If you had been there, you would have never believed that Bapoo, my 94-year-old father, had late-stage dementia.
I had gone to visit him, as I usually did every day, to help him eat. As I entered the dining hall, he was not at his table. I quickly greeted his lunch companions, all in their wheelchairs, staring at nothing in particular. I proceeded to his room through the poorly lit narrow corridor filled with the stench of soiled garments.
He sat in his wheelchair next to his bed, facing the door, as though he was expecting someone.
“So you are here now,” he said, in a crisp voice I had not heard in a long time. I was startled.
His eyes were bright and focused. His posture was attentive, his head held high, his back erect against the wheelchair, as his hands gripped the armrests.
“Is all okay, Dad?”
“Tell me, am I to stay here forever or will I be going home?”
“Of course, you can go home,” I said, “as soon as you can walk.”
I attempted to step closer to kneel at his right leg, as I usually did, so he could see and hear me better. He raised his hand to stop me.
“But I can walk,” he said.
“Inshallah, God willing, you will be walking soon, and then you can come home,” I said, blurting out what I knew was not possible.
“Where’s my ring?”
For as long as I could remember, I had never seen him wear a ring, not even a wedding band. It was just not practical as for all of his adult life, he worked as a butcher.
“It’s the one with the red stone,” he said. “I want you to look for it and bring it to me.”
“Of course, Dad.”
We stared at each other.
“What about money, do I have money?” he asked.
“Yes, you have some, but most of it is spent on your stay here,” I said, bewildered. He had never asked this before.
“So I can’t come home today?” he asked again.
The sadness in his eyes gradually glazed over and became expressionless. His shoulders sagged as his head leaned slightly forward and he placed his hands between his knees, the posture that we had become used to over the past three years.
The Nurse in charge walked into the room.
“Hello Mr. Daya,” she said as she greeted my dad. She picked up a glass of water from his bedside table and brought it close to his lips. He gently pushed her hand aside. She tried again, and he turned his face away.
“I want to sleep” he mumbled.
As I pulled the comforter away, the nurse helped my dad onto the bed. He put his head on the pillow as I gently placed the quilt over him.
“He is a tired old man,” the nurse said as she left.
I sat in the chair next to his bed to reflect on the bizarre conversation.
Suddenly, I heard him say, “Obrigado.”
He stared at the ceiling, and before I could say anything, he turned on his right side, curled his legs, placed one hand under the pillow and the other under his cheek, and fell asleep. Eternally.
“Obrigado,” his last word, means thank you, in Portuguese. Our mother tongue is Kutchi, one of the many dialects of India.