By: Ananya Singh
It was all white, the light, the walls, the tiles, their uniforms and my mother’s face as she rushed me through the hall. It was not like the white of the snow under a street lamp on a thick night or the white orchids that grow in my grand Papi’s garden, but a bright white that stings your eyes. The smell of air so sanitised, it pickles your skin. A white uniform rushed past us, rolling an empty stretcher, a surgical mask covered his face. We walked past numerous rooms with pale green curtains and lonely single beds with thin sheets. We continued walking, I was still in my school uniform. This was a lengthy hallway.
Without looking at me my mother said in a flat tone “Look Abbey, your grand Papi, he…he had a stroke and we are going to visit him. Your father is coming back tomorrow from Canberra, till then please try to be supportive”. My mother had a professional voice trained to hide emotions, like news reporters. This wasn’t Papi’s first stroke but mama had never brought me to visit him before.
We finally reached room 207, the last room at the end of the hallway, there was a closed window but the sun was visible. The door to the room was closed too but not locked.
“He is in here, I’ll go check on him first, you wait here” mama said in a low voice. She closed the wooden white door behind her. I waited.
Looking out of the window I wondered if I will ever go for a walk in the woods with Papi again. I loved forests and it was a love instilled in me by Papi. My favorite walk was straight out across the field behind Papi’s house and into the woods. He used to take me past an ancient oak tree that had been blasted by lightning in some distant past and deeper into the woods where nature ran rampant. Edge of the wood always beckoned with the promise of cool shadows and more stories from Papi.
Interrupting my thoughts, mama opened the door, “honey do you want to go see him now? I’ll wait out here”. She was choking back tears.
I opened the door a little and poked my head in, “Papiii??” I called for him in a childish tone.
“Come in mija”, a very low croaky voice replied. He was struggling to speak. I entered the room and saw him sinking under the white sheets, his face was like scrunched up paper. Papi had always been a nature lover, but the trees were now replaced with life-giving machines, sticking their tubes in him like roots gripping on to earth for support. Tweeting of the birds was replaced by a frequent ‘beep’ from the electrocardiogram, reminding Papi of his dependant survival.
“Papi what happened?” I had to claw the pity out of my voice, anticipating in the hallway had not made this confrontation easier.
“Old age mija” he replied, giving me a Miss America smile. “At least I got you out of school” he continued smiling.
“All this white doesn’t suite you Papi.”
“Are you sure? It makes me look younger” he said and managed a side smile.
“How did this happen?” I asked softly as I settled on the stool next to his bed.
He offered me a silent shrug, lifting his shoulders up a little and pouting his lower lip downwards, like a child. I was a parent interrogating my reckless kid.
Papi took me camping once when I was 9 years old. We walked past the oak tree and even beyond the woods leading to a small river. We set up our tent on the riverside. I spent the whole day playing around the river. Papi was silent but I saw his cautious eyes occasionally checking on me. At night, we looked at a sky full of stars. I used to think starry nights like that were a myth.
“Do you miss being outside?” I asked.
Papi only smiled, I noticed that he was glowing under the sheets despite his body being in a constant state of decay. I realised how silly my question was.
“Mija, don’t worry, I’m still happy”, his reassuring voice replied. The room was beginning to appear serene as if our two breathing lungs had sucked the air out of it. Papi carried the nature within him, all of it, folded and tucked in the marrow of his bones, his heart pumped brown rivers and his skin was made out of the decayed flowers and leaves. We just shared the silence, like we did in the woods.
Mamma opened the door, “Honey it’s time to go” she said passing a smile to me and Papi, then she left. I got up.
“Bye Papi” I said and kissed him on the cheek.
Papi smiled at me, it was a smile that communicated a sense of wonder that most lose when they hit puberty, accepting cynicism and self-obsession instead of the ability to dream and imagine beyond the confines of their own mind.
Walking down the lengthy hallway, the air didn’t sting anymore and the white didn’t look as stale.