The Silhouette

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

34 thoughts on “The Silhouette

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  1. I know you wrote this awhile ago, but I just have to say how touching this is. You were so kind to go be with this grieving mother and bring her such a selfless gift. It is so difficult to find consoling words when we need them. To me they never seem encompassing enough for the dire situation at hand. Yet, your actions made up for the words and just being with her, I’m sure, gave her some needed peace. I feel so terrible for mothers who lose a child, let alone a husband. My heart goes out to her. Lovely story, Asha❤

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    1. Thank you, Anne. It pained my heart deeply to write something this sentimental. I just wish one gets over such anguish, such grief, sooner than later.
      It breaks you inside, a little each day.
      A rather vague dream inspired this story. I had that dream twice in a row and it was a weird dream because in it, I keep amidst crowds of people, all there, concrete versions of them, and just one who’s silhouetted. And Im chasing this person who keeps appearing and disappearing.
      So I wanted to right about it, only differently.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Trust me, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and the memories are still so fresh in my mind. I may do a thousand things. May forget about that incident for a while. But it keeps coming back. Like something that’s meant to stay with you. Do you know how that feels?

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  2. Once again you outdo yourself with not only a wonderful parting tribute to a friend but also a perfectly written piece that is handled with such tenderness and art. You, my friend are a great writer and your musings are an endless form of encouragement to all who read to take the time to not only appreciate what they have but to dwell on the important matters of life. This is a sublime post.

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    1. I am well my good friend, your words make me happy. I think the immense inspiration is a mutual thing as the depth of feeling that your writing provokes is a special thing that I can only attempt to recreate.

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  3. Words are often not necessary. Being with a friend, I often don’t need words, just to be there. Being with a grieving mother, your visit is already a gift. Bringing an album from school, another one. Exchanging words and the story of the long run to the end, another thing the mother has to share, hundreds of times, … so she will never forget what happened, engraving the facts deep in her memory.
    Tragic it is to lose your child. I saw it when my grandmother lost her only daughter, my mother. Tragic when she realized, 3 months before her death, that it would never be cured.
    We prefer the natural way of things, when children survive their parents.
    Tragic is it also for you, because you feel how close life and death are interwoven. Somebody your age dies, and you feel your own vulnerability. I lost two classmates in their early twenties, due to motorcycle accidents — makes you think: “Why them, and why not me, … yet”.
    These days I’m counting the years. 10 years ago, I survived a colleague’s age of passing. 39, behind his computer, programming, 10 seconds: coronary artery rupture. Perhaps soon I will have survived my mother’s age of passing. Difficult to be here now, and seeing that at my age she must have felt the first signs of the malignant growth within. I carry her genes. It can happen to me, that possibility is not small.
    Yes, the things we feel when people our age die. We connect to our ground state of never ending change. We are forced to think about those things we barely think about. Forced to think about our own unavoidable end on this world. An uncomfortable anxious feeling about an uncertain future, a depressing feeling about the past that will never come back. There is only one thing that does not change, and it is the impermanence of the fleeting present.
    Take care, and don’t avoid the pondering on death. Depressing in the beginning, it will make you aware that one should not wait or postpone the things we want to do. You will not be the same you if you ever reincarnate. This life is the only one you have right Here and right Now!

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  4. Is this fiction? I can’t tell.
    [That should be both a thrilling indictment of your writing ability as well as a suggestion to add a “fiction” or “true-story” tag to your list]

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    1. I’d very much like to tag it ‘true-story’ but for the start and end which is intentionally fictional. The part about the silhouette and how its supposed to seem connected which is how it ends. Rest is as true as it seems to you.

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“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ― James A. Michener

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