Someone passed away recently. A school mate. Someone I didn’t know well. And yet he appears in my thoughts.  A silhouette. As crazy as it may sound but I think about him. He gave in to cancer. I’d heard from friends. After three years of tiresome battle. A battle to live. A fight against death. If only he’d won…

Visiting his family was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life. I have never been one to take departures subtly. Well, I guess no one does. But I’m talking about even those whom I’ve never known nor met and they yet tend to stir feelings deep inside, just knowing that they are gone.

Somehow I’ve always believed that people who leave us, don’t actually ever leave. They are still around. Only invisible. Looking for us. Protecting us. Around us. As a child, dad made me believe this. It was meant to pacify the state of hysteria funerals caused me. But the idea only caused towering fear. Having someone invisible around. All the time. Well, it can get scary. It still does.

Traveling for three hours through trains and buses, wasn’t as distressing as the atmosphere in his house. I hadn’t seen him beyond school and a picture on the mantel shelf from his graduation day caught my attention. This is what he must have looked like. A face I could barely recognize, let alone remember. He looked happy with his mother at his side. Unaware of the evil thing inside him, living there and killing him.

Sitting with his mother, surrounded by solitude, I realized it’s so hard for words to come out when you actually want them to. She sensed it and forced a smile, dripping with the pain of loss. Her eyes were moist. I could tell she had hurriedly wiped off the tears when she received me at the door. She asked me how I knew her son, an attempt to end the dragging silence. I knew him from school was all I could muster.

We sat forcing words out, in bits and pieces. About family and work. Things that meant nothing to her. Not anymore. After her world had shrunk to herself alone. I knew she had lost her husband. Her bare hands missing the bangles and the partition of her hair missing the vermilion weren’t hard to notice.

It was since the moment that I had sat down next to her, holding her hands, I knew she wanted to say something. Something she was fearful about, that if kept inside it would die away, the silence would kill it forever. That maybe repeating it to anyone and everyone, would keep it alive, in her heart, in her mind. Had I known, what was coming, I would have prepared myself well. I would have practiced what to say; only to lift up a mother’s sinking heart.

Eyes focused on the floor, on her fidgety toes, she whispered that the memories of his final moments are the ones that will remain truer than anything else. She said he’d known. He’d known that the next morning would never come. Never for him.

And the last night, when she was retiring from his hospital room, he’d called her. He’d asked her when was the last time he’d kissed her good night; a ritual religiously followed since childhood. To which she’d replied, just the other night and he’d smiled. Knowing she was lying because it had been ages. And through dried lips, he’d kissed her ever so gently. The warmth emanating from his body had burned against her skin. She’d cried knowing there weren’t many days he’d able to do just that.

I saw she was reliving the moment, her eyes shining with large beads of tears. She admitted something that broke my heart into a thousand pieces. She said she hadn’t slept since her son had passed away because he’ll never kiss her good night again.

I was tearful too while I hugged her. Hugged her long, believing, it’d help force out some of her grief. I held her till her breath stopped racing, till her tears dried. Some more minutes passed and I decided it was time to leave. I looked at the watch and it showed merely 40 minutes had passed. But in those 40 minutes, I’d lived another age.

At the door, I gave her the only thing I could bring. A photo album I had put together since school days; a collection of class photographs taken every year. I don’t know if I needed it more than her. And I gave it to her. She opened it and following her scanning eyes, I realized she’d found the one face she was looking for. Then another page and another.

I don’t think she heard when I said the final goodbye. I don’t think she saw when I turned and walked down the street.

It was only later while traveling back home; I pondered over all that I’d learned about that silhouette from my thoughts. I could now replace the shadowy figure with an image. The image from the photo on the mantel.

-Asha Seth