• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 12

Of Distances

‘Dad’s sleeping all day.’ The WhatsApp call gives my sister’s voice a green, metallic tinge. A little robot with goggle eyes.

783,428 miles as the crow flies separate us, an online map tool claims. Her wheelchair turns the stairs between her and our upstairs father into an impossibility.

Picture him in my old room. Surrounded by books that turn their backs on him. When he opens his eyes with his head facing the wall, the first thing he’ll see is a drawing of Milton’s Lucifer. He has just cut off one of his wings and is standing in a pool of his own blood.

I take a deep breath and try to feel for the quickening beneath my heart. At almost 21 weeks, it’s still unreliable. The future appears shy to make itself known.

My sister and I hang up. Worry keeps us connected.

Outside, sunshine shakes hands with yet another band of rain passing through. The palm tree’s leaves dance. Its blossom still hasn’t flowered, and it is already October. Greetings, fellow migrants.

I step into the next room and lie down close to E.T. His heart is glowing weakly. I am the child he is so intimately related to. We are friends who rescue each other. His long, grey fingers, the enlivening glow of his touch, the alien tongue I will never need to learn.

My dad won’t be able to read this. He doesn’t speak the language I chose to build a life in.


Of Distances

And now he sleeps. But really, he has been slipping away for a while already. There are no online tools to measure absence. It is a temporary withdrawal, I hope, but what if one day he won’t be able, or willing, to return?  

The last time I visited him, we spent almost every evening watching James Bond films. Onscreen adventures as a communal escape. He doesn’t even care about those anymore.

Here, now, Star Wars is on TV. A more recent episode brings back old heroes, grey-haired: Han Solo, Princess Leia, the loyal Chubaka. ‘I will never understand', dad used to say, ‘how you can be fond of such strange creatures.’

I guess there are many things parents and children cannot share. We may, for instance, age at the same time, but we don’t age together. We can ask questions but cannot expect answers. Our layered selves will always also be islands, despite what the poet says.

And while it might be more comforting to spend my time thinking of little green robots, E.T., and Chubaka, what I should really wonder about is: if, as life drives onwards, we cannot turn into our parents’ parents, what do we become to them, and what do they become to us?