by Rimal Ilyas
In his bedraggled state of slumber he seems almost at peace; the creases and ridges of his cheeks and the fine lines rimming his forehead smooth out to make room for features juvenile, otherwise masked by the pain of an age he has yet to endure. He sleeps with mouth agape and his left arm falling over the pillaged sofa, shaking fingers brushing the war torn carpet as the sound of his harsh, rattled breath breaks the silence as thick as a pregnant cloud before a downpour. I watch as the shadows beneath his eyes widen, as his skin loses its will to breathe, as his bones emerge and his veins darken, as the light diminishes from his irises, as the world around him fades into ash and the people surrounding him into a dissonant background hum. I watch as each day, he loses a part of himself to the world, deepens the grave he has been digging himself and takes one step at a time descending downwards into the earth. I watch as all this happens and do nothing. I watch as his form wavers and the tears shed and the ground beneath me quakes to witness the anguish raw on the deep set of his jaw, the pallor of his clenched fists, the accentuated tension on his already frail arms and yet-I, his only daughter- stand mute and stare at the rubble. I make peace with the ruins and force any remnants of lingering hope into a dark forsaken corner of my mind.
From where I stand-the doorway- the living room appears ravaged and downtrodden; the wallpaper sags under the weight of time and the pungent odor of stale liquor hangs heavy in the air. A small window is open, no doubt one of my father’s futile attempts to dissipate the traces of tobacco smoke and alcoholic fumes. From here I can also see the family portrait, hanging lopsided against the wall. My mother wears a satin robe of burgundy and her face portrays a carefree innocence intermingled with a sense of mischief. My father wears a suit and looks elegantly uncomfortable always betraying the love he had for the women beside him by the brightness of his oceanic eyes. I stand between them, a product of their love, inheriting my father’s honey colored hair, my mother’s full lips and stubbornness.
The epitome of an idealistic family
Placing a rag over my mouth and nose and attempting to quell the acidic tears that gnaw my throat, I walk inside and drape a nearby blanket over his frail frame. Skin, as cold as the frozen sculpted dead in a cemetery. Pallor as ashen as a bleak, breakfast sky. Temples rimmed with streaks of red and bruise like contour lines on a road map.
I avert my eyes and proceed to collect mounds of shattered glass and empty bottles, abstruse pill capsules, vacant cigarette boxes, remnants of tobacco ash and throw them into a bag. I force the portrait off the nail and add it to the pile of litter.
Each day, the same routine
I sleep knowing my father has not arrived home yet. I wake knowing he would have had collapsed on any piece of furniture, exhausted from his nightly escapades, tired from wringing his sorrows through multiple alternatives. Every morning; I place the same tattered quilt over his body, collect the remnants of his damage and deposit it into the rubbish chute outdoors.
But this time; I take a box of matches out of my pocket and light a spark. The portrait is the last to enter the chute, and as it becomes a part of everything that the world no longer needs- I throw the match on top.
Auburn flames lick, engulf, and consume the past. Colors of bronze and violet, of red and emerald clash and combine and dissolve into black. My parents become nothing more than embers and dust and I, nothing beyond a shadow.
And that is how it is supposed to be
I sit outdoors and watch the lightness of the day diminish into obsidian, forming the hues of a twilit sky. I feel a hand being placed over my shoulder and I flinch instinctively, but I do not turn around to see. I am all too aware who it is
She stands beside me with the grace of a feral creature, poised and assertive in her posture and my heart aches, aches but what is my heart when my mind whispers that she is nothing but an illusion, a mist, and a painted image? Surreal and phantasmagoric
Her lips form a thin line, faint and melancholic and I am angered with a dull throb of longing, a hallowing feeling of want of that which could never in a lifetime be mine again
“What do you want?” I say as I clench my fists and bite my lip to prevent the tears from falling
She replies, “Only to see you my dear”
She is exactly how I remember her moments before she died; lavender scent, steel gray eyes, blanched white dress, the determined set to her jaw.
And I say the only words that need to be said
And I say them because it is the truth
“Your fault” my voice trembles, “This is all your fault. You died. You died and left father and I to rot. You went to a place we could never follow”
I know she is about to retaliate and in normal cases I would surrender my mind and allow her to. But now, I am tired.
I am tired of seeing her and not really seeing her. I am tired of watching the sadness drain the life out of my fathers eyes. I am tired of hope and belief and lies.
And so I close my eyes, succumb to grief and cast her out of my life. I disintegrate the memories, banish them to oblivion and allow the apparition of my mother to silently fade away
And that is how it is supposed to be.