The Final Wish
Even when the doctor announced my father’s terminal cancer, his impassive expressions did not die. He had always been a stern man with few words and fewer affections, his cigarettes being his silent companions and the night sky his sole muse. But on that day, my brother and I could make out from the way he moved and the way his voice escaped, quivering and arid, the fear that had gripped his heart that made him choke out whispers of prayers for himself.
He refused chemotherapy saying that he wanted to live the remaining of his days in peace without the strain of futile medication.
“Why delay the obvious?” he would say painfully, but I knew it must have taken courage. To know of a death that was inevitable, and accept it. Embrace it.
My mother died when I was too young to remember the world, and since then, all my brother and I have faced was his unwavering rigidity. Dinners were always eaten in silence and conversations stuck to only our necessities.
Aunt Martha said he wasn’t always like that. She said he once used to be a lover. Everything about that idea seemed foreign and revolting to me at first, but as the years rolled on, it became clearer to me why he would spend hours on the roof with Maa’s telescope and his cigarettes, looking at the constellations and the blackness, perhaps thinking wayward thoughts about the universe and its plans for him.
Aunt Martha told us about how they fell in love, how they pursued their love against all the religious and societal norms, and how they withstood the rages of the world. Maa had been a Muslim and father a Christian. On the day of their marriage, they had promised to serve each other on the direst of days and remain faithful to each other for all eternity. “Very dramatic your parents were,” Aunt Martha would laugh saying so.
It seemed to me as such stark irony how all these promises and efforts eventually turned out to be nothing but ashes, how such a valorous strength of love and security collapsed at the feet of an event as blunt as a car accident.
Aunt Martha also told us about Maa’s fascination with the sky and the stars.
“Your mother would say that she wanted to be cremated, and not buried, so that she could turn into smoke and join the spaces with the constellations above…she was an astronomer to the world, but a poet at heart.”
On one of the final days, father called for my brother and I and told us of his final wish to be cremated like Maa.
“I have always loved you both,” he said weakly as we got up to leave.
A week later, we had our father under a pile of wood and ourselves with a blazing torch in hand. We burnt his body at the riverside pyre at night, and I remember thinking how he’d have felt in the heat that devoured him by the inch every second, and how I sighed just a little when I saw how the obliteration of his earthly form with every passing second meant that a little of his soul had already reached Maa.