It was May. The garden was dressed in luscious greens and the water of the pool glistened outside. The outer porch had been contained with a screen structure. It kept the mosquitoes away and somehow gave the sensation of separating us from the heavy humidity of the air. There were beautiful flowers everywhere: orchids of different colours and sizes hanging from the ceiling, water lilies floating on a big plate sitting on a round table, hydrangeas of blue and white and pink. I was perturbed by the contrast between the beautiful environment and the situation at hand.
I had landed after a 10 hour flight just a few hours earlier and although I was experiencing no sense of jetlag—rather a rush of adrenaline in my veins—I did feel my head blurry. The lack of sleep and the strong emotions seemed to cluster in my brain like clouds coming together before the storm.
I sat on a chair by the bed they had improvised for her out there. Her eyes were closed, her breathing shallow. I held her hand, caressing her fingers which seemed to have shrunk since the last time I saw her. It calmed me to feel her pulse steady but weak as she rested. Someone walking in might have thought we were a quiet family. We are not. But that afternoon it seemed like we all surrendered to the crispy silence with ease, giving it space to hold the sacredness of those last days we were going to share.
It was very strange to see this strong dynamic woman so fragile under the colourful blanket. I kissed her hand and sensed a different fragrance in her skin, a smell I did not recognize as hers at all. She opened her eyes and I smiled as I saw the known spark in her eyes, the spark of her own smile that always started with her eyes softly wrinkling on the sides.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“I have had better days, but I am good,” she said as she slowly sat up.
My mother had been quietly fidgeting around, organizing, bringing drinks and food from the kitchen to the little sombre paradise outside. It was usually my aunt who never stopped cleaning and picking up but things were shifting abruptly in this new reality.
“The container must be cleaned,” my mother said with authority to no one and everyone.
I jumped from the chair as if a spring had popped out of my gut, “What container?”
She pointed to a jar like object connected to one of the many cables and tubes that seemed to be coming in or out of my aunt’s body. I froze. I had no idea of what to do.
“Let me show you,” she responded as she gently removed a thick tube from the container and placed it on another that looked just the same but much smaller. “In the meantime we put this one in. Use warm water, plenty of soap and rinse it carefully, dry it and bring it back,” she said as she handed me the vessel filled with liquids and little pieces I could not make out.
I picked it up hesitantly as if I was being trusted with a delicate treasure that might disintegrate in my hands. I remember the trembling of my fingers that was noticeable only to me but that made me feel very self-conscious. As I walked towards the door like a slow robot, my mother stopped me right on my tracks.
“Throw it down the toilet,” she said with a hint of sadness, her voice less authoritarian than before.
I walked into the cold house, the AC on and a completely different silence than outside. The silence here was empty. I walked into the bathroom and emptied the vessel in the toilet as instructed. With my bare hands I started to rub soap as I rinsed it in the bathroom sink.
“You should use gloves,” a voice behind me whispered. It was my brother. I almost dropped the thing.
“You startled me,” I replied in a quivering voice, “There is no need. She is not contagious.”
He came in, closed the door and sat on the floor resting his back on it. Again the crispy silence.
I meticulously went about my task: soap, rinse, soap, rinse, soap, rinse, soap, rinse…at first I felt particles in my hands but at some point I was just applying soap and rinsing a shining jar over and over, automatically.
“I think that is enough,” he said with a sigh.
I slowly closed the faucet and started to look for something to dry the precious jar with. He opened a drawer and handed me a towel: “We use this one, then leave it here so it is not used for other purposes.”
“Ok.” I gave myself to drying the thing as painstakingly as I had done before with the soaping and rinsing.
“Enough,” my brother’s voice now hardly audible.
I stopped. He was staring at the toilet which I had forgotten to flush. I followed his gaze and studied the contents. I gulped. My mouth was dry. I looked back at my brother and saw his eyes looking right into mine as if encouraging me to speak, to blurt out the density that was oppressing my chest.
Silence was getting crispier, heavier, and also extremely frail as the tears built up in my eyes. I put my hand on the handle and flushed, looking at the swirl of liquid and pieces as they were sucked into the pipes, the tears silently flowing, and the silence in the small room acquiring a different texture.
My brother stood up and sensing his movement I turned to face him: “Isn’t it strange how this is not disgusting at all?”
“It can’t be. They are bits and pieces of her in all that mess,” he mumbled quietly.
Again no words. We were suspended in that moment as if someone had pressed pause on the scene.
“I just flushed parts of her down the fucking toilet!” I blasted the silence.
That was the moment I knew she was dying. They had asked me to cross the Atlantic for exactly that reason. I only let the storm loose in that precise second, as I began to accept the inevitable pain of losing her.
I didn’t really know until that moment, sobbing with my brother, hugging inside that small bathroom. I surrendered to knowing with all my being and sobbed quietly, with the sparkling clean vessel in one hand and the other clutching my brother’s cotton shirt.