It has been a long time since I have experienced the joy in sharing a nice meal with family and friends. The jovial atmosphere, the happy faces of children and the contented smiles of the elders all make a gathering like this one to be cherished and longed for. Cynthia invited me to a get-together held at her house just now. Wendy came to fetch me and we arrived just in time for dinner to be served. The food was good but what made it even lovelier was the company. I am gratified to have friends like them.
It has been raining since I got up from bed. The weather is cool but the dampness is making me uncomfortable. The first order of the day was to bake a butter cake to commemorate Mum?s birthday today. After such a long hiatus, whatever little baking skills that I possessed are lost again. The oven temperature was set too high. The cake did not rise as expected. The juice from one orange was not enough. The cake was dry. It cracked at the top like it was hit by a major earthquake. It looked like a big muffin. I will just console myself that I have baked a muffin instead.
One part of my heart was slowly dying as I sat there looking at her. The room felt unusually sterile. Perhaps it was the silence or maybe because the room was too brightly lit for a balmy July evening. The course of prednisolone had left her face puffed-up. Her eyes were closed. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically. Fifteen breaths per minute, I counted. There were instances when I woke up in the middle of the night, fearing for the worst, only to be consoled by the sight of her rising and falling chest.
Moving closer, I could see how emaciated she looked. Her white hair sparsely covered her scalp. She was always particular about her hair. You would never catch her with her hair improperly set. She had lost much of it during those few short months when she became acutely ill. Still, I would comb them to make sure that she looked neat. She stirred a little and opened her eyes. It was still that glassy distant look. She must have lost her sight around the time when she was in the ambulance coming back from the hospital just now. How rapidly her condition had deteriorated within such a short space of time.
I reached out and held her hand. That was the hand that had performed a million miracles for me. I clasped it, wishing I never have to let it go again and wishing that she could use it to perform some miracles on herself now. As I held her hand close to my chest, it was like I was embracing the entire history of my life. That was the hand that had tended to me from the moment of my birth up to a few months ago. The pads of her palm were soft. I have never realised that. Its smoothness belied the hard work that she had had to endure all her life.
I leaned over and laid her hand to my head. I wanted to be like a child again, to be caressed by those loving hands, to be reprimanded and to be held again like she always had when I needed to be soothed. For a while, when I felt the softness of her hand touching my head, I was a little kid once more, tagging along and walking down the narrow path with her on our way to the market. Her hand slipped and dropped back onto the bed as I released my grip. She was too weak to hold them up anymore. I heaved a heavy sigh of sadness.
I leaned closer and asked her, “How do you feel? Are you all right?”
“Yes,” came her feeble and soft reply.
She was never one to complain, even in the severest of circumstances. This time was different. She knew it and I knew it. We were reluctant to accept the apparent. She still had dreams for me, yet to be realised. I knew how she had wanted to see me begin a family of my own. I knew how she had wanted to have a grandchild she could mollycoddle. That, I knew, she would have wished for me over anything else, together with me being able to walk again.
“Do you have anything to tell me?”
“Do you have anything that you want me to do for you?”
I looked into her eyes but she did not look back. They were unblinking. I wondered what she saw with those eyes that had ceased to focus. Had it become a world of darkness for her now or could she already see the beginning of her journey?
‘Do you know who I am?”
“Tell me who I am.”
Her voice tapered off. It was laborious for her just to force those words out. She closed her eyes again. I could sense that life was slipping away from her bit by bit. Tears rolled down my cheeks. My nose began to run. My chest felt tight. It hurt me to see her losing her grip but I knew that it hurt her even more to know that she had to leave soon. Death she was not afraid of. What she worried most was leaving me behind with no one to look after me. She was holding on, fighting the inevitable while pleading for a little more time to bid her final farewell to one last person. I hoped she could wait that long. Friday was just a few days away. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically. With eyes blurred by tears, I counted, fifteen breaths per minute, like it always had been.