Alisha Bose | Art by Christy Yu
“Papa. Papa, can you hear me?”
Mirza’s eyes struggled open. His children hadn’t called him Papa for years. “Hazza?”
If he squinted hard enough, he could imagine Hazza’s baby face, before he hit puberty. He could make out the crinkle of his eyes and his blinding teeth, straight now after years of braces.
“It’s me, Papa.” Hazza gripped his hand, gnarled and wrinkly, with tiny scars from projects gone wrong over the years. His wife had tried to stop him from working on his dangerous projects as they both grew older, but he wouldn’t listen to her. Age is just a number, he would defend. Ellie would laugh, and it wasn’t beautiful or sweet—it was a snort mixed with a sarcastic grunt that sounded strange to most people but Mirza loved it.
“I—“ Hazza struggled for something to say. His eyes fell helplessly on Mirza’s tired face. “Mona’s on her way. She’s stuck in traffic. All this rain.”
Mirza snorted, picturing his daughter harried in the city’s unforgiving traffic. “Traffic ruins everything, even my own death.”
Hazza choked back his sob. “Don’t say that.”
Mirza listened to the rain fall rhymically against the tiles. “You’re sad.”
Hazza half-laughed, half-sobbed. “You’re my father. I’d have to be pretty cold-hearted if I wasn’t.”
Mirza smiled. “You’re sad because I’m leaving you.”
“I’m sad because you’re leaving the world,” Hazza corrected. “I’m sad because you didn’t get enough time to do everything.”
“Not enough time?” Mirza laughed. “Haz, 82 years is quite enough for me. Once you get to my age… it isn’t so bad.”
“Then maybe it’s about me. Maybe it’s about how all these years with you still isn’t enough, and maybe it’s about how my kids never really met you because you lived halfway across the world.” Hazza refused to look him in the eye, focusing instead on his kids who were sitting somberly on the dining table with his wife. They were just barely visible from the doorway of Mirza’s bedroom.
A flash of sadness stabbed through him and Mirza forced it down. It was one of his biggest regrets in life—that he hadn’t found a way to keep in touch with his grandchildren. Annual visits just weren’t enough for them to truly know him. Their movements were awkward and uncomfortable in the house, and they treated him more like their father’s colleague than a member of the family.
But it wouldn’t do for him to wallow at this moment.
“Did they enjoy the flight?” Mirza hummed.
“They had TVs,” Hazza shrugged, a small smile tracing his lips. “It kept them busy.”
“Do they like the house?” Mirza asked. “You know, I have specific bedrooms for all of them. Maisie and Tom are sharing the one at the end of the hallway. I’ve installed some really cool things in there. What’s the word they use nowadays? It’s quite woke. I think they’ll find it to their liking.”
Hazza took a deep breath and looked back up at Mirza. “Papa—“
“—you’re selling the house.” Mirza said this with a sort of quiet finality and acceptance.
“I’m so sorry, but I talked it over with Mona and she said that she couldn’t afford to keep it and I don’t think I can either and we could try renting it out, but—“
“—I understand,” Mirza smiled. “Hazza, it’s alright.”
Hazza looked like he wanted to argue but at that moment, Mona burst in. She was outfitted in a dripping wet raincoat, her hair plastered to her face. She had a harried expression, but it immediately softened when she saw Mirza on his bed. She cautiously approached the bed and sat on the flowery duvet that Ellie had sewn years ago.
“You cut your hair,” Mirza commented.
Mona’s hand automatically came up to brush the tips of her hair. “It’s raining outside,” she replied stupidly.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, maybe drinking each other in, maybe wondering if this would be the last time they were all together this way, or maybe simply sitting there, together, but alone in their own way.
“Is Gina here?” Mona finally asked, referring to Hazza’s wife.
Hazza blinked. “Uh, yeah. The kids are in the dining room. They’re a little jetlagged.”
Mona nodded. Another few seconds of silence passed by, only accentuated by the great grandfather clock in the living room, its ticking loud enough to penetrate the bedroom’s wall. It was a few minutes off, as a result of Mirza’s tinkering, and it was never put back to normal afterwards.
“Papa, do you—“
“Can you get General Coco?” Mirza requested, disguising his cough a laugh. “I feel terrible leaving him alone. He hates the rain.”
Mona, who had been trying to speak, blinked in surprise. “Oh. Yeah, of course.” She returned moments later with General Coco, a brilliant green parrot who was hopping around excitedly in his cage.
“Hello! Hello! Hello!”
“Hello, my General,” Mirza smiled gently, lifting the bird out of his cage. “How are you?”
“How are you? How are you?”
“Just peachy,” Mirza chuckled, glancing at the kids. When they didn’t laugh with him, he set down General Coco on the bedside table. “Hazza, Mona, what is it?”
Mona let her tears fall freely, like Hazza and Mirza hadn’t noticed her holding them back before under the wetness of the rain. “What is it?! Papa, you’re dying.”
“Yes, I am.”
“I don’t want you to go. We can’t let you go. I’m—I’m not ready. Don’t go, Papa, don’t.” Mona leaned forward and pressed down on his free hand pleadingly.
“I’m not going anywhere bad,” Mirza laughed. “Unless you believe that I’ve done enough evil in my lifetime to warrant an eternity in hell?”
“Don’t joke,” Hazza muttered, picking at the side of the bed. “It’s not funny.”
“Isn’t it though?” Mirza returned amicably. “It’s just another step in the journey. Hopefully up, not down.”
“You shouldn’t be going,” Mona repeated stubbornly. Her raincoat was still buttoned up to her neck, most likely quite uncomfortable with the wet fabric.
“And your Ma should have?” Mirza questioned. At the kids’ chastised faces, he relented. “Do you remember the days leading up to it? The house was a mess. Sawdust and tools all over. The pantry consisted of milk and cereal, and there were multiple days where we would go without eating. I was a terrible father during that time. Ellie didn’t want that. She wouldn’t want this now.”
Mona nodded, but she didn’t seem convinced. Hazza just stared at General Coco who was steadfastly pecking the lamp. Their grips on his hands didn’t falter, but he could feel their hesitation.
“C’mere,” Mirza murmured, patting either side of the bed. “Come on.”
Slowly, both Mona and Hazza climbed onto the bed next to Mirza, just like they had done when they were children and half the size of Mirza. He would tell them stories about fantastical places that he claimed were real, and their mother would watch on from the doorway with a fond smile. The ritual had stopped after Ellie passed away. It didn’t feel right without her calming presence at the door. But right now, as Hazza and Mona lay next to Mirza, it felt exactly as if it were all those years ago, with Mirza telling his stories and Ellie waiting by the door.
Of course, they weren’t kids anymore and Mirza wasn’t the young father he used to be. Still, he started talking in his low, soothing voice, crafting a magical world for his children to live in one last time.
“It’s quiet there. It’s a small house on a small hill. It isn’t some sort of paradise where everything is perfect again, but your mother is there and that’s as close to perfect as I think I’ll ever see. The door leading to it is the same as the one in the house, down to the paint scratches and everything, The doorbell won’t work, of course. We’ll be quite sad without you two, so maybe we’ll get a dog.”
General Coco loudly chirped his annoyance, and Mirza smiled.
“General Coco will join us too, when he can, and of course we’ll love him just as much as the dog. Every afternoon after a huge lunch with as much bacon as your mother will allow, we’ll take a walk down the hill to watch the sky and point out the figures that the clouds make. Your mother will swear at the needles in her sewing basket when they prick her, and I’ll throw a hammer angrily at the floor whenever a project goes wrong.” Mirza sighed, his gaze fixated on the cracked ceiling that had been patched multiple times. “It’ll be—”
“As close to perfect as we’ll ever see,” Hazza repeated.
Mirza glanced at Hazza, his surprise almost imperceptible. “Yes. Yes, it will be.”
“I liked the story, Papa,” Mona murmured. “It was a good one. It’s gonna be a good one.”
The rain had let up just slightly, just so that the barrage of sound against the roof wasn’t so deafening anymore. Just out of the dirty window, the family could make out the faint hint of the orange sunset.
“Goodbye!” General Coco chirped, hopping onto a bedpost. “Goodbye! Goodbye!”
Mona let out a quiet breath. Hazza stared at Mirza, as if trying to memorize all the details on his face from the dots on his cheek to the crookedness of his nose.
“Hazza. Mona.” Hazza’s and Mona’s hands were light and soft to the touch. “I’m off to start another project.”
A quiet, almost buoyant sort of understanding passed between the family. Mirza eyes twinkled, his smile too infectious for Mona or Hazza to resist.