This essay appeared on The Moon Magazine:
Today is the 6th of October, my father’s birthday. He lies in the ICU at The Himalayan Hospital, Dehradun, India, in a mesh of wires and tubes. My sister and I are in the hospital room that was allotted to him before the surgery. It is 4:00 a.m. and I have not slept a wink. I can’t remember the last time I slept in the past two weeks but my head does not hurt. Just feels heavy as a rock.
I look out the window. An eerie silence pervades the otherwise bustling parking lot. Dogs sleep curled up in the chilly October night. A distant watchman’s whistle is the only sound of a living world.
It has been a week since my father’s abdominal surgery, but he hasn’t opened his eyes. Today the doctors said his heart was sinking and they had to revive it. The heart functioning is at a tremulous 30%. “He is not in pain,” they say.
The visiting hours in the ICU are 11:00-12:00 in the morning and 7:00-8:00 in the evening, and they allow only one person per patient to visit under the staff’s watchful eye. Luckily, his bed is near the door so I can peek through the window before being shooed away. These nurses always leave his shoulders and torso open after checking on him. They don’t know how he always likes to bundle up in scarves and sweaters at the slightest breeze. And it is always gelid inside there.
I slip on my sweatshirt, cover my head with a hood and set out on a mission. I walk past the nurses’ station lined with drooping heads, into the citadel of the ICU. The security guard outside is in a deep slumber with his hat pulled over his eyes and his feet resting on a stool. I open the door slowly and tiptoe inside. The snores of the nurses and doctors are punctuated by the hums and beeps of machines.
I pull the blanket to cover Father’s shoulders, readjust his oxygen mask, which is etching grooves on his face, and blow on my hands before I place the left one on his head and the right one on his fingers, careful not to disturb the IV. Those fingers. They had written letters to me every single day, when I was away at college. The gravid pigeonhole of my letterbox at the hostel evoked envy and consternation in my classmates.
His pupils seem to move under his eyelids. I’ve read stories of people in coma and near-death experiences: that they can see and hear everything around them. Hope is what reading brings you. So, I whisper in his ear though my lips falter. I whisper apologies for losing his letters. I whisper apologies for not being a good daughter. I whisper apologies for tainting his name. I whisper apologies for betraying his trust. I whisper apologies for marrying outside the boundaries. I whisper apologies for not being able to serve him in his last days. And I whisper goodbye.
I see a pinkish tinge in the sky as I walk outside in the corridor leading to the rooms and my eyelids feel heavy.