less alive

Content warning: This article includes mentions of suicide and death. Proceed with discretion.

I watched the dim two a.m. light cast shadows across baba’s face

it reflected the tears that had streamed down from his almond eyes 

soft and silver 

yet heavy with the worry of countless restless nights

he was told his grandmother had passed away and for days after 

his grief weighed heavy on each 

syllable.

he.

spoke. 

his pain, novel and raw 

ate away at him like water crashing into stone 

over and over again

at first the stone seems unchanged but in due course 

it will never be the same again 

I didn’t understand how someone could “pass away” 

I didn’t know what it meant to be alive 

but I knew that it changed the people it affected 

left them feeling

just a little bit:

less alive

when I was young i was fussy about eating 

I sat at our wooden dining table at twilight 

the kind of table that fit right into our larger-than-life home 

as if it were holding our house together 

as people streamed

in and out

eating, laughing, sharing 

pakhi nanu made the rice into small balls for me because I wouldn’t eat it otherwise

she made up stories to make me laugh 

and while I was distracted, she placed the rice gently into my mouth

when ammu returned she was astonished that for the first time I had finished all my food 

on the night before eid that year,

pakhi nanu’s brow furrowed in concentration as she put on my mehndi

my hand resting on the table’s wood 

I ran around the house and made a ruckus 

coming back to her fifteen minutes later with my hands completely smudged 

I expected her to scold me but she patiently reapplied the design and followed up with lemon juice, 

telling me that it would bring out the color

at three, I didn’t quite understand who pakhi nanu was 

just that one day I woke up and found her sleeping in our house

and ammu explained that she’d be staying with us for a bit 

only when I was much older did I learn that she wasn’t related to me

but was a divorcee whose husband had left her and her kids 

and that she had been a single mother for most of her life 

falling upon rough times, she lived with us for a while

she was brave and kind and warm and loving 

that table where she fed me and applied my henna 

silently sits at our house  

shadows casting over as days turn into nights,

empty, hollow

a husk of its former self 

the once-vibrant laughter and stories only alive through my memories 

my nana walked me to and from school every morning from kindergarten through fifth grade

our fingers interlaced, chocolates in his pocket he would surprise me with

he smelled like cinnamon and mint 

his hands were soft, his grey eyes brimmed with affection

as he walked the air hung still

in awe of his elegance 

we took different routes home each day, shortcuts, the scenic route

we would stop at local stores and bakeries and parks,

shopkeepers would greet him because he was a regular 

he would buy me books, and dainty jewelry for his wife 

he told me stories about his childhood

how he knew how to play the flute and ate ripe mangoes everyday

how he loved to fish and grew up swimming in ponds and rivers

as we approached home 

I knew to look up and wave at our living room window 

because I knew my nanu would be standing there 

waiting for us

and that on the dining room table there would be two cups of warm cha and a plate of biscuits

nanu and I would drink cha

we would pray together and read quran 

she’d teach me how to sew and would braid my hair 

she’d tell me stories about how she scored higher than her brothers on every exam growing up 

and about borrowing their books to read late into the night 

that as a child she had dreams of becoming a teacher 

as we took neighborhood walks, stopping to smell the flowers, 

I took it all for granted

I never imagined that life could be any different

I thought someone would always pick me up from school with chocolates in their pockets and that

if I looked up I’d always see my nanu waiting at the window 

my ammu’s brother shibly owned clothing factories in bangladesh 

for the first ten or so years of my life, ammu and baba didn’t have to buy me a single article of clothing

everything came as gifts from him

shibly mama was an avid reader, he had traveled to over twelve countries 

he defined for me what it meant to be graceful and generous and intelligent and kind 

from a very young age I knew I wanted to be exactly like him when I grew up

I remember being four years old in the car in bangladesh 

when we passed a sign that said

mango mousse for sale

I was awestruck and looked longingly out the car window

as I excitedly whispered to ammu “wow look they have mango mousse here!”  

as the car moved on I didn’t mention it again

sure enough the next morning I find a variety of mousse at the dining table 

colorful bowls of mango and strawberry and chocolate and vanilla greeted me

turns out mama had been listening when I whispered in the car

at seven years old my brother and I got our first pet

a blue and purple betta fish,

it was the most beautiful thing either of us had ever seen  

zulqar and I decided to name him timothy 

after a storybook character we both liked

ammu had explained to us that betta fish usually live for three years 

so when only four months later I one day woke up to find timothy floating in his glass tank 

I didn’t understand what was happening

ammu told me that the fish was gone for good but that he was in heaven

and that’s when my tears started to flow 

I didn’t believe her and was so afraid that because timothy didn’t have a muslim name

and hadn’t been praying, that Allah wouldn’t be okay with him going to jannah 

I made dua for him for many days and we decided to give him an islamic burial in the bamboo trees in front of our house. 

at eleven years old, I came across the word suicide while I was reading

I asked ammu what it meant and she explained to me 

that it wasn’t a word that I was ready to know about yet 

I could look it up in the dictionary when I was older

I never imagined that one day that same word would come knocking at my own doorstep

at fourteen years old I was an angsty teenager who had headphones in all the time and thought the entire world revolved around me 

my baba picked me up from school one day,  I hopped into the car 

and started mindlessly scrolling through my phone

when I realized that baba had been talking to me

I took off my headphones and looked up at him to see that his eyes were bloodshot 

as if he hadn’t slept in days or had been crying 

he told me that pakhi nanu had passed away and that if I wanted to read a bit more about what had happened I could google her name because it was all over the news

I think in that moment I just didn’t even believe him. 

later when I got home, I did google her name and found out that she had jumped out of a moving car into highway traffic. they were calling it a suicide. no one knew why she did it. she left no note. 

I never had to look up suicide in the dictionary to find it

it seemed that it had found me

at nineteen the pandemic spread its roots across the world

it still wasn’t fully real for me

just something read about on the news or talked about on t.v. 

happening in some far away land

still very abstract, it became tangible for me in a millisecond

shibly mama was hospitalized with covid on september 28th, 2020. 

he passed away on october 2nd. 

ammu, zulqar, and i caught the first flight back to bangladesh 

we needed to be there for nana, nanu, and mama’s three young children that he left behind

before we knew it, everyone in the family fell ill

the infection spread its roots again 

but this time throughout my lungs 

and I was immediately hospitalized 

my nanu passed away from a heart attack on november 4th. 

barely a month since her son’s death. 

I lay in the covid ward oblivious to her passing, 

family members were asked to plaster on a smile for me 

finding out that she was gone

could hinder my recovery

I saw a facebook post a few days later

someone had written asking for dua for the deceased

for my nanu

rice shaped into balls, colorful jello, cha and biscuits,, 

none would ever wait on a dining table for me again

pakhi nanu’s number would never show up on incoming calls 

mama would never wish me a happy birthday

nanu would never wait at the windowsill for me 

my pain, novel and raw 

ate away at me like water crashing into stone 

over and over again

at first the stone seems unchanged but in due course 

it will never be the same again 

I still don’t understand how someone can “pass away”

I don’t know what it means to be alive 

it all feels so surreal

too painful 

to be real

I do know that death changes the people it affects

leaves them feeling

just a little bit:

less alive

One Comment Add yours

  1. Md.Sayedul Huque says:

    Nishat my love, I applaud your story. It’s so surreal,painful and heart touching. Go ahead my daughter.

    Like

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