Finding meaning in what is lost
The weather was the only thing that made me cry today. This isn’t what I should be crying about, but it was the middle of February and warm days like these didn’t come around too often in Canada. Something about the breeze brought me back to a Sunday morning with my Dad.
“Hot chocolate or French Vanilla”, his voice rang with joy.
“French Vanilla!!” I sprung up and wrapped my tiny hand around his index finger. The softness of my palm opposed his calloused skin.
“Look at the sky, chellam (little one)! The clouds-”
“That cloud looks like a bunny rabbit!” I cut him off with a squeal.
“You’re right! And that cloud over there-”
“A pony! And a rocket ship! An owl!” I bounced around as my giggles lifted me higher.
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Appa, how are clouds made?” My curiosity for the world was just one of the many gifts he bestowed upon me.
My father let out a boastful laugh and caressed my tiny forehead.
“Clouds are just little pockets of water, chellam, floating around in the sky. It’s why we have rain!”
“Is the owl gonna cry? I don’t want him to cry” I looked at him with a pout.
“It’s okay, the owl’s tears will give us life. It’ll water Amma’s garden and make roses bloom in the summertime. You want roses?”
“I want French Vanilla, Appa”
We walked around Niagara Falls all day. The chilly mist coated our skins as the sound of waterfalls cascaded through the city.
My father’s cheeks stretched out from one end to the other. His sturdy arms perched me atop his shoulders.
“Chellam, stop covering my eyes! I can’t see!” he laughed and threatened to tip me over.
“Stop! Stop! Fine, but can we go through the trees?”
I patted his head as if I were playing the drums and pulled at his curls as we walked through the woods.
“Here, Appa, a leaf to say thank you” I giggled and tucked the leaf behind his ear.
“Then I’m going to give you a banana leaf.”
“Bananas don’t have leaves, silly” I snickered, placing my arms around his neck.
“Banana trees do! The banana leaves in Sri Lanka are bigger than you! When I go back there, I’m going to give you a bouquet of banana leaves, because that’s how much I love you”
“When you go back there?” I asked hesitantly.
“That won’t be for a long time, chellam. When I go back, I will take you with me.”
“Okay! But don’t forget about me, Appa. I want to go wherever you go!”
At the time, I wanted to stay there forever. But time doesn’t work like that, and life had other plans for us.
“Are you ready to speak? You can go after your Mom”, my cousin caresses my back in comfort. I realize I have to leave the perfect weather and go meet everyone inside now.
“And though the unpredictable nature of life is inevitable, he was a vital part of our family and his presence will be missed greatly.” Somehow, my sister made her eulogy sound like a conference meeting, but it felt better than what I managed to put together.
My aunt laid a large banana leaf across my fathers body and continued her prayers. A thick chain of flowers hung from his picture. I just want this all to be over. I sighed and walked out of the funeral house again.
“You can’t just leave”, my sister retorted from behind. “I’ll speak later.” My pace quickened until I reached the main intersection of streets. Cars drove beyond the speed of light but my mind remained elsewhere. Anywhere but here.
I kept walking for hours, away from the funeral home, away from my family, away from the dull pain in my chest. I grabbed my jacket and hugged it tightly around my torso. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.
“I can’t wait to go back, chellum. When you and your sister are in university, I’m going to buy a little hut near the shoreline and live in Sri Lanka”, my dad’s voice sang with life and his eyes shone with imminent desire.
“No! I’m going to buy you a pretty house in Sri Lanka and take care of you for the rest of your life, don’t worry. Me and you together!”
“Really? You want to do that?” he bursted with laughter at the proposition.
“Yes! Don’t laugh! So what if I’m thirteen. When I get the money-- and I will, we can both escape the cold winters together!” Determination filled my heart upon every word I spoke.
“I want you to have a good life, chellum. Don’t worry about me” he sighed with a smile.
“I want to worry about you, Appa. I love you.”
When he left us, I didn’t stop worrying about him. When he left us, all I could think about was what would’ve happened if he’d stayed. What would my life be if he were here to see it? I surely wouldn’t have ended up here, in the woods, cowering from the pain that awaits me.
“Don’t stress about this, chellum. Just look at the sky! It’s a beautiful day.”
“But I wanted to get an A! This B+ isn’t good enough for Amma.” I sat anxiously in the passenger seat, staring at the paper in front of me.
“Remember what I told you? We can’t change the things that have already happened, only move forward and learn. You will do better, just speak it into existence.” My eyes divert to the car beside us. A woman slouched in her seat with a warm coffee in her hands.
“Are you talking about that manifestation stuff again?”
“If you believe it, it will happen, chellum. It’s not always nonsense.” My father was your typical pseudoscientific, self-help advocate.
“You’re like a wise old owl, Appa. You should write a book.” I rolled my eyes in disbelief.
“I have written books! They’re all stored in boxes somewhere, but one day, I’ll show you. Your father was a famous writer!” He laughed and patted my head.
“Yea, right. What’d you write about?”
“I wrote stories about love, war and philosophy. But you’re too young for all that.” he shook his head and chuckled.
“Am not! Show me! I want to see!”
“Please, please, please!” I whined and bounced around with desperation.
“When you’re older, chellum.” he affirmed.
I stepped onto the darkly lit path and stared at the leaves above me. It had rained the night before, leaving drops of perspiration hanging from their tips. Suddenly, the fog turned into mist and the running car engines sounded like waterfalls. I felt myself shrink into a five-year-old girl. My small hand wrapped around a thick tree branch, and looked up to see a small barn-owl perched atop of it. What looked like a tear escaped from its charcoal eyes. For the first time in weeks, I grinned from cheek to cheek. “Don’t worry, little one. Your tears will one day make roses bloom.” I whispered as the tree bark scratched through the skin of my palm.
Long after he passed, I searched for my father’s old writing. His most famous story was a love story. I lifted the pages and felt my father’s soul through his words.
A passage from “The Blooming of Love” written by Eesan read:
Calling her mine wasn’t enough. I handed her roses that I picked along the shores and she gifted me with her smile. Though our parents had not approved of our marriage, we met everyday under the banana tree behind school. The leaves concealed us enough so that nobody could see our love. It was forbidden but still, I find myself wandering to her. Her eyes pierce my heart and her embrace is my remedy. A bomb goes off in the distance and we both jump in fear.
“The war is only getting worse here. How will things get better? How could we be together?”
“Things will always get better, chellum. In time, I will show you.”
Protesting against the war was an act of love to help build us a home. Even if she is not with me now, her embrace is all around me.
The passage went on about the wars on the shores of Sri Lanka. The violence stole his first love and left his home in ashes. When the war was officially declared over, he had already sought refuge in Canada, leaving him with nothing but memories.
I looked at my phone to find five missed calls from my mother. There was only an hour left before they’d take his body to the crematorium.
“Where did you go? How could you just leave at a time like this? What’s wrong with you?”, my mother bickered as I approached the funeral home again. The sun was still out and the breeze gently played with my hair.
“I have to speak, don’t I?” With a monotone expression, I made my way to the small podium in front of my father’s body.
“My father was a giver. Despite hardship and struggle, he dedicated his life towards giving others what he couldn’t have. His home was destroyed by the war just as my home will be by his death. He's left me with a million questions unanswered and yet, a million more memories to treasure. I guess it's the only way he'll be with me now. But where Appa truly belongs is on the shores of Sri Lanka, with the banana trees and waterfalls. I just hope, when we cremate his body and release his ashes into the ocean, his rain will fill the clouds and make it back to those shores. Because I'll be here waiting. Waiting for the roses to bloom."