Swathed in sheets of white, a man of eighty lay softly slumbering. One hand clutched the metal railing of the hospital bed and the other wrapped around a photo frame. Almost hidden in the shadows, sat a twenty year old girl, her face surveying the scene with unreadable emotions.
The IV tubes seemed like the only chord tethering her grandfather to the living world. The room thrummed with the beeps of the EKG machine and ventilator and wires traveling from the catheter travelled down the length of the bedpan. The smell of disinfectant suffocated the walls around the silent girl. She carefully plucked the photo frame from his grip and turned it over.
Hot unbidden tears streaked down her cheeks and she rubbed them off almost impatiently, her eyes roving over the picture taken what felt like aeons ago. An eight year old version of herself in pigtails was laughing back at her, her arms wrapped around the beaming man who bore no resemblance to the one currently sleeping in the bedpan.
They used to be best friends when she was little. He would braid her hair and take her to school. Her friends laughed at the funny crooked plaits but to her, they were the prettiest braids in the world. He was diagnosed when she was still in high school. Her Dada, who in some alternate universe used to be a successful stock broker, was now reduced to someone who couldn’t even remember his own address. And she couldn’t make it better.
So she watched him silently as the shadows of their ancient bungalow seemed to ensconce him tightly in their gloom. She would sometimes spy him staring broodily at her deceased parents’ portraits. His irises became a faded imitation of the rich brown ones they used to be. His proud stride turned into a limp and later he couldn’t even waddle properly on his legs to the bathroom. He became a skull-like effigy in a manor which growingly became more like a mausoleum rather than a house full of warmth and life.
However, they did have happy days. Glimmers of hope which seeped like starlight into their ethereal nights. On those days, he would croon their favorite songs and
would attempt to cook although his hand would wobble on holding the ladle. He would call her his baby bluebird and kiss her cheek goodnight. And the long rigmarole of his disease seemed to ache less all of a sudden.
Once he was hospitalized, she sold the bungalow to meet the hefty hospital bills and rented a small accommodation. However his condition only deteriorated. The girl’s reverie broke as she heard her grandfather cough. The wracking caused his protruding ribs to tremor heavily. His face was weather beaten and worn. Wrinkles flecked his skin like brown ridges on a map. The sunken eyes, jutting cheekbones and wan lips were all that were left of the man who had brought her up.
He coughed again. And then the inconspicuous beeping from the machines came to a sudden, whirring stop. The ECG screen went blank. The girl’s shoulders sagged in defeat. She placed the photo back in his hand and covered her Dada’s face with white linen.