He had five daughters. And whenever he came home from a work trip, we’d all line up to give him a kiss. But he always kissed my mom first, because she was his ‘first love.’ Then he went on to his ‘second love,’ and his ‘third love.’
On weekends we’d all pile into the car and take these long road trips. We’d drive for hours, and the whole way he’d be singing to my mother. It was a normal thing for us, because we were used to it. But that kind of affection wasn’t normal in our culture.
We used to have these karaoke parties with our extended family, and everyone else would sing normal songs. But Papa would choose these old, romantic Bollywood songs. And he’d sing directly to Mama. She loved every second of it. She’d get dressed up for him. She’d put on her brightest red lipstick. And she’d do her hair just as he liked it—even after she got sick.
The tumor was deep in her brain. After every surgery, more and more of her would slip away. When she couldn’t walk properly anymore, she grew embarrassed of her limp. So Papa held her hand wherever they went. He’d sit next to her bed, and stroke her cheek, and recite the Quran until his lips went dry.
Some nights he’d fall asleep sitting up in his chair, but then he’d wake up, and begin praying again. In her final moments, when she was slipping away, he leaned close to her and whispered: ‘You won’t be alone. I’m coming with you.’ I heard him say it. And I got so angry. It seemed selfish to me—as if the rest of us weren’t worth living for.
But all his children were grown. Most of us had our own families. And I guess he felt like there was nothing left for him. Every day he visited Mama’s grave, even though we told him not to. He applied for the plot next to her, and every few hours he’d ask if the cemetery had called.
He was obsessed. When the paperwork finally arrived— I rolled my eyes. But he got very quiet. For the next two days he barely said a word. Then on the third morning, he walked in our front door and told me he wasn’t feeling well.
I bent down to help him with his shoes, but he collapsed on the floor. There wasn’t time for him to suffer. Because by the time the ambulance arrived, he was already gone.
About the author:
This story first appeared on Humans of New York Facebook page and is published here with permission. Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. Somewhere along the way, the writer/photographer began to interview subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, he includes quotes and short stories from their lives. For more amazing stories and photography buy the book HUMANS by Brandon Stanton.
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