Are You Alright?
79******** gives me a call at 6.30 in the morning when I’ve just woken up to the terrible panic of ‘how am I going to get to college?!’. Answering the call, I hear a familiar voice, then wonder aloud as to why my best friend in the whole damn world was calling from a number I didn’t know. “Rukku, listen”, she says. I sense her worried tone. “Balu uncle passed away”. 6.56 and I get yet another call. Hoping against all hopes that it isn’t more bad news, I answer with the shakiest my hands have ever been. “No first hour. You can come at 10”. I get an hour to grieve. I sink. Into my sofa as my hands mechanically pick my phone and send text messages and missed calls to classmates, telling them their ‘good news’ while still pondering over how I was going to deal with my devastation. *** 2011, summer. I run up to Amitha’s house and scream for her to come out and play with me. Wandering around the streets, waiting for her, I spot a middle-aged man surrounded by little kids like me. I decide to join them. I get introduced. “This is our uncle”, the little ones say. *** 2011, winter. I learn about black keys and white ones on a keyboard. I learn about the existence of Queensland and Canberra. I stare in awe as Uncle shows me a picture of himself greeting the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, arm in arm with Abdul Kalam. I swipe the screen of his newfound iPad, the regretful reason I was in Uncle’s place to begin with. I don’t walk up to Amitha’s place anymore. If I’m not around, Uncle’s front-yard, that’s where I’d be. She’ll come and join us once she’s ready. *** 2012. I play a game named ‘Unblock Me’ on the guilty pleasure that was the iPad which belonged to the unsung hero, The Uncle. Suddenly, off goes the screen. “Uncle I have no idea what happened”, I say. 10 minutes later, I slam the gate back in its hinges and storm back to my place with my head in the air, vowing never to come back. *** 2017. My mother tells me she’s teaching Uncle now. “He lent us his premises when Aksharam closed down. Great man, I must say”. I wonder whether I feel any kind of remorse, convince myself I don’t and get back to work. *** I’m walking hand in hand with Amitha. We walk past Uncle’s street, with me purposefully turning the other way as Uncle smiles and greets Amitha, then calls my name and says, “Sorry, okay? Are we good?” Awkward, I giggle and nod and walk away again. *** “Potluck in Uncle’s place”, says my mom. “Is Uncle going to be there?”, I ask stupidly. “It’s his house!” I reluctantly take my mother’s hand, now towering over her head so she has to look up to see my face. I walk up to Uncle’s welcoming house. 5 years later, there I stood. Reminiscing the scent of his garden, the sound of the soda cans hung to the gate so he’d know if anyone tried to break in, and the sight of mirrors at every window – a man living alone with his mother, and the precautions he takes to keep her safe. *** I walk up to my bus stop with my earphones plugged in, careful not to look at Uncle’s house, to avoid conversation. I had to make amends. I wasn’t going to act like everything was alright again. 7 hours later, I walk back down. Peeking into his garden to catch a sight of Uncle’s face, and then quickly looking away because he shouldn’t see me. I’ll talk to him. I will, when the time comes. I’ll spend hours with him. Laughing, playing, teasing….apologizing. *** 2018. All chances gone. All opportunities cursed and missed. When will I get to see him again and tell him he was like the grandfather I never had? When will I get to tell him he was the reason I knew I had a thing for the Piano? When will I get to tell him I missed his sweet smiling face waving at me every morning? How am I going to make amends for my ignorance? How am I going to tell him this isn’t how I’d thought it would go? *** 18 years into my life and I’ve got it. You live every day of your life planning for tomorrow. You plan and plan and plan, fully oblivious about death standing right outside your door holding a time piece and waiting for your turn. You plan, without understanding that death is omnipotent. Patient at your gates, patient at your loved ones’. 69 years into his life, and I hope he listens to me when I say I’m the sorriest I can ever be. There’s only one thing I want to do at this point, and my body doesn’t let me do it. Cry. I want to go down on both knees, look up to the sky, and feel the tears come streaming down my face, as I promise you I’ll learn from my mistakes.
Title Credits: LUCINDA WILLIAMS
PS: If anyone who reads this has ever felt like I’m the antagonist in your life, or if I have ever done anything remotely close to hurting your feelings, consider my sincerest apologies, for never for a second did I imagine I’d be feeling the way I do, yet here I am, shaken, broken, and unable to cry.