Chapter 01 – When KO lost his way . . .
“Hey. Where’d you go?” The soft, brittle voice pulled him from his thoughts, bringing him back to the present . . . to this unhappy now.
“Now, what was I saying? Right. I put your winter clothes in the suitcase under my bed,” she continued, somehow finding the strength to say all of the important things she needed to before… “Take out those sweaters and wear them when it gets cold. Promise me you won’t forget.”
He nodded his head in agreement, seeing the worry on her face.
She stopped, swallowing with difficulty. “I cooked your favorite dishes. They’re in the freezer. Take them out one by one and eat it whenever you want. There should be enough to last you for a while.”
“Ma!” he protested, aghast that she had cooked for him when she should have been conserving her strength. “You know I can cook for myself!” Over the past couple of years, he’d stepped up and cooked on those days his mother had been too ill to even get out of bed.
“I know you can take care of yourself,” she murmured in an appeasing tone. “I just wanted to do this for my little man.” She laughed softly, the laughter soon turning into coughs that tore at her throat. “After all,” she managed to eke out, accompanied by ragged breaths. “You’ve been taking care of me, haven’t you?” she murmured hoarsely. Her fingers plucked restlessly at the blanket covering her body.
He looked at her silently, his fingers clenched into tight fists, his body stiff in the chair. She was disappearing right before his eyes, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. There was nothing he could do to hold on, even when he knew that he wasn’t ready to let go.
“You were my guiding star from the moment you came into my life,” she whispered to him minutes . . . . hours later. The love she was feeling wove through every word, suppressing the hints of pain that had been bleeding into her words through sheer will.
Those words were soft pebbles, dropping into the pool of silence that had fallen between the two, creating ripples. The ripples grew so much so that he feared the ensuing waves would drown him in the end.
And she would no longer be here to save him.
The two were in a hospital room, surrounded by other grieving family members, other terminally ill individuals. But for now, it was just the two of them awake at 3 o’clock at night.
She had begun to speak, desperate to tell him all of the things she considered so important. But exhaustion had won out, and she had fallen silent once more. The only sounds in the room now were the beeping of the machines. It was the nature of her sickness; the pain ebbed and flowed, pulling her away for long stretches of time.
But the child sitting at her bedside, his eyes trained on her every movement, was there every time she surfaced. He had a slight build, his skin shallow, as if he spent all of his time inside. His clothes were old, but well cared for, evidenced by the precise stitches along any tears.
His eyes never strayed from the bed. Despite the fact that the disease had eaten away at her until there was almost nothing left, she was still the brightest thing in his universe. That horrible disease had stolen away the bloom in her cheeks, it had stolen her special smiles, it had stolen her caresses. She had been a carefree soul, a woman who would rather laugh than cry no matter what happened. She barely had the energy to move from her bed now, unable to even speak most of the time.
The effort she made now weighed on his heart, but he knew that time was running out. That was why, despite the pain it clearly caused her, he had silently listened to her speak today, treasuring each word.
When she fell into an uneasy slumber once more, he sat back, closing his eyes for a moment. Shifting restlessly in his uncomfortably chair, he prayed to whatever God was up there to not take her away. Not yet. Even if all that was left behind now was a mere shadow of what had been before, he still needed her desperately. It always had been the two of them against the world. She was his anchor. What would he do without her?
She murmured suddenly, forcing her eyes open. She could barely get the words out, but he could see that she was intent on speaking.
He wanted to listen, he wanted to so much, but he couldn’t selfishly hold on any longer. “Ma,” he said softly, swallowing carefully around the lump in his throat, “Sleep now.” His face was expressionless, but the hands that reached out to hold hers were secure and loving. She would know that she had been loved till the last.
“You were my wish come true. The star that fell in my lap,” she murmured disjointedly. “I’m sorry.” She stopped talking, tears, that were never far away, beginning to fall from her eyes. She gazed at him, her eyes still speaking of the love she felt for him. The pain of leaving him, the ache for the knowledge that he would be left all alone in this world.
She tugged at his hand, pulling him up to stand next to her bed. She reached up and cupped his cheek lovingly, her little man. The one who had become the caretaker, the strong one in their family unit of two. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t give you all the opportunities you deserved,” she said.
“Ma!” he protested, “You gave me everything that I needed.” The words were said to comfort her. He had no words, nothing any longer to hold on to. He’d prayed and hoped that God couldn’t be so cruel as to take away the only person that he had in the world, but that hope was gone now. Not when it meant holding on to her when living would only give her more pain.
“I love you. Remember that,” she said for the umpteenth time, closing her eyes. She had been saying those words ever since the diagnosis, repeating them daily, her fear that once she left he wouldn’t hear them again.
He had never found it easy to open himself up to the world . . . to people. He was stoic, his intelligence setting him apart from all of his classmates. His interests had further isolated him, her stubborn interruptions the only reason that he ate on time or went out to play. It was her fault that she hadn’t encouraged him to be more social, but it was too late. The only thing she could do now was to remind him that she had loved him till the last.
“I’m so proud of you! You’re top of your class again. What did I do to get such a smart son?…”
He stared at her closed eyes, watching her breathe, wondering every moment if it would be her last. The anxiety grew inside him, the ache too much for his young heart to bear.
“Eat your food. Put that book to the side. I don’t slave over a hot stove so that you can ignore the food and ignore me while you eat it. Dinner time is a time to eat and talk to people. And no, you cannot go to the internet café. “
His eyes were pinned obsessively to her face, her eyes now closed in sleep. The lines that the continual pain had etched across her features had eased away.
“Come with me.”
“Look at the weather. It’s so beautiful outside.”
“Yeah. Very sunny.”
He looked to her chest as she took those small breaths.
“Let’s go out and play! Give that to me.”
“Ma! You can’t throw books like that!”
“Sorry! But we’re going out now. No more excuses. I’m not going to leave you alone.”
But his eyes were on the machines when she took her last. They were on them as the quiet beeps turned into alarms going off, but it was the silence . .. where he should have heard her breaths . . . heard the rustle of the sheets when she moved . . . that silence was the loudest. His eyes reluctantly turned back to her, not wanting to confirm what his heart already knew.
She was gone.
And he was all alone.