Call Me:

On New Year’s day, in a frosty hospital in Western Massachusetts, I was told at my insistence, that I had at most 6 months to live. Four days later, I took a flight to Karachi to be with my parents after fourteen years. I’m 44 years old, and because of my age most people refer to my condition as a “tragedy.” If my father who is now 87 was dying of cancer, we would have reserved other words for him, praying he went painlessly and quickly. At 87, death is no tragedy.

At 44 however, people cannot fathom a departure from the world. I’m too young. I have no children. I have no wife. I have yet to indulge fully in these pleasures of living. I am told if I am determined enough, I can live longer. Well-meaning friends who I have not seen for over a decade, arrive at my home full of old memories, stories, photographs of college, of weddings, of their kids. I reconnect with them but not completely. Our laughter is laden with goodbyes. I am a tragedy, sitting propped up amongst pillows, thin and weak, my hair combed perfectly and my scalp shining through. My father, who did not speak to me these last fourteen years, comes into my room often to place his hands on my head, my shoulder. Or just to sit near me. I still struggle to apologise for the mistakes I made. But not because I am too proud now. I don’t want to break his heart by the timing of my apologies. So we sit together, both aged and scared. Wiser and calmer than we were as younger men. Full of things to say, but saying nothing. We watch The Masters together, have tea at 6 pm and protect my mother from unnecessary doctor’s reports.

I want to speak briefly of the translucence of mistakes. We make them. We all make them. They seem terrifying, life-defining. We let people down, we let ourselves down and for a time, these mistakes are all that remain of us. Some of us go to jail, some of us get divorced, get disowned, go bankrupt. We lose face, lose reputations, lose friends, lose homes. And then time passes. Days and nights. Years of regret and anger begin to turn into a cleaner, clearer narrative on life and how to live it. How to forgive yourself. How to forgive your parents. How to forgive the misgivings and miscalculations of your own heart. You become a friend to yourself eventually. And the awareness of the end becomes an ever-beaming, ever-friendly reminder that you must try to be happy and be kind. That is how my illness has helped me live my life for the last four months.

I am here now at home in Karachi with my wonderful, gentle parents, who I had cut out of my life for far too long. I am happy here, in a heartbreaking kind of way. I am aware that eventually I will just become a short story in the papers. An obituary. A few details here and there. I will leave myself at the mercy of other people’s memories, (what a terrible thought), and a generation later, that too will fade. As it turns out, I am not debating the nature of my mistakes or the highlights of my youth. Instead, the questions I am asking are these: Was I kind enough? Was I generous enough? Was I good enough to the people who loved me? So far, I am unsure about the answers.

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