Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Octavio J. Garcia N.
It feels wrong that the world didn’t stop back then. The sky should’ve split into two, the seas should’ve stopped mid-wave, the trees should’ve stood transfixed. It does my heart no good to think that none of this happened that day when Uncle died.
“Elder Uncle is dead” is how the news reached me.
No beating around the bush, no emotional phrases, just four blunt words. And yet they pierced through my heart.
It all started one fine Wednesday afternoon. Wednesdays were always my favourite. An event such as this should’ve changed that liking I had, but it didn’t. And that is what bothers me so much.
I was in my Language class, the only mediocre part of my Wednesdays. I vaguely remember shifting seats and sitting next to my friend Shreya to make the class slightly more bearable. I remember doodling tic-tac-toe boxes on the last page of our notebooks and playing to see who won, most of which ended up as a tie. We then shifted to a game of Dots and Boxes, Guess Who, and finally Hangman when the teacher called out my name.
Flipping the notebook back to the page I was supposed to be writing spellings on, I stood up with what I thought was an expression of innocence. In front of the class stood the peon of our school looking down at the floor and a slight hope began replacing the fear bubbling in my stomach.
“Go to the office room. Take your bag with you. Your parents are taking you home,” the teacher said softly.
It feels like a slap on the face when I think about it today, but the joy that came over me in that one second is a feeling that will never leave me. All the happiness that I could have ever known entered my body – I was being excused from Language class. I picked up my bag, put random notebooks inside for the show of packing my things, and took pleasure in being the sole focus of everyone’s wistful gaze. It was everyone’s dream to skive off that ridiculous class, and I was doing just that.
I bid my goodbyes and relished the way many said ‘lucky girl’ enviously. I walked to the front of the classroom and said ‘thank you ma’am’ for the sake of it and she nodded in acknowledgement. I waved my hands to my classmates, feeling as though I was one of those celebrities in the many Award Functions that I had watched. After thanking the teacher for the sake of it, I waved my hands to Outside the windows, I could see the students of the other classes turning their heads to look at me with a longing to be going wherever I was going. I felt empowered as I walked through the empty corridors; the only thing missing was a red carpet.
I reached the ground floor of my school, away from the envious glances and whispers of the other students, before I remembered I was going home. Having never been picked up from school before, my mind wandered with the possibilities of what laid ahead. The students that had gone home like this had all told me stories of going out of town, of visiting some foreign city or going to a resort. The very prospect of doing any of those excited me and I couldn’t keep away the smile on my face.
I moved behind the peon obediently until I faced the woman at the reception. She looked at me kindly — something not customary of her – and ushered me through the door to meet my mother. I was very excited to see my mother, and smiled widely and waved my hands. She did not return my gestures. I often think of how insensitive I was as an eight-year-old having not understood what silence meant. I simply thought, well, nothing. I was far too happy to be skiving off my Language class to think of anything else. We walked in silence until the main gate, and then to the parking area where our scooter stood.
“Where are we going?” I asked, sitting atop the seat and expecting the name of some resort or nearby town.
“Chennai,” came the reply, and once again, in that one word, I found so much glee.
“Why?” I asked. I should’ve let the matter be, let my innocent happiness last longer.
“Elder Uncle is dead.”
It fills me with immense guilt now to think of how sadness filled me back then, not because my uncle had died, but because every little dream that I had made in those few moments before these four words hit my ears were now suddenly tarnished. All the images of riding the roller coaster in the newly opened Theme Park and playing Virtual Basketball were replaced with a sense of emptiness. The world that had placed me above everybody else only mere seconds before seemed to have dropped me with the weight of every emotion that I felt and stamped me for good measure.
I think back to that day, today, when Mother sits crying with Grandmother, the picture of Uncle resting between them both. It feels wrong that the world didn’t stop that day, and make an announcement that he had died. It feels wrong that I had been laughing at Shreya when she lost our third round of Dots and Boxes while Uncle’s heart hurt so much, until it suddenly couldn’t hurt any more.
After all these years, Mother tells me stories of him and I hungrily try to remember each detail she mentions. I take pride in all the wonderful things he has done for the people of his town, for the Earth and for our family. The tears that I should’ve shed that day never fell but maybe that is how one remembers people such as him.