Did I spell her doom when I named her?
Sandhya: the elusive dawn. That illusory period of absolute serenity between day and night that leaves no mark. Only a fleeting memory.
Sandhya. I named her for the beauty and perfection of the twilight hours, yet did I spell her doom?
Why my daughter?
Sandhya. The suspension of time in the cosmic swirl.
My sweet child.
With trembling fingers, I clutched the paper that had extinguished my light. Weeks later we were all still trembling at the news. All of us but her. My Sandhya. The small, sparkling creature who once sat on my shoulders like it was a castle tower, as I showed her the world that would be hers someday. Now, the radiant young woman, on the brink of life.
My little Sandhya. The light of my life.
How can this light be snuffed out so soon? Yet, she remains as steady as an unwavering flame.
I watch her as she walks across the Earth in her last moments kissing everything she touches.
Feeling every breeze. Tracing the gentle roll of the morning dew along a leaf.
Through the tragedy, through this news of doom, she is as calm as the horizon, while we rage on like a river hurtling toward a cliff.
How does she, in the innocence of her youth, understand the impermanence of this world while I, in my wizened age, flail in fear?
She planned on doing so many things someday. Now there is no someday. Any day could be her last. She has only today. Only the today that is as short lived as the dusk. How could this happen when the day is just beginning for her?
Like a dream she will vanish in a blink but live on in the creases of our souls.
Did I spell her doom when I named her?
Restless nights since they had found out. Her parents checking in on her several times a night. Staring at her with tear stained faces. Staring into the void. Neighbors wondering in whispers about the stream of relatives anxiously calling, visiting, staying over unexpectedly to console her inconsolable parents.
Like daylight slipping over the city in the early hours of the morning, she found a pocket of time to slip out of her bed and into the still darkness of the morning.
With her arms clasping the sides of the doorway, she stood swaying back and forth on the gadapa, the liminal space of the threshold, separating the family room from the verandah. A jasmine scented breeze drifted through the coconut tree that leaned protectively over a flower garden, giving her the feeling of vaulting into the wind like a bird.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness enveloping her, she spied a silhouette sitting on the wall surrounding the property line of their house. She ran across the rain dampened earth toward it, and hooking a foot into the niche of a missing brick, pulled herself up to sit astride the wall next to her cousin. “Good morning. I thought I’d find you here. Away from everyone.”
“It’s the middle of the night,” he said barely glancing at her. “You should be sleeping.”
A stream flowed by serenely on the other side of the wall. “Remember when we were little, you used to get us in trouble by taking us swimming in the stream? I’m glad you’re here. I mean I’m glad all the family is here, all the cousins and aunts and uncles in our house again. It almost feels like it’s somebody’s wedding or something. But I guess it’s not, huh? Anyway, I’m especially glad you decided to come. You always had my back when we were kids.”
He didn’t move his head, but she sensed him tensing up.
“Ravi, I have to do this. I will do this with or without you, but I’d like your help. They shouldn’t have to see me like that in my last days.”
“I don’t agree with you, Sandhya.”
“I know, but it doesn’t matter.”
“I know.” He put a cigarette between his teeth. Then, drawing out something from his jeans, he clicked it and a small flame appeared. The embers at the tip lit up in the dark like a star in the night sky.
She gasped as the pungent smell of ganja wafted to her, mingling strangely with the jasmine vine behind her. “Wait, is that a marijuana joint? I didn’t think you would bring any since the whole family is here. Can I try?”
Smoke streamed out of his nostrils. “No.”
Ignoring him, she snatched the joint from his hand.
He tried snatching it back, but she held it away. “It’s on my bucket list and it is supposed to ease my pain. I’ve never tried one before. I've never done a lot of things.”
She put the joint to her mouth and inhaled.
“Like leaving home all of a sudden?” He asked.
“I know you don’t like my plan, but will you help me? Please?”
“Yeah.” He turned his head to look at her. Despite the darkness shrouding his expression, she could tell he wasn’t smiling.
“Why don’t you agree?” She waved a hand over the smoke.
“Does it matter?”
He shook his head and looked away. “They deserve to spend as much time as they can with you. You can’t just disappear.”
“Yeah, I get that. I really do, but eventually all that will remain of me will be their memories. I need to make sure they are good memories. Besides I don’t want to burden them with my pain.”
“It’s not a burden, Sandhya. All they want to do is take care of you. You can’t deprive them of that.”
“All I want to do is take care of them. It’s my only chance. It’s not like I’m asking you to kill me.”
“In the months that you have left, why would you not let them spend time with you?”
“I will. From the moment we leave, we’ll video chat and we can record everything that I see and all the places I visit and they will see it all with me...until I realize that it’s time. At which point I'll...I’ll end it on a happy note.”
“Don’t they have the right to share in that joy with you?”
She shook her head. “We all know it won’t last. They’ll worry about me the whole time even though they can’t do anything about it. Look at them,” she gestured to her house behind her. The sparkling embers at the end of the joint looked like a minuscule sun dancing in the night. “They’ll wither away looking out for me and after I’m gone that’s all they’re going to remember of me. I want to do this, Ravi. I want to lift off from the ground and merge with the sunrise.” She took another drag and gave it back to him.
“That’s all fine and poetic, but it’s what you want.” He pointed the joint accusingly at her. “Don’t you think that’s selfish? What about what they want? What about what they need from you right now?”
“See, this is why I’m asking you. I may be dying, but you still treat me the same. You’re even getting high in front of a cancer patient. You don’t treat me like a bomb that’s about to explode. I’m still me. With you, I can be myself and forget about their fear and anxiety. I don’t have the time to worry about hurting their feelings. I don’t want to constantly be reminded that I’m sick. My life is going to be taken but I won’t give it up so easily. Everything that I dreamed of doing someday, I will do now. Today. All that any of us have is today and maybe a someday, so we put off today. I have only until today sets into tomorrow.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose and breathed out a jet of smoke from his mouth. “You still don’t understand, do you? You’re the one dying, so you have this surreal detachment. You’ve already made your peace with it. Or you think you have. When you start to get really sick, Sandhya, it won’t be easy. You’ll cry for your mother and beg me to bring you home. And at that point, I will. I’ll take you on your little adventure and you can start crossing things off on your bucket list, but as soon as you ask to come home, I’m bringing you home.” She tried to interrupt, but he plowed on, “The rest of us have to watch you suffer while we helplessly stand by. Maybe sixteen is too young to understand how painful it is to lose a loved one or watch them deteriorate into something that’s hardly human. Nobody is trained for death, Sandhya. Nobody is prepared. Especially for their child’s death. That’s all you remember--”
“--That is exactly my point, Ravi.” She punctuated each word with a lethal gap, “I’m trying to spare them all that. Nobody’s ready to see me die.”
“You seem to be.”
She shrugged. “Terminal is inevitable.”
“We could find ways around it. If you accepted treatment.”
“With what money?”
“Everyone in the family would pitch in for you.”
“I don’t want them to. It’ll just delay the inevitable and cut into life savings.”
Suddenly she felt a sharp jab to her brain and she swayed. The world went out of focus and the stars came unstuck from the dark canopy of the sky and danced together before her eyes. “Wow,” she gasped. “Now I know why you’re always stoned.”
Ravi caught her arm and held her steady on the wall.
I am Sandhya...Dawn...Dusk...
I was named for the beauty and perfection of the twilight hours.
I am Sandhya. Just like this dawn ascending on the horizon, I won’t live long.
All that lives must come to an end.
I am the one at the brink, but I will not reach the next step. I am the junction between night and day. If I can’t make it to the next step, then let my time here be infinitesimally beautiful.
Every day must set into night but every night rises into a bright and beautiful day.
With my final breath, I leap into the sunrise on the horizon and travel the world with the sun.
Think of me when you look upon each sunrise and each sunset, but just as the twilight cannot linger, don’t let your thoughts linger on my memory. Let it be fleeting and serene.
The darkness of the night that now surrounds you will gently brighten so that once again you may see the morning dew on every flower.
Like a dream, I vanish in a blink, but live on in the creases of your soul.
I am Sandhya...