She fell asleep. Back against the side of the cold metal bed, forehead pressed between her knees.
As if she just had a nightmare, she woke up, sweating nervously. “Are you okay?” “Do you feel sick?” “Do you want water?”
“No, mom. I’m fine. You look pale.”
She wiped the sweat off her face and sat on the bed, carefully observing her son. “Go back to sleep, it’s still dark.” She wrapped the blankets gently around her son, and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Mom, I’ve been asking you this for a long time. When will I die? I know I don’t have very long. Do me a favour. Please.”
For a moment she avoided his eye contact and instead stared at the crescent moon through the window. Eventually she would have to tell him. She knew that. But it just felt too cruel. Why did he have to be diagnosed with such a deadly disease? How could anyone do this to such a kind child with a bright future ahead of him? Why can’t it be me? Her eyes started to water, and she quickly wiped away the tears, turning back to him.
“I will tell you,” she said, her gaze fixed on him. “But promise me you will continue with the injections and pills. Look, who knows, maybe you are just one of the lucky ones that will make it?”
“The doctor said less than a month. You’ve got to be strong. I believe in you. You will be one of the lucky ones.” They hugged tightly as ever, grasping onto each other for dear life.
Days like this did not stay for much longer as they eventually said goodbye. As she sat by the metal bed once again, there was no coldness or warmth, but this haunting lifelessness that clang in the air. She would often doze off during the day, reminiscing about their last days together. They had gone on this last journey together down south. It wasn’t like they could play much or visit many places. But just having time together away from home made both of them feel much easier about what was going to happen next. At times, they would completely forget about the illness and behave just like bewildered tourists. It was during that last journey, where they found it. A lost dog, with stitches and wounds all over. She never liked dogs, nor wanted any pets. But for her son, they brought it back and gave it a home. So it was to no surprise, when he passed no more than a month after, the dog was given away to a friend to look after.
A few months later, she decided to go on that same journey she went with her son. She walked down the same streets that they did together. She went to the same restaurants. She listened to the same songs. But nothing felt quite the same anymore. That night, she sat on the brick wall by the coastline, back facing the ocean. The wind heavily brushed against her as she sipped on the empty beer bottle. She watched the cars speed past her, wishing one of them would take her away, far away from this place so she could forget about everything and start a new life. Then he came. He sat by her feet, and just like the dog they found before, he was wounded and cut all over. She tried to ignore him at first. When she started walking away, back to her car, the dog followed her. She started the engine and reversed the car out of the parking lot. Just as she was about to turn, the dog ran towards the car, barking for help. She halted to a stop, afraid she would hit him, and got out of the car to observe the dog. He was no longer barking, just silently sitting there, his troubled eyes staring straight into her.
Now as she would sit by the metal bed, no longer would she feel frightened by the idea of death, nor would she be haunted by the ghostly silence. She felt warmth. Something that had become so distant to her. When she was reminded of the past, there were no longer tears in her eyes, just a sense of nostalgia. She had named the dog after him, and although she lost him, she felt that he was right there with her. When she fell asleep against the bed, he would lie next to her, and nap under the morning sun. When she ran on the empty streets at night, he would be there, trotting next to her. He was always there. He never left.
Written by Kelly Ma and edited by Emily Chan. Published on 2/7/23. Photo from Unsplash.