I saw him on the sidewalk today, a decade after he died.
What? Are my eyes deceiving me? Is it real? Or am I in one of those dreams where he never died? He was selling T-shirts. He didn’t look the way he used to. He aged, a lot. He aged more than 10 years and it was showing off on his face.
I went up to him on the pretext of buying a T-shirt, so that I can get a closer look at him. Talk to him to find out if he’s actually alive or was it a dream of mine. I chose a white colour T-shirt, a colour that he liked a lot. As I was talking to him about the cloth, the material, the price, I got a good look of him. He hasn’t changed much, although he had aged a lot. The voice was the same, it had the same clarity as it had before.
It would be a great thing if this wasn’t a dream. I pinched myself to make sure. It hurt. Not a dream, I thought. But still, my brain was telling me that my eyes are deceiving me. That he is not the same person whom I knew. That he is just an illusion of my mind. My heart said the opposite. But how could he be alive? Is this a miracle? Am I mistaking someone else for him? It didn’t sound possible that he is alive again.
But how could he be alive today when he died about a decade ago. I buried his body at the funeral, or what was remaining after the fire that broke out in his office. It was a normal day in the office till the fire broke out, the reports said. Most of the damage was already done by the time the fire brigade had arrived. Then, how could he be here? If he was alive, why didn’t he come back? It was not as if he had to sell T-shirts to make a living. He was a billionaire. He had enough money to do whatever he want. I thought it was my brain playing tricks on me and justified myself with that.
It was a momentary justification and satisfaction. A few moments later, my brain has started playing out all the What if scenarios in my head. It kept pestering me with possibilities of him being him. It was asking me, isn’t that your dad, alive now?
My dad, the day he died, I was planning for my birthday, which was just a week later. I was a small kid, just in my teens, with many kinds of imaginations of how my birthday celebrations should happen. My dad had asked me to prepare a list of things that I wanted, the way my birthday party should happen and everything related to it. I think he gave my mom a budget, so that I don’t go over it. My mom was helping me plan it and then we were supposed to give it to dad in the evening. He would then arrange all that is possible in that.
As Mom and I were checking the list, a phone call came. We thought it was from dad. It was a time when there were only landlines. I wanted to tell him everything that I had planned. I was so excited. But we never thought that it would be a call that would change our lives. Entirely. Everything went in a haze after that. My entire birthday list got replaced by a single item. A single wish. I want to see Dad. I wrote in that. And the day of my birthday, I cried. I cried till tears ran out of my eyes. Then I cried again. I couldn’t get sense of my life till another 6 months. My mom was so supportive, instead of losing someone she loved. She didn’t want to lose me too.
And now, my life has a chance to change entirely, again. If he really was my dad, then it would change my entire life. Something told me it was him. Something told me it was not. I decided to do another check. I didn’t want to tell Mom till I’m really sure. I was getting excited and with that I think I barely got two hours of sleep.
I went there early to see if he would come. I sat in a café opposite to the place and started waiting with a cup of coffee. And he was in the same place today too. He had a bag, where he kept all his T-shirts. He had a decent dress, not the classy types he used to wear, but a normal T-shirt and a jeans, with a jacket. He had a long beard, a dirty face, basically everything that was typical of a homeless guy.
As he was about to start his selling, I went up to him and asked him if I could take him for a cup of coffee and grab a bite. He was a little surprised at the fact that someone had come up to him to offer him food. Or that was how he looked. After we sat in the café and grabbed something to eat and a cup of coffee, he started eating quickly. The manner in which he ate showed the hunger he was feeling. I have no idea when he had his last meal. Last night? Yesterday morning? Even before that? I could not tell.
After he had finished eating, I asked him if he wanted more. He replied with a nod and I ordered some more food. I think his hunger was satisfied a bit, he started eating slowly and then asked me “Why are you doing this, child?”
Child. It momentarily reminded me of the days where dad and I used to talk for hours. He used to refer to me as child sometimes, when we role played fantasy books. He used to be the oracle and I, the protagonist. We used to create our own scenarios and we played a lot. And “Why are you doing this, child?” was his favourite line. Probably that is why, I guess, he always was the oracle, or the seer, or the wise old man.
“Are you my dad?” I asked him. Shit. This was not how I planned to move the conversation. But when he asked me that question, I couldn’t stop my excitement and I asked him.
“Yes, I am” came the reply.
What? He was my dad? Why did he hide from all of us? And how was he even alive? Questions started running in my head, all of them were thought out for an entire night.
“How are you still alive? And why haven’t you come back when you were alive?” I asked him.
“I’m not sure how to tell you this, child. But I have attended my funeral. I have seen what would happen if I actually died. I was coming back to my office after having lunch. And that is when the tragedy happened. The fire brigade couldn’t recognize any bodies, so they couldn’t tell if I had actually died. I was burned and taken immediately to an ER. They were glad to treat and heal my burns, and by the time I had returned back to our home, it was my funeral”
“But if you would have come there, we would have had you back in our lives. We would have been grateful. Damn it, Dad. Did you know how many times we wished you were not dead? All this time, we struggled to get our lives together and you were happily alive, selling T-shirts. Why did you do that dad? Why?”
“I have been unhappy with my life, child. I have been unhappy at what I had become. I started off with a goal of earning enough money that I don’t have to work anymore. I hated the job I did and many times I wished I could restart my life all over again. And the fire gave me that chance”
“Don’t you think we could have been part of that? We all could have gone together. We could have restarted happily. But you were selfish. You wanted to do that alone. Did you, even for a moment, think of how your decision affects us? No, you didn’t” I was nearly in tears.
“I have thought about you, child. Every risk that I take would affect all of us. If I had started all over again, would you think that iy would be possible to give you the life you deserved?”
“Do you think I craved for all that? Without you, I wanted nothing of that. I just wanted you back” I started crying.
“I’m sorry, child. I’m really sorry that I have affected your life. I just hope you would understand the position I was in back then”
“Do you have any idea what position I was in then?” I burst out.
“No you don’t. That is why you have left. If you did understand, you would have told us and we would have supported you. But no, all you think about is yourself” I was at the top of my voice now. Everyone in the café was staring at me thinking why I was shouting at a homeless guy. I got conscious and toned down my voice.
“…” He was speechless. He couldn’t say anything. I felt bad that I shouted at him.
“Why did you leave?”
“I wanted to start all over again. I wanted to find myself. I lost myself in the crazy goal of earning enough money. Money will never be enough. And I was looking for an escape. The fire accident gave me just that. A means to escape. And I just took it. The window of opportunity was very small and I had to take it before it closes down.”
“Did you… find what you were looking for?” I just wanted him back. But I didn’t want him to be sad when he returns.
“I have understood that searching for something alone is not possible. So, I have returned. I have one thing to ask”
“Yes, dad. What is it?”
“If I come back now, would you forgive me and take me back?” he asked me.
Here I was, wishing for this moment, when he returns, for nearly 10 years and he comes back, to this. How crazy does life work.
“Yes, dad. All I ever wanted is have you back.”
“Thank you, child” his eyes were filled with tears.
“Happy birthday” he said, giving me a tight hug. I forgot that today was my birthday. How could I?
And my birthday wish has come true. 10 years later, though. But still, it came true. I have my dad back in our little family.