Malak Rebhi Zakout | 18-01-2021
Amidst a season where colorful blossoms should turn into beautiful fruits, I woke up even before the alarm, haunted by a nightmare, a familiar one that had hovered in my head many a time before. Lying on my damp pillow that would need to sit in the sun to dry off, I felt paralyzed for only God knows how long. I always wonder why my beautiful dreams are blurry, but my nightmares are vivid. I could not utter a word or scream. Even if I could, I would not, for I was staying at my uncle's.
In my nightmare, the telephone rang. It was my brother, crying in horror, telling me that the cancer ate my father up to the last breath, that my father died. Freaked out by the horrible nightmare, I was awakened by my racing heartbeat.
Then the telephone rang! And it was my brother. I was panic-stricken and immediately turned pale. I held the phone with trembling hands and managed to answer But, to my surprise, my brother delivered me the sweetest, most energetic “Good morning,” followed by, “Father woke up from his coma, and the first word he said was your name. He wants to see you, Malak.” I could feel the thud of my heartbeats.
The extreme amount of happiness rushing into my heart was like pouring cold water over a boiling rusty pot. I woke my cousin up with loads of hugs and tears. I vividly remember how badly I wanted to skip brushing my teeth, having breakfast or even wearing my jilbab. I just wanted to leap up out of my body and give my dad the warmest hug in the world.
My dad has always been a superhero. He fought four cancer demons. It took him eight years, 15 kilograms, and a great deal of perseverance to beat three of those demons.
And then, when we thought life was treating us fairly, the fourth demon popped up and clouded over our hopes. It came like an unwelcomed guest that comes very late when you think it’s the perfect time for you to rest after an exhausting day full of unwelcomed guests. It came on like a cheating wrestler who kicks his opponent in the back while he’s taking a break after three fierce, near-fatal fights.
Give me a sign, Baba
I told my aunt to take me to see Dad. She got dressed in 10 minutes. We reached the hospital within 10 minutes.
It was the first time that I didn't care about what people would say about me, so I opened the car, ran as fast as I could, carrying the hem of my long jilbab. I didn't count how many times I tripped over the stairs. I finally made it to my dad.
I was only 10 feet apart when nurses and doctors asked me to wait outside; they were whispering with family members, as if in conspiracy. They were eye-communicating, and I could read full heartbreaking sentences in their eyes. I didn’t have the guts to ask what was going on. And then I saw four hands over my dad’s hospital blanket. They were moving him elsewhere.
My mom was playing it strong; she wasn’t crying. My brothers were strong, too. They told me my father had gone back into a coma. I swear I was happy, since I feared I’d lost my dad, but at least there was hope. My aunt, my three brothers and I hugged my mom tightly, yet gently as my dad was moved to a more suitable room. I finally managed to sit at his side. I took his right hand with my both hands, one above it, the other beneath.
Mama, with my aunt still hugging her, and my brothers were there, too. All silent with watery eyes. I, still holding my father’s hand, recalled a video I had seen of a dad holding his cancer-affected daughter’s hand while she was in a coma and talking to her as though she was hearing him. He was encouraging her, believing words have actual healing powers. And then his daughter responded.
Copying that dad, I started talking to my dad after I leaned toward him and swallowed up my sad tone. “Hey Baba, Habibi. You asked to see me. I’m here. Your Angel’s here. Please wake up. I miss you so much, please.” There was no reply. Mama told my aunt to drive me back home, but I stubbornly refused to move unless my dad woke up and told me to go home. Still holding his warm hand in mine, I drew every detail of him in my mind.
“Baba Habibi, please give me a sign that you’re here. Move a finger, do something, Baba.” I said this with insistence a million times more.
He moved his hand.
“MAMA!” I screamed as if electrocuted. “Mama, come see. I swear to God. He hears me. He is moving.” Mama hugged me exhaustedly and asked me to return home with my aunt and asked my brothers to leave as well. She wanted to talk to Dad alone. I kissed my dad’s forehead, and I told him I would come again that night.
You live through me
It’s been two years now. I still wake up every morning and check his room. I still help mom prepare the table for lunch and mistakenly set six chairs, six spoons, six forks, and six cups.
Number five is never my number and will never be. I still believe Dad is here, with all my being.
My dad was the kind of doctor who is dedicated to his patients. His patients would come to our house even at midnight. My sweet dad never ever complained about it, although I was secretly a little mad that he wasn’t getting a good sleep after a tiring day of work at the hospital. You know what hurts the most? My dad was a doctor who did all his research papers on cancer yet died of cancer. I sometimes console myself that my father was too good for this world. He is. Amidst a season where colorful blossoms are supposed to turn into beautiful fruits, I lost my dad.
My dad was the definition of a gentle man: neat, kind, serene, helpful and lovable. My dad still dream-visits, wearing suits as always, and his favorite narrow plain garnet-colored necktie. This is how he was, and this is how he is still remembered. My sweet dad loved me undyingly. Forty thousand brothers couldn’t, with all their quantity of love, make up his sum. He never said “No” to me: I was his one and only little angel. He told me repeatedly that I was going to be a doctor and save people’s lives. At four years old, he taught me Italian and some French and German. I still remember how my kindergarten principal was stunned. At five years old, he taught me how to measure blood pressure and how to give my stuffed animals an injection.
I am not a doctor now, and I didn’t save your life, Baba. But I know for sure that you live through me.
Posted: January 24, 2021
Mentor: Philip Metres