Sunday, July 14, 2013

Uncle Ricky

I had a hard time maneuvering my way through the crowd to an empty seat, as the usual morning rush of commuters disembarked from the train and surged to the exit.

Corporate types were seen with newspapers clasped under their arms, typing into their Blackberries while others sip their Starbucks brew. Students, yawning to stay awake, jabber excitedly to their friends or into their phones.

Most sport a pair of ear buds with cords trailing into pockets. I swear these things are taking over the world, one I-Phone at a time. Regardless, most commuters however were deep in thought, perhaps contemplating another day in the monotony of their lives.

This one tall man, immaculately dressed, whooshed passed me and almost immediately a recognizable odor assaulted my nostrils. That smell, one I had always remembered and kept close to my heart.

It's a mixture of many smells – disinfectant, drugs and lousy food. I know it so well because it's similar in every hospital. The smell must have permanently permeated his clothes and closet.

I believe that no matter how strong a detergent he uses to wash them, the smell will stay. I suppose it's a combination of the various drugs the doctors administer and that occasional metallic smell of blood, which can churn the strongest stomachs.

Each smell reminds us of something. Sometimes even, it brings back special memories.

I arrived at the hospital ward. Its patients were a combination of both sexes, across a wide age range. The eerie silence, hostile atmosphere and blinding white surroundings were unnerving.

Instantly, I could feel my emotions swimming in a sea of despair. "Why? Why of all people, did God curse Uncle Ricky with clinical depression? Why didn't the psychologist's sessions help? Why did the doctor give up? Why aren't they at least trying to save him? Why isn't there such a thing as a miracle? Why did depression lead him to that impulsive decision? WHY? WHY? WHY?"

There I was. Standing right before the door, speaking the language of Whys, and looking like a complete idiot.

Somehow, I plucked up the courage from inside of me and made my way into the Intensive Care Unit.

He was lying on the bed, wearing the ubiquitous white nightgown, with his right wrist clasped by an identification bracelet typewritten with a number. Translucent liquid flowed through the drips that were intravenously fed into the veins of his left wrist.

With the deafening silence persisting among family members who were there, I could even hear the sound of footsteps as other visitors walked down the long corridors that seemed to never end.

The nurses came in every now and then to check on him. Relatives and friends flooded in but because Uncle Ricky was unable to converse freely, they left quickly. He was in great pain, but yet he had a facade on whenever we were around for he didn't want us to worry. Even with the morphine doses, he was still in pain.

Paraquat. That extreme weed killer that he consumed was far too strong for any human's digestion. Bit by bit, his organs were burning; the poison was killing him slowly.

At that fleeting moment, as I stood there by his bedside, I couldn't digest the fact that my favourite uncle was hanging onto a slim hope of survival. As much as I wanted to help him, to save him from all the pain, I couldn't. I was helpless! I couldn't do anything; I couldn't pull him back into life.

Uncle Ricky, out of the blue gestured towards us siblings, his niece and nephew. He took my brother’s hand and held on tightly. "Happy birthday, Alex," he looked wanly at my brother and managed these words in a croaky, faint whisper. "Sorry, I won’t be able to get you a present…" he trailed off softly.

It's alright Uncle Ricky, don't be sorry. Just make sure you take good care of yourself and hang in there," Alex pleaded with emotion welling up inside him. Uncle Ricky managed a feeble smile.

My heart sunk and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. It touched me deep down inside, how he never fails to remember our birthdays, even when he was in serious pain. The tears kept flowing, and I had to hold my breath – to stop the sobbing.

It might be long since he left, 12 years to be precise. Nevertheless, every now and then, echoes of his voice and laughter sound at the back of my head. No doubt, it may be growing faint, but I doubt I will forget the Scrabble moments we shared together.

"So today, I am going to start with the word 'H-A-P-P-Y' again!" he said excitedly. He always got Alex and I all cracked up each time he was around. He was that happy-go-lucky confident man who never fails to plaster a big wide, goofy smile on my face every single time he dropped by to visit.

"Uncle Ricky, guess what? I'm first in class again this semester!" I said into the phone, with intense sensation.

"Good job, Mi! Alright, I'll keep to my words and get you a gift for excelling your exams with flying colours. I'll catch the rocket to space later and grab some stars back for you!" he joked.

That night itself, Uncle Ricky arrived at my doorstep with a huge, heavy box. I was astounded at the content of it.

It wasn't the right season, but he still arduously went in search of my favourite fruit - durian - for his little niece. Right at the bottom of the box stood an angel, who held on to a lucky star with tiny words engraved onto it. "You're always my number one!"


There was a knock on my door. Being a light sleeper, I woke up with a start. With my eyes feeling as though they weighed a tonne, I read dozily the time on my digital clock. "Mum, it's only 5.32am! It's another 3 hours before my extra class starts." I yelled at the top of my voice which was tinged with annoyance.

"Mi, we just received a call from your Aunt Lucy. Uncle Ricky left us this morning at 5," she explained in a crackled voice.

When those words hit me, everything just went blank. I was lost with words and could barely accept, let alone digest what I had heard. There and then, a hot tear worked its way down my cheeks, and within seconds, I just broke down and burst out bucket of tears. I've never felt so devastated before, never in my entire life.

Uncle Ricky: gone now. Gone to heaven. Forever.

I desperately did not want to lose him, but not wanting him to suffer either, I knew it was best for Uncle Ricky. He had had enough with the stifling atmosphere in the hospital. He wanted out of that stuffy room he was admitted into.

The funeral ceremony was the next day itself. Friends and family gathered in the cemetery to pay their last respects. When the arrangements were all set, the coffin slid out of the hearse and the undertakers hoisted it high on their shoulders.

My brother and I put one arm around each other’s waist and walked steadily forward, following the pallbearers towards the graveside. During the moment of silence, as prayers were said, I watched my own tears drip like crystals onto the green grass.

After the funeral service, dad drove us all home and mum made us our late lunch. Though I did not have my breakfast, I didn't have the appetite to stomach the food. Reminiscences of Uncle Ricky kept filling my mind. I finally collapsed, heartbroken. My whole body shook from the deep coldness I felt.


14th of July. Every year on this specific day, tears never fail to appear in my eyes, but inside my heart mingled a certain relief. For I know that Uncle Ricky is safe in heaven, and that he was relieved from all pain.

I don't have to close my eyes to see your face – your eyes behind that thick glasses, your mischievous grin each time you're up to something, and the shirts you liked to wear, freshly pressed, in colours none too bold. Anything. Everything. Uncle Ricky, I miss you.


The train, out of a sudden surged forward. I lost my balance and fell over. My books were scattered all over the place. Oh great, what a kick start to a Monday morning!

The tall man suddenly stopped in his tracks, bended down and helped me recollect my books. We got engaged in a short conversation, and it appears that he has been making frequent trips to the hospital which explains the strong smell from his jacket.

His wife was diagnosed with the final stage of leukemia. I couldn't do much but to offer words of encouragement. The train arrived at my destination, we bid goodbye and I steadily made my way to the exit.

I silently pray in hope that Uncle Ricky will bless her from above and that she'll be fine.


msihua said...

Oh my dear. Thank you for sharing your story. I understand your hurt and pain so well :( Bit by bit, we move on, but our memory never fades, though we are so scared we hold so tightly to them. BUG HUGS!

Iron Chef Shellie said...

*hugs* x10000000

Gone by not forgotten. I hope he blesses her from above too xx

Iron Chef Shellie said...

*hugs* x10000000

Gone by not forgotten. I hope he blesses her from above too xx

The Bakeanista said...

Thank you Msihua and Shellie! :) *big hugs for you two too* <3

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