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abu

Ever since he’s died, I fear he has been mad at me. He died so angry. I never dream of him. He comes to my mother, my sister. My brother saw him shortly after the funeral, clutching a passport and smelling of his favorite cologne. He woke up crying in the middle of the night in Singapore as I lay awake in our home in New Jersey, waiting, waiting, waiting to see a glimpse of Abu, in a dream, in the corner of my eye, somewhere/anywhere. I was so convinced that if I could just see him, just once, then I would know that he was ok and that he wasn’t angry.

I don’t know how to write anymore without writing about my father. And writing about Abu is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. He is gone. It’s been nearly a year and a half. A year of writing my sorrow onto a page that will never do justice to the pain, a year of tearing up as soon as I open a blank word document, cursor blinking and Abu at my fingertips, pressing into the keyboard. My words feel so trivial. They fail to take that gripping//unyielding//clenching pain that tightens around my heart//blocks my throat//cripples my breathe//blurs my vision// and translate it into some sort of meaningful narrative. We have spent so much time protecting each other from our grief – my sister, my mother and I. We don’t cry together, ever. And I’m afraid I don’t know how to talk about Abu anymore without feeling pain.

Time holds a different meaning when measured against loss. It moves slowly – molasses in the cold winter air, sickly sweet and inching forward steadily, silently, inconsequentially. Happy//sad events alike feel just a little bit empty, and I fear I will never again feel an emotion, any emotion, without this lingering echo. Chunks of my time have been spent missing you, Abu, and these half-complete moments have defined me more than an entire lifetime of being your daughter.

Lychee

The slow melodic way your fingers peeled back the skin of the fruit
Sinking into the flesh
Dripping down the crevices of your hands, towards your palms
The lychee juice glinted in the sun
You handed the fruit to me
And told me of your childhood
Biting into its pale, lavender skin
I tasted distant memories
Not my own
They danced on my tongue
And I swallowed whole
Your melancholy

 

 

3 months

“Thank you Beta.” His knuckles brushed my skin as he handed the credit card back to me, and I felt recognition pass between us, a fleeting intimacy that made me think of my father. He was Sikh, his eyes crinkled from the cold, hands rough from labour, and he called me daughter, Beta, in passing endearment. It was in the noncommittal way that someone may call you dear, sweety, or honey, in the way that women unfailingly often are. It was in a way that brought  tears to my eyes and made my heart ache. He turned and walked to the next customer, and just as quickly, my vision shifted back into focus and the sharp smell of gasoline filtered into my car, rousing me from my grief. I drove away from the gas station feeling vulnerable and alone.

My father died 3 months ago. His loss has followed me into every shopping center and doctor’s appointment, it makes itself known in every long uninterrupted drive, and every time I see an elder Pakistani/Indian/Sikh/Bengali brown man. It sits as a specter next to me at the mosque, at family dinners where he would poke fun at the food and unfailing launch into long winding stories, eyes shining, hands waving emphatically, laughing in a chortle that I have inherited. I can’t eat suji ka halwa, his favorite dessert, without tears coming to my eyes, nor can I bear to hear old Bollywood songs playing in the background when I go grocery shopping at the Indian store, the household task that was his and his alone.

He called me Beti often, but Beta when he was feeling particularly affectionate, eyes softening for the briefest of moments. I wish deeply that I hugged him more, that that form of affection came more easily to us, but ours was a relationship defined in extremes. He was quick to anger, but quicker still to soften in pride, the first to beam with joy over his children’s accomplishments. When my siblings and I went through his wallet after his death, we found all of our business cards stacked neatly in a row. Some were discolored with worn edges, listing outdated titles from careers of years past. Mine was the shiny new card I had handed to him a week before his surgery. He had slept with it sitting next to him on the bed that week before he went to the hospital.

I still struggle with my language when talking of him to strangers. The finality of using past tense brings such intense heartache, irrevocable and absolute. It feels immensely wrong. Referring to him in past implies a peace with what has happened, and that finality is something I cannot bear to accept. My family doesn’t cry together. We take turns grieving and comforting, but we can not mourn together. It is so difficult to let that much pain exist in one space.

Abu had a childlike love for planes, and could spend hours talking about the mechanics of different models. He would take my siblings to the airport for fun, to watch the planes depart and land. When I think of him, a specific image appears – he is exactly as he was when leaving for his next work trip, wearing his black blazer and khaki pants, passport in one hand, printed itinerary in the other, smelling strongly of black coffee and cologne. His favorite perfume bottle sits on my bookshelf, and I’m afraid I will never open it because the smell of it, the smell of him, will hurt too much.

He is buried in a cemetery next to an old airplane hangar and flight school, and planes fly overhead often. If there is any poetry in death than this is it – silence gently interrupted by the hum of planes as they circle over his grave.

 

Aftertaste

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my tongue aches
with the weight
of all of the things
i have not said to you

the taste of silence
has left a bitterness in my mouth
that travels, like colorless smoke,
through weary lungs

it moves through my veins
like a finger tracing a map
weaves through an uncharted heart,
lingers at tired fingertips

it has settled quite nicely
at the base of my stomach

the taste of food
is always tinged
with my unspoken words to you

your aftertaste
has never quite left my system