Sunday, May 3, 2009

Family Portrait

Her father has started wearing socks in the desert summer nights. He's always felt cold but has started feeling almost frigid since his surgery. He's wasted away since his son's accident years ago. He walks with a tiring stoop, his mouth in a slight scowl as if he is being forced to take every step. These days he's reduced his life to an uncompromising schedule starting with waking up from an unsavoured sleep to his evening walk to the post-dinner TV hour where he begins to nod off into bedtime. The disciplined life he's always led, especially since his heart attack, has now become a crutch, all he knows, all that is familiar, all that has been faithful. She doesn't recognise this shrinking old man whose commands have now withered to pleas. Where is her handsome father who used to make perfumed socialites swoon at the Embassy parties?

Her mother rushes about the house, panicking from room to room as she obsessively reorganises household items. Her day begins with a feeling of impending doom and steadily degenerates into a claustrophobic mirage of panic attacks and irate shrieks. The artery in her head throbs, her cramps give her nightmares, she fears another heart attack. She doesn't know how to drive so she is imprisoned within the walls of the new house that is too small and crammed with relics from the house they left. When she does make it to a drive outside, her heart hammers against her ribcage for fear of the road. She's become this way since her son's accident. Now she always clutches the grip on top of the door and is exhausted from being hyperaware of every single object around the car. She can't go a minute without pleading the driver to slow down, just please watch the other cars even if they are far away. She used to navigate a complicated social circle, but this panicky old woman now freezes and bursts into tears at the possibility of a problem, sputtering for help in front of strangers in broken English because not everyone understands Urdu.

Her brother is a surgeon who hasn't healed anyone since his accident. Each day he battles complications, not all of them physical, from being paralysed below his chest. He doesn't go out anymore unless he has to - he feels so ashamed of the chore of simply shifting from the wheelchair to the car, he keeps to himself, hating himself for being in everyone's way. Before his accident, he was in the process of moving to America to study wonderful new things about the human body so he could do what he loves best, helping people. Now he's self-conscious of himself, his paralysis, and his inability to control his body. He's left the depression behind, and oscillates between fierce optimism and the everyday awkwardness. There is not a moment when he's not in pain. During the first few days after his accident, she remembers thinking how strange it was to see her lively brother lying down all of a sudden, unable to even raise his head without screaming in pain. That was the first time she had heard him use bad words. All it took was a second and everything changed.

The house is now quiet and has few visitors. The world has moved on and doesn't remember those who couldn't renew. We were young once, we were brave. We are dust, we are ruins, I am forgotten.


your close friend said...

Khadija.. you and your parents and brother are the strongest people I've ever met.. yes, it's been tough, and it has taken its toll on everyone's physical and mental health, but you've still lived a happy, whole life.. keep going strong, and please don't EVER feel disappointed or discouraged about anything... you guys (esp YOU)will always be my hero!
love you

Khadija Ejaz said...

:( Thanks, whoever you are.