The empty dinner chair
MORE than two decades had passed since that fateful January morning. The images lost to oblivion yet the impact leaving a fresh fingerprint in the mind, as fresh today as it was 23 years ago.
Winter used to be harsh back then, even in the cities. The chill would creep and touch your bones. Everyone craves for warmth in the severe onset of winter. Yet, it was taken away when needed most. Mehrab had returned from school and the atmosphere of the house seemed crowded, relatives and friends of the family gathered around in small groups inside the house and out in the lawn. People spoke in muffled voices; Farooque chacha even took him to the nearest store and bought his favourite milk chocolate. Every gulp of that delightful drink reminded him of the impermanence of the pleasures, whether small or big, of life.
The news was confirmed a few hours later. The wailing sounds came from inside the house, the women were in tears. Father had finally succumbed to the injuries after the road accident. Mehrab would learn years later, that father passed away at 12:35 pm.
He missed him in the mornings, when Ramadan mama took him to school instead of father. And in the evenings, when they used to play cricket and father no longer watched from the lawn while pruning his favourite rose bush.
The days would otherwise be uneventful. Mother took leave from office for entire six months; the news had crippled her psyche. The grown-ups never explained what was happening to her but the doctor would come once a week and speak to her for hours behind closed doors. She did not speak much, especially during dinner.
Mehrab missed father, mostly at the dining table. Not because mother no longer served them food or even said anything. Nobody told him to eat with his mouth closed, or ordered him to finish the plate of rice with fried okra. There was an ominous silence; and words remained hidden, emotions muted in layers within the hearts.
Father never spoke much while he ate. Just a few questions on how school was and how to spell "bougainvillea". He would rest his head on the palms of his left hand and eat.
The scene never changed, mother recovered from her glum days but the family never did fully recover.
23 years on, Mehrab still remembers dinner with father. It was the only time when the family was together, and complete. Although faint, the grey and silent images keep coming back, on dull afternoons and Sundays of June.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif