The dull beeping of the IV drip was the only sound in the room. It echoed off the ceramic tiles, just regular pulses counting down the hours- maybe minutes of life left within him.
He’d known this for years, willed it even. He had accepted it long ago. He didn’t love life that much anyway and he had fully lived through all that it had to offer, seen all the sights he thought would make it worthwhile.
Why was there regret, still?
The white light of the afternoon sun poured in through the open window, bathing him. He felt warm, he felt alive. He was recollecting the doctor’s last words. He had known it, inside him, that this time he wasn’t meant to leave this room. And when the doctor had spoken; calmly, patiently explaining to him that the reason he was dying was because he had chosen to inflict it upon himself, one fuckin’ day at a time- well, he hadn’t moved a muscle. He hadn’t blinked since and he had only nodded once to let the self-righteous doctor know that he knew and he understood.
Breathing was starting to get harder but despite himself, he smiled. Reaching behind his pillow, he brought out his last treasured possession. A packet of cigarettes.
It didn’t matter anymore anyway. He had never known anything sweeter or more fulfilling in his life and now he wouldn’t have to. He didn’t mind the act or the consequence. But there was something gnawing at the back of his head.
He lit up and let the slow smoke rise in front of his eyes. He knew the nurse would come in any minute and that would be it but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t go down like a beaten dog, he’d go down like a man.
And that’s when he saw it. Swimming before his eyes were images from his childhood. Only battered flashes survived because his brain hadn’t had the capacity to take in anymore. But he remembered a lullaby and a porch swing, he remembered playing cricket in the intense heat and then his father’s face floated out of the deep reaches of his mind. Eyes that crinkled when he smiled, the steadiest hand holding the back of his cycle so he wouldn’t fall off, the firm mouth when he was angry at his only son for having been a naughty kid. He realized what was missing then.
He owed his dad one last conversation. A goodbye. That much, in exchange for everything else.
His fingers weren’t steady as he dialed the number; half because he was brimming with emotion and half because he could feel the strength ebbing out of him. He took another drag and lay back on the pillow as the phone began to dial.
‘Hello?’ said a familiar voice on the other end.
‘Dad?’ he gasped. Speaking was starting to hurt.
‘Son?’ his dad’s voice became alert at once. ‘Is that really you? Are you okay?’
‘I’m fine dad.’ He replied. ‘It’s all good.’
‘You don’t sound good, champ. Is something wrong? Because if it is, you had better tell me now. It’s okay son, I won’t get mad.’
He laughed. ‘Dad I’m fifty. I’m not afraid of you being mad at me anymore, okay? But there is something I have to say.’
‘Yes?’ his dad asked tersely.
‘Remember how, all those years ago when you caught me taking my first smoke in the courtyard behind the house? You got really mad and you told me it would ruin me one day if I kept at it?’
There was silence on the other end so he spoke on. ‘Well, it sort of did dad. But I just need you to know that I appreciate every single time you raised your hand at me or spoke sternly to me. I appreciate the things you did, even if I could never be the person you wanted me to.’
‘Son…are you…? Is this…?’ His father’s voice was starting to crack and he wasn’t sure how long he could take it either but it had to get off his chest.
‘I’m just glad you’re my dad, dad. I guess all I’m trying to say is that I love you.’
‘Son where are you? I am going to come see you. I just need to know where you are. You’ll be fine. It’s all going to be fine, little guy.’
Before he could reply, his nurse bustled into the room and when she saw the cigarette in his hand, ran right to him and snatched it out of his fingers.
With his last remaining ounce of energy he just whispered. ‘It’s okay dad, we’ll meet again some day.’ And let the phone fall to the ground as he collapsed under an approaching white light