In 2004,my husband was assigned to a long-term project in the USA and he asked me to join him so that we could witness the sun rise and set at the same time. I resigned from my job in India, sold our car, sent truckloads of belongings to parents’ homes, packed suitcases with clothes, photographs, academic degrees and kitchen items like chakla belan(pastry board and roller) and boarded a flight to the USA, with my two-year old son wound around my neck. My heart was ripped asunder for leaving family behind and I assured it that I would return after the work visa expires. But I stayed. We filed for Permanent Resident status and then we filed for US Citizenship. The roots we implanted in this soil grew deeper and stronger.
I visited every year to the deepening lines on my parents’ faces, which curved into smiles on seeing me. My dad asked me to get chocolate candy with a soft core (Lindt‘s Truffles and Ghirardelli’s raspberry-filled were his favorites), big soft handkerchiefs which he wrapped around his head when offering namaaz (prayers) and perfumes to drench those handkerchiefs in. His eyes shone like a five-year old’s as he rolled the truffles in his mouth, the chocolate leaking out of the corners. Once, I brought him a soft mink blanket; he asked mother to sew a linen cover to encase it and cradled it like a child.
Year after year, I noticed my dad’s brain was fading away, quietly but surely. He would search the house for a pen that rested in his pocket, ask mom for a cup of tea right after having one. The fog was pulling him down under and I was not there to hold out a torch for him.
When it was time for me to fly away, he always kissed me goodbye on the forehead and rested his palm on my head for blessing. My eighteen-hour flight was filled with the thought if it was the last time I felt the weight and warmth of his hand. I always kept my phone ringer on high every night and looked for missed calls before my feet hit the floor each morning.
The dreaded phone rang. This time I had not visited home for over a year. I was planning to visit right after my Naturalization interview (process to become a US citizen). My sister told me dad had to undergo an emergency surgery and he was in the ICU.I booked tickets and took off, beseeching God to let him breathe for the twenty-four hours that lay between him and me. The skies heard my plea and I found his bantam body entangled in a mesh of tubes and wires, breathing faintly through an oxygen mask. His abdomen was still rising and falling under the crisscross of sutures that ran all along its length. Machines and monitors kept him alive for two weeks but he never once opened his eyes. The truffles I bought from the airport melted in my purse.
I had built a life oceans and miles away. I was blessed with plenitude; I owned a sprawling house with tulips adorning the front; my commodious bathroom was the size of my parents’ living room; a hot shower caressed my body each morning; my heels bore no fissures unlike my mother’s; I drove a Lexus and I owned a US passport. I had mortgages and credits running, but somewhere in my heart, I knew I would have to pay the real price one day and I did.