Forgiving – The Other Side
This is a short story I wrote for a writing contest.
“You should go see him,” says my mum, and not for the first time. “He’s been asking for you.”
She does not wait for a reply. She knows there won’t be one. She knows my answer. Everyone does. So I return to my book. I’m reading this spiritual book about love and forgiveness. I find it very soothing.
The last week has been hectic. My dad fucked up his liver. It’s no surprise since his drinking habit was no secret, but since he’s been given hardly a week to live, he has the sympathy vote. My siblings got tested, wanted to see if they matched. They didn’t. I never tried. What’s the point? Even if I’m a match, I am not going to do it. It’s a waste after all. It’s not like he didn’t earn it and even if he gets a liver transplant, he’s going to die soon anyway. He’s old enough, everyone knows that. It’s been a week and he’s still alive but we all know he’ll be gone anytime now. You know how your heart pounds at times like these? Well, mine doesn’t. I don’t say my silent prayers before answering calls in the middle of the night or hope that it isn’t the bad news.
“What on earth is wrong with you?” says my sister with tears welling in her eyes. “Just go once, make it easy for him. He’s our father and he’s dying!” She looks at me scornfully.
“Your father,” I blurt out.
Now it’s mum’s turn to lecture me again. “Do it for me, I beg you. He’s your father.” She pauses for a reply and gets none. She continues “I just don’t want you to regret this. This is something that you’ll never be able to…”
I interrupt by politely asking her to shut up. She leaves with my sister for the hospital. “Bye”, I say. They don’t reply. So much for politeness. In my heart I know that when my mum returns from the hospital this time, she’ll be a widow.
I wonder whether or not to go. For a moment I want to go. I tell myself that I’m better than all this and to forgive is to move forward. How am I going to move forward if I don’t forgive him? So I decide to go.
On my way out the door I see the main gates of our house. An ambulance is there along with a huge crowd of people. Next thing I see is my father’s dead body being carried inside. I shake my head. This was all imagination, of course. I don’t want to go anymore. All my life I’ve wanted to avenge myself and before I get my chance the piece of shit lands in a death bed, how sweet!
I ask my cousin to drive me to the hospital. I know how to drive but I’m enjoying the privileges one gets in times like these. I pretend to be too shaken to drive. My cousin smiles that yellow toothy smile that says “You made the right decision” and it makes me want to punch him.
On the way to the hospital, I put on some Bollywood music. I hate that but anything to calm me down. My heart is pounding now. I’m going to forgive that asshole who took my childhood from me. I’m going to be there for someone who was never there for me. These two things are all that I have left, all that I can keep from him as my revenge, and I’m about to go and throw it away with both hands. My cousin turns down the volume and starts talking about something my dad did for him or something.
“Let him die first. I promise I’ll listen later”, I say. Another scornful look but I don’t care.
The journey to the hospital is a weird one. All I can think about is what this man put me through. The images run through my mind like a presentation. They summarize to one thing: A childhood stolen. And I’m about to go forgive the man who stole it.
I remember being called names by him and being ordered out of the car while he took my siblings and cousins out. I never knew what I had done wrong. I see everything clear as a crystal. Sometimes I wish I had a bad memory. With every memory of the torture comes the question: And you’re about to go forgive this man? So much for your revenge, pussy. I’m not chickening out and neither am I doing it for my mum or siblings. I just want to be able to return to normalcy after he dies. I don’t want to remember him. I know others won’t mention him, will be too painful for papa’s little kiddies. But I also know if I don’t do this, nobody will forget it and someone will always remind me of it.
I imagine my brother saying “What else can be expected of you? You didn’t forgive a helpless dying man.” I know he will.
It’s funny how stupid people are. No matter how bad a person is and how they destroy your life, a cancer or an accident or terminal illness makes them the hero in their circle. Everyone will be willing to forgive them and forget what they did. Everyone wants to remember their good deeds and blah blah blah… yes, it makes me terribly sad that if I don’t forgive him, somehow I’ll be the culprit.
When I reach the hospital, I half hope and half expect my brother coming out shaking his head and weeping, saying “he’s gone”, but that doesn’t happen. I find them in the hospital and they take me to him. And there he is… with all the tubes and stuff, lying helpless, waiting for his death. He looks at me with pleading eyes and for a moment I’m terrified. I remember the chills running down my spine when I used to see those eyes. The once-strong hammer hands lay limply on his sides. The same hands that used to beat me, now can’t rise a foot to touch me. Oh, the irony. I look at him affectionately and hold his hand. It’s a walk down memory lane as I’m reminded of these lame hands turning into fists and landing on my face and back and the now-skeletal legs kicking me.
“It’s alright, I forgive you”, I say and kiss his forehead. Then I leave. On my way out, I see them all looking at me scornfully. People can never be happy. I can’t stick around and wait for him to die. I’d rather finish my book.
He died early morning, around Fajar. I knew it the moment my brother called me. I didn’t answer. What was the point? I knew what he’d to say. I try to stand up and the room spins. I feel empty. It’s like my stomach has disappeared. I feel something is amiss. I miss it terribly and I assure you it’s not my father. The feeling is sickening. I pop a Xanax or two and fall asleep.
When I wake up, I expect the funeral to be over. I check the time and I’ve barely slept 30 minutes. The bell rings. Brilliant. Now the mourners arrive. Mum arrives with my siblings in our black Civic. It looks like a scene from a movie. People swarm around hugging them and wailing. I’m standing in the balcony with a cup of tea. It’s more comfortable here, away from the crowds. I feel light and liberated, like a burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Then the king arrives in his Ambulance but I go back inside. I don’t want to have any more memories of him. I don’t want to remember seeing his dead body taken inside.
There’s a park around the corner at the end of the street. I walk there and call my friend. There’s a swing there for the kids but I fit in. Sitting, I push all the way back and lift my feet and off I go. It feels like flying. I’m finally free. He’s dead. My friend arrives. He doesn’t know and I don’t tell him either. I’ve always been a private person. We go for coffee and smokes.
After an hour my phone is buzzing. I don’t want to answer it but my friend asks what’s up. I ask him to drop me off. He sees the crowds and jokes “Getting married finally?”
I laugh, shaking my head. “My father died.”
His face loses colour. He continues talking but I don’t hear a thing. My mind has gone numb. He escorts me inside.
The environment is typical; women are wailing and children running around. He’s lying there wrapped in a shroud, surrounded by grandma, mum, siblings, I don’t know who else. These people are crying the loudest. His mum is holding his face like holding on to something holy or touching the face of an angel. When I look at that lifeless face, all I want is to spit on it or stomp on it with shoes on. Bastard. A few hours later it’s time to take him. His last journey. I know I can’t escape this. I’m his son, got to take him to the cemetery. There are hundreds of people wanting to lend their shoulder and earn more virtues but I’m leading with my brother and uncles.
Someone pushes in and I shout “Watch it”. I walk a little slow and am left behind, he’s off my shoulders. Reciting holy verses, we offer his last prayers and go bury him. I don’t lower him in his grave. I just stand there and gawk. Then they want to close it. There’s some wet soil piled around. As I pick up a particularly large piece of wet soil to throw in, I can’t help but feel like throwing stones at Satan during Hajj even though I’ve never performed it. I throw it right at his face. Some random dudes take me back.
The whole thing is over in three days and it’s time to return to normal life. There’s a silence looming everywhere and I feel it all around. I turned my phone off. What do you say when everyone’s calling you and sympathizing and apologizing for the death of an asshole? Thank you, I suppose? I slept late on the third night and when I woke up it was evening. I went to the balcony to watch the sunset.
“Fuck”, I swear. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I keep wondering what’s left? This isn’t how it was supposed to end. I feel incomplete. I shouldn’t have forgiven him. He ruined me and got away with it. They say “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” And I understand now why the second grave needs to be dug.
I walk to his room. The bed is unmade and no one has entered since he last left. I open his safe. The same lame password, anyone could’ve guessed. He used it everywhere, the old phone number. I take his Taurus 92 out. I don’t want to wake up paralyzed or end up brain dead, so I don’t point it toward my head. My heart is pounding and I know where to shoot. I put my hand under my shirt to feel my heart and then point the silver pistol there. I recite the kalma and say a silent prayer for forgiveness. My mum’s at the door, frozen. She’s too tired to stop me. This journey has been hard for her too. I smile wistfully, lower my gaze, and pull the trigger.
I expected to see an angel of death but all I see is my mum. My head lands in her lap and I say sorry as she kisses my forehead.
© 2013 Owaiz
P.S. I just wanted to elaborate a bit on this story. I’ve seen people speak of forgiveness and how it brings you peace and all that. It never sat right with me. I mean, yes, forgiving does help you, but not always. There are times when forgiving leaves you feeling incomplete. This was my attempt at showing that forgiving does not always bring peace. You may disagree, a different author might have shown the character finding peace, but this is how I chose to do it.