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Sunday, 17 February 2013

How lives end

The bizarre process of dementia is taking my father on a reverse journey: from independent adulthood he progressed to childhood, when he clapped his hands, delighted at watching movies of animals and playing games. About two years ago, he took his last steps and slipped into bed-ridden infancy. He is now past the babbling stage, only smiling when he hears a familiar voice. We can only observe and feel helpless.

A few days ago I got out of the underground station at Shahrerey, where a number of taxi drivers usually stand around calling out for passengers. One of them, holding a small glass of tea, came up to me.
“Where are you going, haj khanum? The university?”

He was dishevelled and untidy, but I didn’t have the nerve to ignore him. I followed him to his car. He finished off his tea, opened the boot and put the empty glass in it.

The rear windscreen bore a funeral announcement like the ones stuck on walls. I sat in the rear seat. The driver wore a black shirt, had a grey, untidy beard. After a couple of minutes of silence, he mused, “When one’s wife is alive, one doesn’t appreciate her. She used to prepare some breakfast at least; now I have breakfast in the car, and go home all alone in the evenings, no-one to talk to…”

“May God grant her peace,” I whispered. “Was she old?”

“Only forty-five, but she had had a stroke and a heart attack. She had survived the bombing during the Iran-Iraq War. Our house fell on her and she was rescued after two hours. I was at the war front then. Out two-month old baby had been with her too, but he died under the rubble. This affected her speech, and gradually she spoke less and less, until her heart gave way.”

“May this be the last of your sorrows,” I said, finding refuge from my feelings of inadequacy in the conventional formula.