It was a sunny Sunday morning, with the gentle coolth of the fading winter. I was dressed up in a suit, carrying brightly colored flowers in my hand and wearing a gentle perfume with an earthly fragrance. Just the way she wanted me to be on her eighteenth birthday.
I met Emma in primary school. I was the kid at whose jokes no one laughed, with whom no one ate lunch, and at whom hardly anyone glanced for the second time. But Emma was different. She was the only person in class who didn’t give me that sort of a treatment. She sat with me during classes and we ate lunch together. She even laughed at my jokes which, I later realised with utter disappointment, weren’t funny at all.
She was one of the very few people I knew who was always cheerful and radiated happiness to everyone who talked to her. She always made me smile when I cried. “Don’t waste so much water in tears! If you want to cry, do it near the plants. At least they would be happy!”, she used to say to me, and I remember the way we used to start laughing every time she said that with a serious face.
Please try to persuade him to come, for my sake. That was the only thing she said to me the last time I saw her. She hadn’t mentioned him in years, so I was taken aback at such a request.
She was referring to her 18th birthday celebrations, which were exactly a month away from the time of our previous meeting. She wanted her father to be there, to see how his little girl had grown up. She had tried calling him a few times the other day, to invite him. But he wouldn’t answer his phone. In fact, he never did, whenever she called him in the last two years.
They shared a rocky relationship, Emma and her father. Her mother died when Emma was born, and though her father never said anything out loud, he blamed Emma for the death of his wife. Why and how could someone blame a baby for such a tragedy was beyond my understanding. It was probably because of the emotional gap between the happiness of having a beautiful baby daughter, and the sheer shock of the passing away of his beloved wife, that drove him to the point of breaking apart. The pain came later, which broke the remaining links that were holding him together.
Emma was a single child. She lived with her father until she was four, when her father decided that he couldn’t have her in his sight anymore. So one day, he left her at his sister’s house and never returned. Neither Emma nor his sister saw him for the next eight years. Emma was with her Aunt at a family event, when she saw her brother and showed Emma her father. From that day, Emma and her father started building their relationship from scratch.
She used to talk to me about her father at times. There weren’t many things to say as she was really young the last time she saw him before the family event. A few days after their meeting, I ran into them on my way to the supermarket, and we ended up in a café, with sweet smelling coffee to add some cheer to the otherwise expectedly dull meeting. Surprisingly though, I took a strangely sudden liking towards her father. I couldn’t figure out what to think of it, especially after I knew all of what had happened in the past. But I had a nice time with the two of them. We said our goodbyes and I went home, where I got scolded and was sent out again. I had forgotten to grace the supermarket with my presence (or, forgotten to set my foot in the supermarket) after all.
Over the next few years, I got to know her father quite well. No longer did the incidents of the past linger in my head every time I saw him or talked to him. He lived with Emma at his sister’s house all this while. Why they didn’t live in the house from the time Emma was a kid, was something I didn’t know. But it sure was attached to some tragic memories, so that might have been the reason.
Everything seemed to have been going well between the two. Until he went away again. This man, it seemed to me, had a thing for disappearing. He didn’t say where he was going, when he’d return, if he’d return, absolutely nothing at all. He wouldn’t answer his phone. No matter when we called.
It took me weeks to comfort Emma, giving her false assurances of his return. Deep inside, I wished I was wrong about what I felt and by some miracle he would make his way back. But he didn’t. There was absolutely no way to contact him. Or to find out if he was alive or dead. So when she made her strange request to me, I just didn’t know what to do.
Two weeks back, she met with a car accident. It was a drunk driver, it seemed. He hit her when she was crossing the road. It was not her fault- she had checked the traffic lights before stepping off the pavement. I knew, because I was standing on the other side of the road. The driver hit her and fled. People nearby helped her- rushed to her, called the ambulance, did everything an average passerby could. I am very grateful to them, for I was just standing, immobilized. My brain couldn’t register what had just happened. Or it probably didn’t want to, I will never know.
She passed away the following morning in the hospital. My grief was beyond words, for she was the only person I could call my friend. But through all of this, not one tear left my eye. Not even during the final goodbye. She wouldn’t want me to cry.
Today is her eighteenth birthday. I visited her grave early in the morning and was sitting close to it for a long time, thinking about the time I met her, the amazing time we spent together, and the way she taught me to be happy no matter how bad the circumstances were.
As the dusk approached, I got up to leave. As I turned towards the gate, I saw a tall man wearing an old-fashioned bowler’s hat, making his way in my direction. There was something about this man that seemed familiar, especially the way he walked. He kept his head low and his hat covered his face. He had flowers in his hand, probably the same ones I had brought with me. He stopped a few feet away from me and looked up, straight into my eyes. It was her father.