August 19, 2012. The day I died.
I left my body lying motionless on that bed in white bedsheet. Beside my solid self was my wife. She was waking me up roughly, calling for my name. She had never been that beautiful. Her uncombed hair looked great on her that very moment. She didn’t look miserable at all. That weakness I saw in her was not like my wife’s. The woman I lived with for almost twenty-three years was the toughest. Twenty-three years, and those were not long enough. My wife, I had always wanted to grow old with her.
I couldn’t lock stares on her that I needed to shift my eyes to the other side of that bed. There stood my only son. He was staring dejectedly at my lifeless body. His trembling fists were the ones that caught my eyes. He seemed to be throwing a power punch to someone or something at any moment. Before that day, I was seeing him as my little boy who I used to carry on my shoulders and fly kites with. That time, he looked like a full-grown man. His brown skin, his thick black hair, his pointy nose, his deep-set eyes – he resembled me a lot.
I heard one long scream from outside – a strong grunting old voice. My mother’s. Then the door swung open, and she threw herself to my dead body. She was hugging and shaking and pulling and pushing the helpless body. She was hysterical. I wanted to calm her down, that’s what I used to do.
And she cried again, weaker this time. My mother, she was almost twice my age. I was envious of her. I looked around, and there wasn’t a sight of a short old man, I couldn’t see my father. Knowing him, the high and mighty small man, he might have not yet gained enough courage to see his son’s now cold body.
I moved my gaze to the left and saw Bem, my third daughter, standing, weeping. She was the one I love to tease for being so ill-tempered. She was holding her hanky tightly and she kept saying Papang in between her heavy sobs. I could have teased her for blowing her nose many times, and could have made her resent me badly. But I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t. I felt like throwing myself to her and give her a long tight hug. It pained me that I couldn’t.
Kneeling beside Bem, holding my left arm was my daughter second to the eldest, Jin. Her hands were colder than my cold body. She was the one who resembled my wife a lot. Oh, that face. It had been a long while since I last had a glance of that fond face. She’d been busy with work that we could hardly see each other lately. She might be resenting me now for leaving her the responsibility of making a living for this family I just left. I felt so sorry for her that I couldn’t even tell her I was so proud of her, of how she’d become despite being a lacking provider to her and this family. I sighed. And I sighed again. I looked at that little child beside her, Princess, my youngest daughter. She was just five and she was so smart. I thought it was best that she’s not able to comprehend the situation.
“Is Papa sleeping? Wake him up, Ate. He’s supposed to make me a swing today.”
And that was the most painful. Everyone’s sob sounded heavier.
I forgot I promised our Princess a swing, that improvised swing made up of an empty rice sack tied in both ends. This heart wasn’t beating anymore, but how could this still be so frail with just a little kid’s voice? I felt so incapable, I should have at least left her with that promised swing.
I looked around. Everyone’s weeping. My mother, my wife, my only son, Jin, Bem and Princess. I wasn’t crying, but my eyes seemed soaked with something, blurring my vision. I couldn’t see my eldest and her husband. They might be on their way, hurrying to see their father alive and kicking, hoping the bad news they heard somewhere wasn’t at all true.
I couldn’t tell which part of my bodiless self pained that much.
The weeping continued. More people came in and out. They were all calling for my name, asking why I’d have to leave so suddenly, why I had to lie there lifeless, why I had to be in that pitiful state. I’d like to answer them all. I’d like to tell them all that I never had even the slightest desire of leaving, of dying like this. I pitied myself. I pitied the family I left alone. I wanted to live just for a day more. But I must leave, right there and then.
After forty-six years, four months and thirteen days, this is what I’ve become – a corpse, a soul.