, how can I? Oh…
5th March, 2008
I asked ma what death is, and she said it is just going to sleep and then waking up among the clouds. That’s not so scary, is it?
But I don’t want anyone to die, I want ma, baba, Rayan, everyone here with me.
A soft, warm breeze whispers in through the window, causing the curtains to flutter; sunlight pours in through the cracks, brightening up the entire room. On a desk by the window lays a notebook with a black velvet cover. In the corner of the room, on the bed lay a heap of blankets, and underneath the blankets lay a little girl-with a tilted nose on a small round face-, sleeping, contently; completely unaware that soon her life will turn upside down, that soon she’ll lose a part of her life that will never come back.
She wakes up to loud noises that echo throughout the house, to muffled voices, and to hurried footsteps. Rising from her bed, with utter confusion, she heads outside without even washing her face, her tiny arms wrapped around a fluffy pink stuffed-bunny. As she opens the door leading to the hall, she is clutched by an unknown fear and her little heart starts to beat faster.
In her ten years of life she had never seen a commotion as big as this one. There were people everywhere in the apartment she called home. Every room, every corner was filled with people. Glancing about she does recognize some faces, but the one face she is searching for is nowhere to be seen. “Mommy! Ma!” she screams, but her voice isn’t loud enough to be heard over all the noise. She tries but she fails to comprehend what is happening. She stumbles about looking for her mother; scared and baffled. As she wonders about from one room to the other looking for her ma, her tiny heart fills up with dread. She starts to feel like a stranger in her own home and a tiny droplet of tear rolls down her cheek. Still searching for her mother, she staggers into a room full of people, and glancing around she finally sees her mother. “Ma!” she yells with delight, but her mom’s head doesn’t turn. A few people glance at her as she tries to push people out to get to her mommy who is hunched over something, no someone, on the bed. Someone gets a hold of her before she reaches the bed, and she starts to bawl, kicking and punching to get out of the grip but the arms around her are strong. They hold her tightly in place but yet gently. The arms hugging her belong to her Kaka -uncle- Humayun, her dad’s brother; who is now trying to console her, to soothe her in to calming down. A feeling of dread and dismay takes hold of her as she tries to figure out what is going on. She clings on to her Kaka, as a whisper greats her, “La Ilaha Illallah, Muhammad Rasool Allah,” meaning: there is no God only Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger. A phrase she had heard a thousand times from her elders, but she doesn’t understand why they are uttering it now, it is not the time to pray yet. As she is being pulled away by her Kaka, she catches a glimpse of her mother, and the body she is cleaving onto. The pale, colorless and lifeless face of her father- her Baba- stares at her with half open eyes. His body lay as still as a statue. A chill runs down the little girl’s spine, and she wants to scream, to cry out, but she can’t. She seems to have lost her voice.
13th December, 2011
I don't feel so good, my head seems to be hurting really bad, I don't know why. I have also been sleeping a lot lately. Ma said she'll take me to the hospital tomorrow.
To be honest I don't like hospitals, they remind me of death.
3rd January, 2011
Ma is worried, I don't know what the doctors told her today. Last time I was there they just took my blood, and I had to do some other things. But today they made me go through a bunch of new tests, I don't understand what's going on. I had to do an MRI or something. And then they told ma something that made her really upset.
I am scared, D.
The hospital doors swung open. A gurney was pushed through the entryway. Nurses rushed towards it, doctors came bustling forth. The already busy emergency room seemed to get busier.
The nurses pulled a woman away from the patient along with a little girl, whose left arm was clinging onto the woman's legs while the right one was clutching a big, pink, fluffy stuffed bunny.
They took the patient to the E.R., while the woman and the girl waited in the waiting room, tired and scared. "What's going on, Ma? What's going on?" the girl asked, but her mother couldn't bring herself to tell her that baba had a heart attack. How could she break her innocent and fragile heart? So she hugged her beloved daughter and barely managed to whisper, "It's okay, shh. I am here. Mommy's here, Ra. Mommy's here."
“Silence seeps into their lives,
With lost voices, with laughter that’s gone,
Everything that once mattered
Lays buried on the ground-
Sleeping; unaware of the world turning.
Trying to move on, but stuck in place,
Trying to let go, but entangled up in it,
They are absent from the present,
But are present in the past,
Reliving each and every memory,
Grasping onto every last straw,
They have lost touch with reality.”
She reaches a point where she can't take it anymore and she bursts. Her voice rises at its highest as she screams. She yells out all the things she had been holding in for years now. She begins to taste salt water in her mouth as tears-tears of sorrow, tears of anger, and tears of frustration- stream down her face.
"I know I am dying!" she screams, "But I do not need a reminder every second of every day! Nothing I do will save me, nothing is of use. Why then can't I just spend my last few days doing what I always wanted? Why can't I be happy before I leave this world forever? Why can’t I simply spend my time painting?" She looks at her mother through her tears and sees her mom weeping, softly, and a pang of guilt passes through her.
"Ma, I know," she says in a gentler tone, "you are hurting too; and this is too much for you, but Ma I need you to be strong, for me, for Rayan. We need you, Ma. I know Baba's death..." but she trails off, she can't bear the look on Ma's face at the mention of Baba's death. She doesn't know what more to say. She gently goes over to her mother and kisses the top of her head, then walks back to her room- her sanctuary.
She lies in bed with a blanket covering her up, despite the heat. Sunlight filters in through the thin curtains drawn over the window. Candy wrappers, clothes, pages, pens litter the entire floor of the room. Stacks and stacks of book sit on top of her desk by the window, collecting dust. The clock on top of the bed chimes, showing the time to be 3 in the afternoon.
There is a knock on the door. When no one replies, a woman, wearing a light blue saree, enters the room. “Ra, you there?” she asks gently. The girl on the bed closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep. “Hey hon, it’s 3 o’clock, you need to eat and take your medicines,” she says. She sits down in the bed beside Raheen, who still pretends to be asleep. “Raheen, love, wake up,” the woman says gently ruffling Raheen’s hair.
Slowly, unwillingly Raheen opens her eyes, the beautiful chocolate brown eyes that now look hollow and sad. “I am tired ma, I am just so tired,” she mutters, avoiding her ma’s eyes. What she doesn’t want her mother to know is that she isn’t just physically tired, she is emotionally exhausted. Lately she has been sleeping a lot, not because she needs to but because she wants to. The will to go on living has gradually drained out of her. Her strength to fight, to hold on has seeped out of her. With every passing day Raheen grows more despondent, more miserable. The loneliness that used to consume her up occasionally, is now a permanent feeling. There were so many dreams she had, so many things she wanted to do, but she simply doesn’t have the motivation anymore. Becoming a painter was her dream, but the sicker she gets the further her dreams seems to slip away. But she still hasn’t completely given up. From time to time she still tries to paint. She picks up the paint brushes and loses herself in the white, glistening pages of her sketch books, trying to paint away the ever present sadness consuming her. Art is her passion, and so she refused to give it up, no matter what.
“And slowly the song dies out,
Gently the lights fade away,
Gradually the voices quite down,
And stealthily comes death;
Its feet barely touching the ground.
Softly It pulls your life away,
And leaves as unobtrusively as It came.”
5th January, 2012
I just saw ma crying in her room. I don't know what's going on. Ever since we came back from the hospital ma's been acting weird. I keep asking her if something is wrong, but she won't say anything.
Oh, Rayan has started to cry again. I would go and calm him down, but I just feel so tired. Nana's got him, but he is still crying. Ugh, why do babies cry so much? I love Ro, I do, but he just cries so much! I wish I was more like ma, who doesn't pay any attention to his crying. But every time I hear his wail my heart breaks. He is my little brother, how can I ignore his cries?
Oh by the way, I threw up today, twice. Lately I have been throwing up a lot. The doctors did give me some medicines but I still don't feel that good.
Why I am not getting better? Why is ma so sad? Am I really, really sick? Am I...dying? If so I would like to know if I am. You see I have all these things I want to do before I go. And well I deserve to know, don't I? It's my life after all!
I really hope I get to see baba when I die, D. I got to go, Rayan's still crying.
6th January, 2012
I… I have cancer. I have a tumor or something in my brain. Ma said I need to be admitted to the hospital. She said that they will fix it. I don't know what to say.
I am scared. I don't know what I am scared of though. It is all just so weird. I don't know if I am ready to die yet. There is just so much I want to do. Here is a list I made:
When she returns she finds her daughter still sitting on a chair in the waiting room with a bored expression. “My daughter,” she whispers in her choked voice. “I have to be there for her, I need to be there for her. It doesn’t matter how hard it is for me, she needs me. My Raheen, my little girl needs me and I will be there for her no matter what.”
She approaches Raheen and sits by her. “I am sorry,” she mutters, taking Raheen’s hand and clutching it tightly. “It’s okay Ma, I understand,” Raheen replies. She does understand the reasons behind her mother’s behavior and she doesn’t blame her. But a little part of her just wishes that her mother was a little stronger. She knows how hard it was for her mother to carry on with life after the loss of her father-her baba. She knows that being a single, working mother in a society like theirs is just plain cruel. And that is why she tries to comprehend ma. That is why she does her best to make things easier for ma, to support her.
Every day she sees the way people look at her mother, she hears their criticism all around and every time she yells out to them to shut up, that they didn’t know what they were talking about. She dearly loves her mother, more than she could ever convey to her. She always envisioned herself to grow up into a person like her mother: kind, caring, brave, loving, just and honest. To little Raheen her ma was the epitome of perfection. But after her baba’s death the little flaws her mother had had begun to show. At first Raheen denied the truth, she had already lost her baba, and she couldn’t bear to lose the person she thought her ma was as well. But gradually she accepted the reality, and that was when she took charge of the house and began to take care of her little brother- Rayan.
She had watched, silently, as her mother fell apart. She saw her own mother break into pieces; and it was her-Raheen- who was left to pick up the pieces afterwards. She still clearly recalls how ma had submerged herself in her work, how she had directed all her thoughts towards it and had lost touch with Raheen and Rayan. She can still clearly see the day Nana, her grandmother, came bustling forth and took the reign of the household. Raheen was eleven then and Rayan three; it was only a year after their dad’s decease.
People were talking about ma’s lack of care towards her children. They criticized her for being so obsessed with work. And they still haven’t stopped talking or critiquing, but now there is a hint of pity hidden in their words. No one could and can see how much she was and still is hurting. They couldn’t see how much pain she was in. Work was her only solace, it was her safe haven. When she stood up in front of a class and taught for a while she forgot all her troubles, for a while she was just Dr. Arefina, a professor at the university. But after a while she had to face reality. She had to learn to live with the guilt she felt every time she saw her children’s innocent faces. She put up effort to get back into their lives and she did. For a little bit everything was good, everyone was happy, but nothing ever lasts forever. Their time of contentment shattered, and another struggle begun.
She opens her eyes and is blinded by the white light illuminating her face. She looks around and familiar faces stare down at her. She finally finds the face she has been searching for, and a wide grin spreads on her face. He takes her hand in his and giggles happily, and a tear pours down her cheek. She had prepared herself early on that she might never see these people again, she had readied herself for goodbyes but up until now she was unaware of how dismayed she had been about that. Not to see the people she loved ever again; not to see her little brother look down at her and giggle, - right now seems unimaginable to her.
She looks up at her mother and says “Hi,” in a chocked voice. Raheen had been in the hospital for a while, going through the steps for her brain surgery. She had tried to prepare, halfheartedly, to seep into the eternal sleep. And now that she has undergone the surgery and is still alive her happiness is incomparable. “Hey there,” her mom says in a tearful voice. “The doctors said the surgery went well, everything is okay. You will soon get released from the hospital.”
At this Raheen starts to cry, the tears of relief and joy roll down her cheek. She smiles through the tears, and asks, “No more hospital food? No more hospital gowns?”
“Yes, yes, none of that,” says her Kaka cheerfully.
“Do I need to continue the chemo-therapies? And take medicines?” she enquires.
“You do, sweetie. But don’t worry that will be okay. We don’t want the cancer to come back, right?”
Her mom’s reply doesn’t make her sad; as long as she didn’t have to stay at the hospital she was happy.
“Tell her the good news!” chirps Lagno, Raheen’s best friend.
“What? What is it?” Raheen asks with excitement.
“The doctors are okay with you coming back to school after a while!” Lagno shouts.
Raheen, speechless with delight, tightly hugs her mother, who was right by the bed. "I am going back to school," she gasps after a minute, unable to believe her new good fortune. She terribly missed school in the past few months. She missed her friends a lot more than she had thought she would. She missed playing games at lunch, reading books in English class, doing clubs after school. She simply missed everything. And now she couldn’t be happier to return to school.
Headache, blinding headache seized her as she sat there reading. Her vision blurred up, the words in the book she was holding become nothing but a jumble of letters. She clutched her temple in an attempt to stop her pain, but in vain. A throbbing ache seared through her brain, and she bit her upper lip to stop from screaming out. She felt like someone was hammering at her temple from the inside, and wanted it to stop, badly. She wanted to ask someone to make it stop. But she couldn’t. It was 2 am on a weekday and everyone was sleeping, and she didn’t want to wake ma up simply because of a headache. She couldn’t think clearly, she couldn’t concentrate on anything. She just sat there by the window, holding her temple, hoping for the pain to cease.
That wasn’t the first time it happened to her. The headaches had been recurring for about a month, and sometimes Raheen felt so nauseous she ended up vomiting. She had been trying her best to keep it from everyone. She didn’t want to worry them. But she knew that having headaches was not good. She knew that it might be a sign that her cancer was returning. But she wasn’t yet ready to accept that fact. She didn't want the cancer to come back into her body and sneak into her life, tearing her world asunder. And so she turned her face away from the truth; she turned a blind eye to the obvious signs.
"That's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt."
9th January, 2012
I wonder, where do we go after death? Do we just go to sleep? Or do we go up in the clouds and watch over our families from there?
I wish I knew what happened. I'd like know what happens before I die.
I am so tired, not just physically, I am emotionally and mentally exhausted. Ever since my cancer returned things have been falling apart. I don't know how much longer I can keep my sanity. Sigh.
I know I am dying. And I don't think I'd be lucky enough to escape death this time around. I can feel the end nearing in; I can feel life leaving me- slowly with every breath.
I am not really afraid to die, it's just that the idea of me not existing is hard to comprehend. I wish I could have lived long enough to have been able to paint all the things I always wanted. I guess I will try to finish all my sketches in the time I have left. I am going to gather all the strength I have and focus it on my art. Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to achieve the perfect painting I have been dreaming of since I was kid, and maybe then I will finally be able to accept my fate.
Hi there little brother, I hope you are in good health. How are you doing? How's school? And you better had told me all about your friends and everything.
So if you are reading this letter then it means that I have ceased to exist, in simple words I am no longer with you and Ma. Don't cry there Ro, I might not be physically with you but I will forever be in your heart. I just want to tell you that don't worry about me, I am in a good place, it is so nice up here in the clouds. It's all white and soft and it feels great. And maybe someday after this life we will see each other again, who knows?
You, Ro, are my little brother and always will be; and I want you to know that you mean the world to me. You are amazing, and I know you will grow up to be someone great; and I will be watching over you from up here. Be a good boy okay? And take care of Ma, she needs you.
I love you, always
P.S. You will find your 8th birthday present on the top shelf of Ma's drawer, it's my last gift to you. It’s an oil painting of the four of us, my last ever painting.
Raheen, the girl with a beautiful smile and a sense of humor that never died down. She was smart, she was sarcastic, she was crazy. She was my best friend whose love of books was something no one could quench.
Raheen- she was the kind of girl who could brighten up the darkest of days. She was the kind of girl who could enter a gloomy room and lighten up the mood by saying something unwittingly funny; she was someone who cared about people without expecting anything back. She loved without any conditions; she gave without wanting back a thing. She was the most amazing person I ever knew. She was my best friend and will be my best friend till the end of time.
She was so talented when it came to her art. All her life she wanted to be a professional artist, and even in her darkest of days she still tried to pursue her dream. She painted the most beautiful paintings depicting the her life with cancer, and I am proud to announce that her art will be displayed in a local gallery next week.
And I know she is gone; I know I can't hear her voice anymore; I know I won't see her glittering smile anymore; but when I close my eyes I still can clearly envision her. If I concentrate hard enough I can hear her sing-song voice. And I know as long as I love her, as long as I hold onto her memories, Ra will be there. She will always be there, just like she always she said she would.