The phone rang and a vaguely familiar voice answered when I breathed my hello. Have not heard this voice for more than four years, have not seen the face for more than a decade, may be.
_The first phone call_
- Hey, still remember my voice!
- Yes, face not so sure!
- Need your help with my late wife’s business.
- Help, sure, can try….wait a sec, late wife?? What happened? Innalillaahi wainna ilaihi raaji’uun.
- Can I tell you later? Know anybody in… think you can help get an appointment with… can I have your mobile number? Will miss-call you…will sms the business details…
_end of first conversation_
I sat down momentarily stunned, then wondered how my childhood friend’s wife could have been taken away, leaving behind their four children, their sweet, happy life.
The next half hour was a finger shortening exercise, making calls and calls and calls. Too many people at meetings; too many people outstation; some telephones not answered even after the tenth ring! Must mention to Tan Sri!
Then it was time to go for my discussion.
_The second phone call_
- Got anything?
- Nope, nobody around, haven’t given up, though…
- I’m here for an appointment they fixed, and they are not around!
- So aren’t you going to tell me what happened?
- Well, it was lung cancer…she fought for more than a year…looked after her till the end…I think we should go for lunch…
- Friday prayers?
- Don’t think I can, big meeting at three, need to go through my notes. After office would be too much of a rush…
- Dinner, then? After maghrib?
- Got any friend I can date? Don’t forget you are talking to a widower!
_end of second conversation_
He was trying so hard to make me think he was his old jovial self. That I could tell he was trying made me even sadder than I already was after hearing the news.
I finished my discussion then went to work on the afternoon meeting well into the long lunch break. Had to try hard to concentrate, the thought of my dear friend and his children braving the despair of a loved one’s terminal illness filled me with self reproach. If nothing else, I could have called; I could have visited; I could have said a prayer.
_The third phone call_
- Sri Ayuthaya, can?
- Of course. Can I be a bit late? Am still at the office, meeting just over.
- Why work so hard?
- I’m a Sidek Hassan disciple, I deliver before someone else deliver for me.
- The place is casual, don’t dress to kill!
- The shape that I am now, the dress won’t kill, laughter might.
- Heard you now resemble an oil drum! I’m equally bad. Never mind, my sons will be there, need to catch up with them.
_end of third conversation_
From where I was standing, the three men on the veranda looked like any father-and-sons-only dinner party when mother and daughter are off shopping or enjoying a girls’ night out elsewhere. There were smiles, but I knew better, and may be I saw a little bit more. There was a veil of silent pain hanging in the air when the conversation drifted to the time arwah had first complained of severe backache, then the numerous tests and the dreaded diagnosis.
The next year of their life was a study in self sacrifice from the entire family. Arwah’s eldest son resigned from his job in KL to go home and take care of the family business while his father stayed by his mother’s side. The treatment began, the number of hospitals increased as did the number of doctors while the doses of medication multiplied. And all the while, arwah put up the final fight for her life, until she was too weakened by the after effects of her treatment and the unstoppable disease. She suffered so much in her last days that in their own words, her husband and children just wanted to let her go, so she would at last find peace.
Allah Almighty, what gentle words, what soothing comfort could I offer them? I went home to shed my own tears, sat alone in the dark and found this sms on my phone.
“Attitude is everything.
Be kinder than necessary,
For everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
I know, only those who have struggled and pulled themselves out of their own desperate helplessness are really able to understand the true meaning of these simple words.