October 27, 2016 | Narrative
ashes and pixels
Sometimes when snow falls, you think of her. You think of how you never imagined seeing in your mind, over and over again, her body crumpling as the flames ate her toes and her hair and her belly button until all that was left was white dust just like the snow that is enveloping you silently.
You have never met her and never will. But you sit at the piano and you sing. You sing as if you could sing to her, this stranger you have had so many imaginary conversations with. You sing to heal the cracks on her skin, to remove the blankness of her eyes, to take away the whiteness of her tiny mouth.
The only image you’ve seen of her is her laughing on a merry-go-round, just like any other seven-year-old. What the camera can’t show, what no one can see, is the tumor in her brain growing to the size of an apple.
Six months after the diagnosis she’ll go through surgery. Some days she won’t be able to get up. She’ll crave pizza but forget she ever wanted it. She won’t be able see past her hand. She’ll scream in anger and her face will no longer be her. And she’ll laugh just as quickly and it will be her again.
You know her only through her brother. He asks if you were crying on the phone. You were trying not to. All you seem to be able to do is stare into the blue and white of cyberspace separating you from her and say you’re sorry and use dumb emoticons.
He asks for your help, and you rejoice because, finally, you feel useful. Instead, he writes:
A year with her or a few happy days? A year with rashes, psychological problems, hair loss, vision loss and memory loss? For the illusion that medical sciences *might* find a cure for cancer in the next 12 months? There is always a chance that things might go right and she comes out fine. Or do we let her go?
You want to say: How do I know? I don’t want to hurt you. Why are you asking me? Let me help you. Instead, you look at the white box and let the space between you widen until you know you’ll never be able to cross it again.
You decide that night to name your own daughter after her. Riya.
Later that night, you don’t expect him to write again:
I’m sitting right next to her. Can’t take her to the cremation grounds before morning. Last night with my little sister.
One day of silence. Another day. You go to school. A young girl passes you and you do a double take because she looks just like her. You stare at your brother until he refuses to be around you. What would happen to you if he were gone? Who would you be? The magnitude of the loss is as incomprehensible as looking at a skyscraper through a magnifying glass.
A year later, you’re walking and snow is falling. How do you love someone you’ve never met? you ask yourself. You think of how you used to imagine showing her the way the blue of the sea is really so many different blues together, a blue that makes you want to step inside and close your eyes because you know everything will be okay. But nothing will ever be okay for her.
She’s somehow in the space between New Delhi’s streets and Tunis’s empty ones. She’s suspended in cyberspace, within the pixels of the blue and white screen. She’s in the flakes that fall and melt on your skin, mixing you with her. She is snow and you are dust.