“Are you alright, my dear?” the lady, in the seat next to mine, asks. “You look like you’re about to die. Are ya afraid of flying or something?”
I consider her for a second. She seems like the overtly chatty type. After months of solitude I thought I would be more open to such social interactions – I thought wrong.
“I am, actually. About to die,” I say. She jerks her head back, shocked. “I don’t mean it like I am going to blow up this plane or anything. What I meant was that,” I swallow, “I am dying from a terminal illness.”
“Oh,” she pauses, “I am really sorry. I must now seem so crude for the earlier comment.”
She probably expects me to waive off her callous remark in return. I simply ignore her.
“Cancer?” she asks. Relentless.
She superimposes her hand over mine. The warmth from the contact; it almost breaks me. I pull back my hand and cover my mouth to suppress the gasp that escapes my mouth. I can’t recall the last time someone touched me. A single tear drop rolls off my left eyelid in response.
“Why aren’t you with family at a time like this?” she asks.
So I tell her.
When I first contracted the virus, I blamed everyone but myself. I was only twenty-three – too young for this shit; too young to die. I went through the whole cycle – from denial to depression; right before acceptance.
I thought about how I would like to be remembered after death. Then, I realised how foolish it was of me. Why should I be worrying about how other’s perceived me after I am gone. Did I really think that I would be able to consciously observe my loved ones from the netherworld? I was never really religious or spiritual to begin with, so the idea just seemed like a stretch. I reckoned that if there were to be any consciousness after death, it would probably be limited to my memories. So I told myself that if I was going to die, the least I could do was create splendid memories to keep me company for the rest of eternity.
I randomly googled for things I could do before I died. Eventually I packed up my stuff; printed a copy of the article “50 Things To Do In Europe Before You Die”; liquidated my assets; and set for Europe. I was going to die in the midst of my wanderlust.
I have explored the Buda Castle in Budapest; sketched the portrait of gladiators hanging around the Colosseum in Rome; got myself lost in Venice; crossed the Charles Bridge in Prague; watched the sunset over Paris from the Eiffel Tower; strolled by the remnants of the Berlin Wall in Freedom Park, Berlin; and finally landed myself in Amsterdam.
After spending a marvelling afternoon in the Anne Frank Museum, I made my way to the Vondelpark. I was surrounded by 49 hectares of lush greenery, invaded by the Dutch and tourists alike. I found a shaded spot under a tree and sat down – perfect for sketching. I was immediately drawn to a beautiful Dutch family; two young parents watching over their precious daughter who appeared to be no more than three. I was unwittingly reminded of Aubrey. That evening, after much deliberation, I contacted my ex-girlfriend and arranged for a meeting.
I realised that I have completely overlooked an integral part of my memory. It would be completely masochistic of me to spend an eternity together with memories laced with regrets.
“So that’s why I’m going home. I cannot allow myself to die without meeting my daughter,” I explain. “I was… I am irresponsible and selfish. I walked away from my then-girlfriend after knocking her up. I told her that we were too young for parenthood, but she insisted on keeping it.” I intrinsically look away from her. My gaze lies upon the small screen in front of me. The flight information showed that we somewhere over eastern Ukraine.
She sighs. “At least now you get to make up to her in one way or another,” she offers.
I nod. “I can’t stop thinking about the memories I want to create with Au-”
I am interrupted by a flash of bright white light. It blinds me. I can’t see or hear anything. I am numb all over. ‘Why can’t I feel a thing?’ I think as my consciousness escapes me. Oblivion.
This was written in response to the prompt Middle Seat. I was influenced by the latest season of True Blood that features the Hepatitis V epidemic (which parallels the Aids/HIV virus) and the devastating news of the MH17 crash. My condolences are with those who have lost loved ones in the tragedy. I can never begin to fathom what they felt in the last moments of their life, but I can only hope that it was quick and painless.