Your mother’s eyes tore up when she told me that, and it was so unnerving, the way she was tall and pale in front of me one second – and the next, she was tiny, bent over, crying, her face red and streaked, as if suddenly, something wrenched at her being and broke her. I helped her up, and I cried with her, but I disagree with her, with everyone. Your last words weren’t think of me sometimes.
I remember how you looked at me in those last five minutes before you died. You were in the dark because you said light hurt you, it felt like a burden weighing down upon you. You looked like a child, bundled in the soft blankets, your head falling softly into the pillow. You were sleeping, so I sat on the floor next to bed, and I looked at you and I smiled. I was just sitting there next to you while you were dying and smiling.
You were white and thin, I could see the bones sticking out of your face. Your eyelids were strained, shut a little too tightly, as if to force consciousness away. My gaze had left your face for a second, I was looking at your hand, the blanket had fallen away and I remember you had told me how cold you felt all the time, if you weren’t bundled up like an infant, and I was wondering whether I should risk disturbing you and covering it up, or whether a hand didn’t matter all that much.
I looked back at your face, and your brown eyes were looking at me, and you were smiling. I want you to know that I wish I had smiled back; it is one of the cruel ironies of life that I cried when you smiled, while all the while before, I swear I had been smiling while watching you sleep and slip further away from me. But when you opened your eyes and smiled, I just cried. It is easier to watch a dying person you love sleep than to watch them smile.
You could not speak, and it was hard for you to stop smiling, moving any muscle was a struggle. I watched you, watched your eyes shift from being fazed to struggling in concentration, as you forced your face to obey you, you didn’t want to smile any more. I cried even more, holding your hand. We spent an hour like that, crying and holding hands, in the dark. Then I stopped. The coldness was creeping in and the darkness felt thicker, more solid. Maybe it could feel your soul leaving, and it wanted to push it back, back into that body which refused to smile and frown to its abidance.
I want to tell you things, that’s what I’d said. And I began telling you of two little girls I’d seen on the way to your home, and how they were dressed in the brightest, richest red I had ever seen and how beautiful the bunch of azaleas they had plucked were looking in her hands. When I’d walked past them, I told you, one of them had laughed at some joke the other cracked. It was such an alive laugh, the kinds when you throw your head back and your eyes close and open and you just laugh and laugh. I wanted to be the funny thing her friend had said, the laugh was that beautiful, I told you.
This was how I was ranting, about stupid silly things, trying to show you how I find beauty in tiny things and little girls in rich red on roads. I thought maybe you’d hold on a little while longer you know, just see me making a fool out of myself. When I showed you the azalea I had got from one little girl, I watched your eyes come back to life. The flower looked like a miracle in that dark room of disease and death and time ticking away.
You traced its petals gently with your fingers, and they swayed minutely after your touch. I kept it on your table, and a ray of light from a crack in the curtains fell upon them. That is when you looked at me and then at the azalea, then me again. Your hand weakly stroked your bony cheek. I could see a tear at the corner of your eye, and it dried almost instantly, staining your cheek. You closed your eyes; it took you nearly a minute. And when you opened them again, you looked at me, and your eyes looked just like they do when you are hearing a song you love, and you kept looking at me. I remember how I started crying all of a sudden, because I realized you’d left me. The darkness had given up. The light had taken you.
I tell everyone those were your last words – that look in your eyes, when you opened them for the last time. They don’t say anything, they just smile and cry; death has this strange way of making both smiles and tears one.
What is the one thing I want to say to you right now?
I keep hearing all these new songs I want you to listen to, I’m so sure you’d love them. Delicious, you’d say, absolutely delicious. I try really hard, you know. I try to believe that colours are you. That all vibrancy in the world is a sign that you are well and happy. I tried thinking of anything good that happened- strangers smiling, a flower blooming, discounts and sales – as a manifestation of your love in my life from the supernatural.
For all that is true, is that you died in the room with an azalea and me. That you were wasting away, each breath drawn a war on your lungs, your beauty fading away. I should be glad you are in a happy place now, where you are free and where you can sing. Maybe I’m just being silly. Billboard charts and chocolate cakes must be an eternal free feature of Heaven. Silly me.
The point is while of course I want you prancing away to freedom and glowing with health, ribbons in your hair, in green lawns, the thought of you being away from me and being well at the same time is painful. It was easier for us to suffer together, wasn’t it? Your disease was claiming your life, and your pain was claiming mine. With your salvation, my pain transcends time – now, then, or later, I can only be sure that you are gone and I must live.
And live, I must, so live, I will.
You are the neighbour of my universe.
I shall knock on your door one day.
I shall knock the day you ask me to come back.
This is your favourite song. Ecoute moi, m’amour.