My mum knew how to make me feel better. She had this thing she would make me when I was sick and had no appetite, or was sad, or disappointed, or when I didn’t get my way. She would slather butter on Marie biscuits until she’d create a stack and then submerge them in hot, sweet milky tea. Just the aroma of melted butter and soaked biscuits would make every imaginable trouble disappear.
The night before my father died, he’d asked me to make him one of my mother’s Marie biscuit delights. It was late and I was tired, and I really didn’t want to. But I made it and took it up to his room.
I sat on his bed a while, wondering where the stocky muscular man went. He had become just skin and bones. He smiled at me under my scrutiny, and I remember thinking even his smile seemed different. It was then that I saw the tears well in his brown eyes. My father had beautiful eyes, they were an unusual reddish brown. I looked away. I didn’t want to see him cry. I had never seen him cry before. I started to babble about something. The night nurse whom my mother employed during those last days had gone downstairs for a cup of tea. So I felt free to speak my mind.
“You must fight this daddy. You must. You can’t give up.”
I straightened his blanket gently. Stroked the curly hair off his forehead and fiddled with some tissues on his nightstand. He didn’t speak then.
“Remember what those people said, there can be miracles, you just have to believe.”
I was referring to the prayer group who’d come to pray for my father the day before. My mum, although a Hindu, had sought every possibility in finding a cure for my father. The group of men and women from the local church had surrounded my father’s bed armed with their leather bound bibles. I remember looking at his bewildered face as they began to pray. Strong, convicted voices filled the room.
“We beseech you, dear Lord, to heal our brother. Rid his body of the scourge and restore him to the man he needs to be…”
The words echoed in the room and seemed to lift through the ceiling and up to the heavens. They spoke of miracles and recoveries. Their flawless faith gave me hope. And I wanted to believe. I needed to.
Maybe my father needed to as well. I looked at the cooling tea and said, a little harshly, “You made me make this for you, now you need to eat it.”
I swallowed hard. Picked up a spoon and brought a little to his lips. He shook his head.
“No, baby. It might be too hot. Have some and check it for me.”
I shoved the spoon in my mouth. Tasteless.
“It might be a little hot,” I told him and placed the cup back on the nightstand.
My eyes fell on his arm. My father had gotten a tattoo years ago when he’d met and fell in love with my mother. It was of a single red rose and her name in beautiful cursive on his bicep. My sisters and I loved that tattoo. My father would flex his muscle sometimes, and the rose would pop. We would giggle as if tickled and ask him to do it over and over again. Now, with the muscle wilted and the skin flaccid it was just blobs of ink. My heart broke. Somehow my eyes found his. He was crying. His face was wet. I looked away again, pulled a face cloth from the top drawer of the nightstand and busily wiped his tears away.
“Why daddy?” I whispered.
I don’t know how long I sat there that night. I could hear the night nurse speaking to my mother in the kitchen downstairs. When the nurse finally did come up, she checked on my father and resumed her seat at the corner of the room and went back to reading her novel. I waited for my father’s eyes to grow heavy just as mine’s were threatening to. I placed my head near his and breathed in his scent. Then I left.
I had woken from a deep sleep the next morning to a commotion. The sun had barely broken the day, so I was confused. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and searched the source. My sister hurried passed me in the passage outside my father’s room.
“Daddy’s breathing funny,” she said, “They’re calling the doctor.”
I stood at the door, listening to him struggle with each breath. My mother beckoned. But I didn’t move. My mother was crying. My sister was pleading. “Don’t go daddy!” But my father was looking past them, at something in the distance. The nurse fiddled with his oxygen tank. I thought I heard him call my name. I was sure I did. And then the cries became wails and screams. I turned away and ran down the passage. Someone stopped me and pulled me in their arms. It could have been a neighbour or a family member, I don’t know. I fell to the floor. My father’s voice in my head. But I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. My eyes were dry. My mind muddled. I could still hear him.
Later that day, people had poured into my home, filling every available space. Some I knew. Some I didn’t. They stood around, speaking in hushed tones. Saying how wonderful a man my father had been. Their were eyes on me. Their hands patted the top of my head. Their words meant nothing, then. I stole away, the first chance I got. I went up to his room. And stood at the door like I had that very morning. I expected to see him lying there. But the bed was empty, the sheets stripped off and the dark curtains pulled closed. It was empty. I felt empty. I crossed the threshold. And fell to my knees near the edge of the bed. There on the nightstand was the cup of tea and biscuits. A thick red skin congealed at its rim. I stared at it and then cried for the first time that day.
Years later, after I had spent a frustrated hour trying to feed my 18-month-old son his peas and mash and then had to relent and give him his favourite biscuit and tea delight instead, I realised that the biscuit concoction my father had requested that night, had been for me.