I’d always known him as this strange and quiet old man that barely ever left his room, so imagine my surprise when he decided he wanted to go back home to India. Mom and dad tried to talk him out of it – not just because he was in poor health, but also because of what “they” might do to him if he returned.
Now normally I didn’t take any interest in his life, but all this made me curious. He’d been living with us for ten years – ten years ago my parents took him in because his health was failing and he had no one to look after him in India – and he was the least interesting person I knew. “Who are ‘they’?” I asked.
“The same people that took everything away from him,” my dad replied.
“That was a long time ago,” my uncle said. “They’ve all passed on. They cannot harm me now. ”
To me it was simple, and no skin off my back. “If he wants to, let him go,” I said.
“He can’t go alone, he’s too ill,” my dad replied “And we can’t get time off of work.”
“What about him?” my uncle asked, pointing to me.
My pleas for rest – I’d just finished my first year of university and needed winding down time – went unheeded. My parents gave me a choice: go get a job immediately or accompany my uncle back to India. I decided a three-week vacation suddenly didn’t sound so bad.
We didn’t say much to each other during the flight. I did notice, however, that this sickly old man, who spent most of the flight hacking up a storm, wouldn’t stop smiling!
We arrived at the village, and after my uncle retrieved the key from the caretaker, we walked over to his old run-down house.
“This was our home,” he said.
“‘Our’ home?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied proudly. “I lived here with my beautiful wife.”
I thought he’d always been single – too much of an odd duck to ever find a bride. “You were married?”
“For much too short a time,” he replied.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Her family decided I wasn’t good enough for her. They told her to leave me, but she refused, so they killed her. Then they paid to have me thrown in jail to punish me for having loved her.”
This boring old man I had avoided for so many years suddenly became the most interesting man I knew. We went inside but didn’t stay there long – he proceeded to the back yard and I followed. He stopped at a wooden swing set and sat down on one of the seats.
“We spent hours in this yard, swinging back and forth just talking.”
Every day while in India, my uncle would tell me more about the one true love of his life. If she had just been allowed to follow her heart, she – my aunt – would still be alive. He didn’t have time to mourn – he was thrown in jail on trumped up charges – and was only released when he became so sick that his jailors couldn’t take care of him any longer. And that’s when my parents convinced him to come to Canada.
Our final day in India was soon upon us, and I was sad to see it was ending. “We should get going to the airport,” I said.
“I’m not going back,” he explained, labouring as he spoke. “It’s time I joined her. She is waiting for me. Please help me up.”
I helped him walk over to the swing set in the back yard. He sat down on the seat and I backed away. He began to talk – but not to me. He was talking to her – about their future together, about everything they were going to do together.
At one point, he stopped talking, looked back at me, and said, “See? I told you she was beautiful.”
I smiled and nodded in agreement. I looked over at the empty seat beside him … I can’t say if it was just a gust of wind or something entirely different – but it was swinging ever so slightly, back and forth.
My uncle got up off the swing, and looked one last time back at me – he was smiling – it was a smile even bigger than the one he had when we first arrived – and then he slowly lay down and closed his eyes.
My uncle was no longer with us, but I couldn’t help but smile knowing who he was with. Once more they could be together.
by Gary Thandi