A true story of a dear friend who passed away of cancer, and who taught us to live life queen size, even as she lost hers.
Asha was not keeping well. Any of these days could be her last. Dressed in a yellow tee and petticoat, she is hardly able to hold up her lean and tender body all by herself and rests it against the love of her life, her man, who sits beside her all day long, all night long, stroking her hair with a caress, just like the way he must have done when they met the first time. The more his gentle fingers move through her hair, the more she cuddles up in his lap. There are no words exchanged between them. No tears. No complaints. No parting hugs and kisses. Just a sense of deep love which they will hold for each other forever after, a feeling that even death will not let them part with.
It was exactly one year ago, in one of these monsoon months, that I first met Asha during our evening walks in our residential apartment lawns. Young women and ageing ladies matched each others’ strides with swift paces and connected to each other with one common perennial cause – “How the hell do I lose weight?”
We’d hardly moved some fifty steps ahead when suddenly it started raining hard. Everyone began running around to look for the nearest shelter. Except for four crazy women who had ditched their sports shoes, cell phones and wristwatches to look up right in the face of sky and taste the torrential showers that had already begun soaking them from head to toe. It was us! Drenched, dancing in rain and laughing at each other! That evening, the relentless downpours got four girls connected by the petrichor of friendship. Who knew that for one of them, this could be her last walk in the earthly rains?
A month later, Asha had begun complaining about backache. On our walks, she would request us to bring our pace down so that she could match with our walking tempo. Until one day she suddenly broke to us the fearful news of cancer growing inside her in the fourth stage.
She’d invited us for a coffee over a karaoke night at her home to break the news to us. We were amazed! This is certainly not the way the big-C news is meant to be broken. Dipped in cappuccino froth? Humming a Bollywood song on microphone? Dancing along with her husband? Had this woman lost it completely? Or, was the entire family nuts?
Over the next few months, Asha proved she was indeed a little beyond nuts to be fighting the big battle with such courage that it certainly fell beyond the forte of a human in flesh and blood. She was not just an ordinary warrior.
After every chemotherapy, she took a stroll at the beach side with her man, hand in hand, watching the sun set romantically behind frothy waters. With every strand of hair she lost, she flaunted her latest stock of printed scarves and gave us hands-on tutorials on our much-besotted requests on how to wear it Afro-style. At one point, she’d laughingly remarked as to why she ever wasted huge sum on re-bonding her hair when all it took was a shaved head and a silk scarf to make her look drop dead gorgeous? With every blood platelet that her body was giving away, she was spending meaningful time with her friends sitting beside the fountain pond in the green lawns, now that she could not walk much. A sanitizer, a mineral water bottle and a mobile is all she ever carried in the name of constant companions.
With every passing month that got her weaker, she was looking towards life with even more gratitude, love and admiration.
Time flew by. We kept meeting on and off.
And one day, I was told that I must see Asha while there was still time.
I walk inside her immaculately done home. Her bedroom is lit dim. I take a look around and see every nook and corner decorated with artefacts and embellishments that must have been picked up after a thousand deliberations of an expert aesthetic eye. The décor is free of clutter and completely sorted, just like how Asha has always been.
Too much water retention has left her face and body swollen, and she barely manages to see us through her puffed eyes. Her tender hands have several bruises due to the blood transfusions that she takes every fourth day. Her salt and pepper hair has grown back after an ineffective chemotherapy having been stopped in the middle of treatment. Medicines are no longer useful to her. Yet, there is a faint smile on her lips when she sees us. The smile that mocks the tyranny of poor death playing on her frailty, but not being able to conquer her free spirit!
Asha doesn’t talk much and prefers to rest in silence. There was a time she would find it ridiculous to keep giving unnecessary explanations to foolish visitors who came to sympathize with her, or who made her feel weak by reminding what she’s going through. However, she’d still call for some of us. But today, she’s too weak to figure out who has come to see her. I wish she would jump off from her bed and ask me to pick up mic to sing her a karaoke song for her or insist that I write a long essay on her wild travelling experiences, or take me to a tour of her terrace garden, every plant of which she has groomed like her babies.
I wish, like always, she asks me how she looks so that I could tell her that earlier she looked just beautiful and now she even looks brave. She may appear pale and weak but her fighter’s spirit has put oncologists who’ve given up on her to shame. She may have to bear intense physical pain but she’s still a source of strength to everyone around her. Like a warrior in the dark, she resonates with her name’s true meaning – the ‘hope’ to live, love, dream, dare, inspire, and all with such bravery that puts even death to shame. If that is not a celebration of life, what is?
The night is deepening for those who are sure of their next morning. For the warriors who are putting up a fight all night long, this one moment is all they ever wanted. No one can stop them from making the most of it, not even the horror of an impending death. In the end, it’s not the years in life that counts but the life in years that does. A lesson Asha wants us to learn, a little hard way though.
Author’s Note: This article was written and uploaded for Asha on 08th Sept, 2016. We lost her forever the next day. Her fond memories and unwavering courage till the last hour, remain an inspiration.
Image source: shutterstock