The 4th of February 1997, a day filled with extremes of joy and misery that I had never encountered in my life before. Those particular twenty-four hours consisted of two major events that completely turned my life around, throwing me into utter turmoil and disarray. I first heard the good news as I was leaving my primary school at about 3. 30pm with my younger brothers, when we bumped into one of our cousins who told us about the new bundle of joy who was a boy.I was extremely happy to hear about the new arrival in the family, before I even reached my front door step I was practically skipping all the way home with euphoria exploding like sparkling fireworks in my soul. When I entered the house, I expected it to be filled with happiness and bliss but instead it was silent.
I wandered about thinking, “What was wrong? ” I looked closely at my auntie’s face, who was looking after us. Her beautiful face that was usually plastered with a smile, now looked pale and puffy. I dared not ask her what was wrong and acted as though everything was fine.
But the problem was that nothing was fine. I felt that deep down, something was terribly wrong and I just had to find out. At the time I had this desperate need and urgency to find out everything I could. I couldn’t stand secrets, especially ones that were kept away from me. I asked my aunty how my mum was and then went upstairs. As I walked up the stairs all these different possibilities came bubbling up inside my head until I felt as if it was boiling.
At almost 6 o’clock, the phone rang. After one and a half rings, I quickly got up from my seat on the sofa and ran into my parents’ bedroom.I was too late; before I could even reach for the receiver someone else had beaten me to it. Something wanted me to pick up that receiver and hear the voice of the person on the other end. Straight away I knew it was a bad idea, but by this time I was desperate to know what was going on.
I slowly tip toed out of my parents’ bedroom and stood in the passage. I then took two steps down stairs and crouched down behind the banister so that my aunty who was on the phone wouldn’t be able to see me and yet, I’d be able to hear everything she’s saying.He’s stable at the moment but were all praying that he gets better soon and would be able to come home”. I could hear the tone of concern in my auntie’s voice as she carried on speaking.
“… I’m not sure, there’s one thing after another with him. First of all he’s underweight, pre-mature- whatever they call it and now they find something in his blood…
I wish there was something more I could do to help…
” My auntie’s voice broke off, and sitting on the stairs, in the darkness I could tell that she was weeping terribly.Until then, none of the conversation made any sense to me as I was only hearing one side of the discussion. All in a rush, it suddenly hit me, this wasn’t some big secret or gossip- it was about my new baby brother and from the sounds of things, there was something seriously wrong with him. I sat on the step, struck dumb and lost the ability of using all of my senses. My bottom lip started quivering and then a single tear rolled down my cheek and before I was able to stop them, I heard footsteps running down the stairs.
I didn’t know who it was but whoever they were, I certainly didn’t want them to see the tears streaming down my face. I quickly got up and hid behind the living room door. When I was sure that the person who was in such a rush to go somewhere was out of sight, I hurriedly made my way to the bathroom.
Once inside, I bolted the door shut and sat on the toilet. I cried and cried hysterically until I felt tired and had the feeling that there were no more tears left. I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror.
The memory of everything brought back the depth of my emotions. I peered closer at my face in the mirror.I saw myself crying, and I wanted to stop myself, by taking my frustration out on someone or something. I had been on the verge of tears ever since I heard my aunty speak on the phone. I didn’t know what the time was, and had no intention of finding out. I walked to my bedroom in the darkness of the passage, felt around for my bed and then slowly crept in under the thick, warm covers of my bed.
I shut my eyes tightly and wished with all my might that my little brother would be in good health soon, before falling into a restless sleep. Many hours later, a ringing sound woke me up.I could see through the gap between my curtains that it was still dark outside and thought to myself, “Why on earth is my alarm clock going off now for? ” I listened to it ring twice more, before realizing that it wasn’t my alarm clock, it was the telephone. I was annoyed at the fact that somebody was so sad and shallow minded to phone at what probably was in the middle of the night and wake everybody up. Just then the ringing stopped and I heard my dad grumble something into the phone that sounded like, “Hello”. I must have drifted off again, because I was woken up for a second time. the cries of my dad calling my aunty.She flew out of the bed opposite me almost giving me a heart attack because I didn’t think anyone was sleeping in it.
I heard her go down the first flight of stairs and asking my dad what was wrong. After a very long pause, I heard my dad reply, “That was a phone call from Bangladesh… Shahinur’ s grandma has passed away”.
I couldn’t hear my dad nor my aunty say a word, I held my breath thinking perhaps I had heard wrong. My aunty then first spoke asking what had happened and then saying a quick prayer in Bengali. I recognised it as the one you should say after you hear about the death of somebody.I couldn’t believe it, my grandma had passed away and I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye, let alone see her one last time. I just thought it wasn’t fair.
Why did God have to take the good people away? Why? I felt devastated and what hurt me more was the thought of my mum finding out. I knew she was ill and if she found out about this, then it would surely make her much worse and I didn’t want that. Then the stream of tears started again and this time I just got it out of my system, letting the tears fall like a well overflowing with water.
I must have been crying for a while, because those were the tears that put me to sleep. The next morning, I woke up feeling as if my head was stuffed with cotton wool and my eyes had been glued shut. I squeezed them hard for a few seconds and then lay awake in bed for a minute or so- thinking. From the second I was able to open my eyes, reality hit me.
I remembered what had happened earlier on in the morning. I let a few teardrops roll down my cheek, not bothering to wipe them away with the back of my hand.I dropped my head on to the pillow I was clutching and groaned. I wasn’t ready to go downstairs and face everybody, but I also knew that if I left it for too long then somebody might get suspicious. After having a quick wash and getting dressed, when I finally had the courage to go downstairs and was convinced that my eyes didn’t look red, I sensed that there was a tense atmosphere enveloping the whole house in a fog of downhearted grief. I heard voices coming from the kitchen and recognised them instantly belonging to my aunty, aunty in law and next-door neighbour.I weakly walked in and as I did, the room fell silent and all pair of eyes was looking at me as if I was a hardened criminal. Everyone sat around the huge mahogany table, each with a cup of tea set in front of them- cold by the looks of it.
It was obvious that everyone in our house had lost his or her eating habit. By the look on everybody’s face and their weak attempts at hiding the misery, I didn’t think they were at all aware that I was awake at the time when the phone call arrived from Bangladesh. I started a conversation, babbling on, disguising the pain I was feeling with false enthusiasm.My younger brothers and sisters weren’t conscious of what was going on and didn’t understand. All they did was wander around with curiosity and confusion etched on their innocent faces.
Although at the time, I was only 11, I knew and understood a lot of things that weren’t meant for me to know. I felt neglected and abandoned because no one was taking notice of how I was feeling. Then again I chose not to think about those feelings because they were selfish and I was only thinking about myself.
I was mutilating myself up inside of me scarring and wounding myself.Outside I had to show this bubbly 11 year old who had just been gifted a little brother and who, but inside, the other part of me who nobody could catch a glimpse of- had a feeling of great loss. I couldn’t explain to myself why I felt this way, although I didn’t know my grandma at all, and only met her once when on a trip to Bangladesh when I was only 7 years old, I grew close and fond of my grandma and had a profound effect on me- mentally and emotionally, although in a peculiar sort of way, I felt as though I wasn’t allowed to reveal those feelings and had to keep everything bottled up inside myself.I remember asking myself several times, “Just what exactly is my problem? ” If I knew that, I’d have all the answers. I thought that I was an emotional screw up; a complete waste of space and no one even began to understand me. I thought that I was guilty, that I was responsible for the tragedies inflicted upon the family. Afterwards in the early evening, my aunty and I went to the hospital to see my mum, and of course my little brother. I know I should have felt excited and enthusiastic but I just couldn’t summon up feelings of happiness inside of me.
As me and my aunty walked through the vast automatic doors, she encouraged me to smile and cheer up. I felt my spirit rise a little at the knowledge that my aunty had noticed that I was feeling low. After asking for directions and then finally finding the room, my aunty walked straight into the fairly large room while I stood in the doorway, hesitating before entering the brightly lit room.
The butterflies in my stomach were making me feel slightly uneasy. My aunty called me over from the doorway gave me a little smile of sympathy and I went and stood beside her.It was then that I saw my baby brother for the first time. Once I looked at him, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off him until my aunty gently nudged me in my ribs and asked me, “Aren’t you going to ask where your mum is? ” I looked around the room- puzzled, my mum was nowhere in sight. Just then a nurse walked in and my aunty asked her where my mum was. The nurse politely said that because my mum’s blood pressure was high, she was taken to another ward. My aunty took the name of the ward along with the bed number and went to see my mum, while I still remained by the side of my little brother.
I felt really, truly happy. In fact, I couldn’t ever remember feeling this happy before. He seemed so tiny in this big room and all I wanted to do was wake him up, hear him cry and then hold him in my hands for the first time. Yet, I just let him sleep in the cot peacefully. His skin was so white that I could almost see the blood circulating around his body. After a short time elapsed, I became restless and started looking around the room.
I saw a clipboard and written on it was information about my brother.I curiously began reading what was written on the page and soon discovered that my brother’s weight was 5 pounds 4 ounces. So that was what my aunty meant when she was on the phone telling someone that he was underweight.
Also written on the page was a word ‘anaemia’. I had no idea what the word meant, but the first thing I did when I came back home that evening from the hospital, was run upstairs and find the dictionary. I looked up the word ‘anaemia’ and was shocked to read that it was a poor condition of the blood that makes a person pale.It seemed that illness was stalking our family and were its vulnerable victim. On the 16th of February, my mum and little brother arrived home. It was almost a week and a half after the birth of my brother and the death of my grandma. I felt that my baby brother didn’t receive the welcome he truly should have received. By this time, mostly everyone knew what was going on- except for my mum.
This was because my aunty and my dad thought it would be best if she fully recovered before she found out the news, because it could result in her having high blood pressure again.I felt guilty and angry with myself for keeping something so important as a secret from my mum. I wanted her to know what was going on, but I had to think about the circumstance and the consequences of confession. I did not want to jeopardise my mum’s health or risk pushing her into a mourning crisis. I should have been brave and brought up the subject about the death of my late grandma, clearing the air there and then.
But the time had never been right and the tension inside me just got worse and worse as the days went by.Relatives and neighbours continuously came round to see how my mum was coping before even knowing what had happened, and they used my little brother as an excuse for coming around. I knew why they were coming to our house so often and at the time I felt annoyed and had the awareness that they were intruding and that their presence was a constant reminder of my grandma, but now I know and understand that they were doing everything possible to help and make things easier for my mum.That day, the phone rang non- stop and each time it was someone other than my mum answering the phone.
On one call however, my mum picked up the phone. She didn’t say anything for a moment and then suddenly said, “Who are you? What’s wrong with my mother? ” At that instant my aunty grabbed the phone from my mum’s hand and demanded to know who it was. I stood on the staircase and watched everything take place before my own two eyes. My aunty was red in the face now, as whoever was talking to my mum less than thirty seconds a go was no longer speaking.I could see the anger in her eyes.
I didn’t think I’d ever seen her this furious- she was practically breathing fire. My aunty stared at what seemed like the silent receiver and shuddered before placing it back on the hook. My mum stood motionless and then collapsed to the floor.
No one said a word for a minute, which seemed like eternity. My mum burst into out of control tears and we all got a gesture that we wouldn’t need to tell her anything, because she already knew.