He is standing there next to a mirror that his breath can’t fog. His misty self is quite uncertain how he got here. But now that he is here, he keeps his coffee brown beret, or the essence of it, on the console table. The table is a black and quirky oriental solid wood – on top of which, lies portraits of his two children. Mia and Sam. The last he recalls, Mia was four and had started to spell her name and enunciate words despite her steel braces. And Sam – that notorious Bugs Bunny – still hides comic books from his mom amidst the pile of his text books.
The living room is quiet, except for the rattling of windchimes and the periodic ticks of the wall clock. He endeavors to remove his muddy espadrilles, but he is not sure if they came out. He briskly walks over to the side, and places something; the espadrilles, an invisible weight of sorts, or simply the idea of a mass, on the shelf, with his arthritic fingers.
Then he lounges on the couch, that he remembers used to be less pale and shinier. The fabric now seems snagged and dirty; the lint balls and the fuzzy threads on the carpet underneath his feet, or what remains of it, tingle him. He is home.
And in this home, resides his beautiful family. The one he abandoned not so long ago. Or maybe it was long ago, and his comprehension of time is as feeble as the strength left in his spine. But what he couldn’t abandon was the sense of belonging. So on days like these, when the weather outside is a concoction of melancholy and yearning, topped with an eerie apprehension, he always finds himself home. And although he can’t recall why and when was the last time, he was brought in here, he can tell that each of those days were not mere co-incidences. His family had always needed him. Once Sam had broken his leg playing football and was bed-ridden for a month and the other time, Mia had fallen sick. A mild fever that wouldn’t go away for days. So, while she sprawled on her bed swaddled in a thick blanket, he sat next to her on the ground, caressing her forehead with his non-existent fingers.
But today could be anything. And his heart, or the sheer idea of it, can’t stop beating. It’s quarter to five now, and Sofie’s car would take a turn in the driveway any minute. Soon, the children would bust the main door open, bickering over who should have sat in the front seat and who needs to do what share of cleaning in the house. Then Sofie would also appear behind them, like she always does, balancing groceries in dozens of brown bags, lashing out at the munchkins to wash their hands before they ate anything. Rolling her eyes and sighing at the heaps of dishes shoved on the kitchen counter. And while the kids would ignore her commands, and munch over the yellow crisps, making the tidbits of it fall in the narrow chasm between couch cushions, she would pour herself a glass of ice water and sit next to the window staring outside at nothing.
He can almost foresee how the day might unfold, but he also hopes it’s just that. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that no one’s sick, hurt, or has gone missing. He hopes, no one else abandons what remains of his little home. Even though there are occasions where for a fleeting second the idea of him reuniting with his family if they ceased to exist, excites him, he is quick to jerk his missing head in disapproval at how selfish the thought sounds.
Caught in the glimpses of the past he doesn’t realize Sofie’s car is already here. And by the time he moves to catch a glimpse of his family, the toddlers are already passing through him, throwing themselves on the couch. Shutting their eyelids. Their feet dangling in the air, as if they aren’t attached to them. Sofie’s eyes are tired and barren. She stands near the dining table forever, unaware that she is fidgeting with a coaster. The room smells of her shampoo and the poetry of her grey scarf, that tightly wraps around her neck, is kind of like this passing moment – grey, dull and suffocating.
He calls out her name and cups her face with his palm. His voice is not a sound and his fingers aren’t of any color. She gasps. Drops the coaster on the ground. Then steps over it and walks through him to her bedroom. Their bedroom. Where she howls for what seems like a season, burying her face in one of his old crimson shirts. She sniffs the color and hangs it back on the side of the wardrobe that’s intact from the last time he saw it. T-shirts are stacked on one corner. Shirts on the hangers, ironed and straightened. Socks and vests in the half open drawers. Not a speck of dirt on any of these, as if he still lives there.
She then Sprawls on the bed, going through his photos, brushing the screen of her phone with her fingers, swiping left and right. Pausing. Gasping. And all this while, her eyes never blink and when they do, they shut down, trying to hold the fat tears inside.
Then there is a knock on the door and when she opens it, the kids hurl inside, holding candles, a knife and paper box as big as they themselves are. They all gather around the box, tear it open and close their eyes in a silent prayer.
On the cake is his own picture, where he looks like he has a joke to crack. A pleasant surprise to throw. He inhales the color of the cake. The candles flicker next to his nostrils. The air is still and the windchimes have grown louder. The piece of this love puzzle is missing.
Mia separates a big chunk of the cake, dropping crumbs of it on her skirt, and shoves some of it in her mom’s teary face, wishing her dad a very happy birthday. Wherever he is, he is not forgotten.
Late in the night, when the kids are asleep, his wife pours herself a glass of red wine. She looks at his photos for eternity, zooms in and out on his eyes. Reads his old texts. Chuckles. Cries. Chortles. And he wraps himself around her with his arms that he can’t feel, and sheds fat tears that don’t come out.