‘Daddy!’ Karen was screaming, her voice was loud shrill and piercing enough to shatter his fond reverie. Her skinny little legs dangled partially out of the car window and her sticky fingers caked in smudges of molten chocolate swung wildly into his face almost poking his left eye.
‘karen!,’ Adam choked, panic seized him for a brief moment then anger brimmed over as he slowed down wildly and dragged his daughter bodily into a sitting position into the car. ‘What are you doing?!’ he snapped way over himself. A car behind him honked impatiently. He was holding up traffic.
‘You could have gotten yourself killed! Do you know that!” he was shouting now and he could tell because his little skinny elf flinched visibly, her mischievous smile vanishing rapidly replaced with an agonizing sullen sulk.
‘Don’t you ever, ever do that again, you hear!”
She sniffled ‘yes daddy,’ she muttered
‘you hear!?” he could feel the blood rush up his temples. It frightened him too. He had never been this mad, not since the day he felt he couldn’t save Sasha.
‘Yes, daddy’, her teary voice rung out, shrill, for some attention.
Her large eyes started to fill up with the visible imprints of tears. She curled up in the co-driver seat of the Volks , her eyes fixedly staring at her father like she was deciding whether she knew him or not. Adam rolled up her glass frantically from the main control centre, ignoring the honking that was getting absurdly loud. Then he relaxed and pulled up into the line. In that short space of time the line had suddenly thickened into a steady jam that was not loosening anytime soon.
Some errant taxi tried to squeeze within the short distance between him and a Toyota premio and grazed the body of the Toyota. He watched abstractedly as a small verbal exchange ensued with the driver of the Toyota premio getting out of his car armed to the teeth for a hand- to- hand combat, in that moment thousands of drivers honked wildly, others joined the Toyota man in verbal encouragement. The police close by could do nothing with a dozen enraged people hurling insults in the blazing hot afternoon sun at the taxi driver and eventually at each other.
On any other given day he would have enjoyed the drama but today. It got him bad.
It’s strange how some things stay and don’t go away easily. He could not explain why he dreamt about her, her smile the mischievous glint in her eyes when she was teasing him or taunting him about something, then her laughter when she beat him constantly at a game of chess. He could never out do her. So much he asked her to sign up for competitions, then the dream shifted from fond memories to Sasha staring at him, her large sad eyes filled up with tears and she was holding Karen so tight, he was afraid she would squash her. The rest of it was hazy.
He missed her like he had never missed her before. Why did she have to go when he needed her the most? Everything faded to grey around him. He stared stonily ahead looking at cars tops for miles.
Sasha, his heart seemed to speak her name louder than his own voice. He hopped that even where she was then, she was looking at him, helping him, believing that he could raise their daughter as well as she had done for the last four years before her passing.
She left too soon. He could not forget that afternoon she complained she felt dizzy. It was one of those hot afternoons just like today. She had been on and off for days and had taken it lightly. The doctor had said it was stress she needed to rest. It would be okay. He watched her lose weight alarmingly in two days and the dizzy spells got worse. So when she complained he was more than ready to take her to hospital for check up. He regretted not doing it earlier, he regretted giving in to her stubborn strength. He admired that about her. She juggled two jobs and her family and never complained. If there was ever a super woman it was Sasha, he was proud to show her off. He knew a couple of his friends fancied her too and that boosted his ego even more. He had it all… in a small package…like Karen. Every day he looked at Karen, he saw Sasha, the stubborn strength, the naughtiness, the brilliance, the boldness, the beauty within and without. The fierce need to be loved and needed by those she loved. God, he decided had an interesting way of compensating a loss.
He could see himself again in the hospital waiting room being told Sasha had to stay in hospital. He had called work to say he had an urgent home issue and had waited for two hours while Sasha was examined. The doctor assured him after a few tests they would let him know and now he could not take his Sasha home.
‘Can I see her, at least?’ the words spoken then were as clear as though he had just spoken them.
She was smiling when he got to her bed side, needles in her arms, attached to a drip, the doctor had been hesitant to tell him what was wrong, and he said he would let him know after a few more tests …the next day. Her bright large eyes that had arrested him in their dating days arrested him again, she looked so young and frail, and he was compelled to take her in his arms.
She laughed while he held her’ where’s the bone crunching hug, Hulk!” she teased. He was the Incredible Hulk and she was the Laughing Elf, names they gave each other after a few dates way back. S he had been so little then and had not changed a bit even after she gave birth. He recalled carrying her around the house much when she was heavy with Karen and her varicose veins were so swollen she could hardly walk much. Even in that moment she bore it all with a smile. She was his hope.
Now Hope needed him; Love. ‘I am afraid I will make this worse,’ her deep throaty laughter bounced off the walls of that crystal clean hospital room warming his heart. ‘aww come on, don’t be chicken, Hulk. My strong Hulk is here and that’s more than this.’ She whispered. For a fleeting second he thought he heard her choke, but she held him steady.
‘I love you Elfy,’ he told her.
‘I know. I love you more. Where is Karen?’
‘I took her to Aunt Louise’s for a while, she was asking about you will bring her in tomorrow to see you.’
Then Sasha surprised him ‘no, I will come home tonight, I feel okay. ‘
He had drawn back then puzzled. ‘But…’
She smiled and he could see her fighting the tears. ‘I am okay, hon, I am okay, it was just a moment.’
He found out then that Sasha had actually coaxed her diagnosis results from the doctor. She had leukemia. He couldn’t believe it, even now it was hard for him to believe it that his beautiful vivacious Sasha was dying.
But not if he could help it.
He recalled the tests, the treatment, her faith, her love…. She read Karen bedtime stories through it all, denying weakness. Their trips to the hospital, then to South Africa for treatment but she dint make it. The doctors said it was late and yet he had prayed occasionally falling on his knees, making promises to God, begging him to give his Elf back to him.
Sasha passed on on Christmas Eve. She died in his arms. She was so weak and frail but her eyes still glowed with life and she told him God always knew what was best for everyone then she reminded him of a disaster date they once had when he thought she would never talk to him again and they laughed about it. She laughed her deep throaty laugh; he could tell it hurt her.
‘I think it’s time for this Elf to go to fairyland,’ she smiled tiredly at him
He had never felt so helpless, ‘no, not yet, I need you. Karen needs you.’
She smiled ‘you are Hulk, remember? Don’t forget that, keep our baby girl.’
She had stopped fighting. She yielded to death. And for a split moment he was mad at her. Why did she have to give up! His conscience jabbed him revisiting the scene of her battle to live from the moment she was diagnosed and shame shadowed his thoughts. She was in excruciating pain and he knew her situation was dire. The intensive care unit was his wake up call to that realization.
‘Merry Christmas, handsome. ‘ she smiled.
He wanted to touch her again, feel her again with his hands but the hospital‘s intensive care instructions had him covered up. It was not safe for him to get into so much contact with her frail body.
‘No, don’t go.’ He kept saying, even when he knew he had to let her go.
‘I love you guys,’ her voice faltered and she lay back sighing like a weary traveler finally finding solace and peace. The smile spread on her lips was the last thing she wore as she lay like a baby, cradled in his arms .
His mind reeled back further to the little things, the way she curled up at his side and he would listen to her breathing and suddenly she would go, ‘will you watch me all night?’
He remembered his sister describe them, ‘I have never seen too people love like you two, it’s so fresh it’s infectious, and deeply passionate.’
He couldn’t deny that.
He smiled now as he remembered how young she always seemed to be. A fountain of youth seemed to flow from within her with a warm force that enveloped everyone around her. She always had a bright idea for what they could do every special day and holiday. She was his light bearer, his companion, his best friend. After her death he understood the meaning of being lost. He caught himself often talking to her absently and Karen would look at him strangely. His world was loose at the hinges and steadily falling apart. He wasn’t sure he could define reality from a dream because he seemed to walk into one and escape the other. Karen hated the nannies he got her, she wanted mummy.
He felt so inadequate. She wanted mom’s bedtime stories, mom’s mashed potatoes with chicken, mom to come take her for icecream Or swimming. What could he tell a six year old? He thought she had guessed when they went for the burial, apparently not.
‘Daddy!’ It’s hot,’ Karen’s voice broke through his reverie, soft and shaky but defiant, she wanted his attention, and she wanted him to love her. He drew in a sharp breath, aware of the jam suddenly and the noise and traffic but above all his little girl, their little girl, God’s gift to him.
He looked into his daughter’s enquiring eyes; she seemed to say, ‘why do you push me away?’
And for the first time in a year since Sasha died he realized he had pushed her away. So much because of the resemblance that held Sasha‘s intensity. Her personality and her flair for life exuded Sasha. She was a handful, the teachers had complained. Sasha had been a handful, her parents had told him and he could not face the pain so for a year he run.
‘Daddy, why are you crying?’ came the innocent bold question. His eyes caught his reflection in the rear view mirror and he was shocked to see the trail of translucent salty tears stream down his right cheek.
He riveted his gaze back to her,’ come here, sugar,’ Karen’s eyes brightened with renewed hope. All was forgotten. She leapt from her seat and haphazardly crawled onto his lap settling comfortably in his big strong arms.
Suddenly memory hit him like a ripple effect. It was the day her hormones seemed to be raking havoc on her nerves, she was in her trimester period of pregnancy and he came home found her crying. A sad movie had caused her to bowl like a baby, they laughed about it later but then he was in panic. And she had told him to hold her.
She had crawled up to him on the couch and curled up like a kitten on his lap. She sobbed a bit about everything. He never thought pregnancy would be this erratic . One minute she was in control, the next out. He had held her. She had felt so vulnerable and an overwhelming urge to protect her from her self filled him. And they had sat there in the living room talking about anything and she was brooding miserably and he did what he knew best to do; he loved her with his soul.
He filled her with his assurance. He felt her with his heart until she fell asleep and he took her to bed. Watching her for awhile as she curled up against him. His little Elf.
Now Karen curling up in his arms brought him to the edge of his fight; between the present and the past. The dream and the reality. He needed to make a choice now.
Embrace his daughter, ‘look after their baby girl,’ or hold on to Sasha
What would she want? He suddenly remembered how the dream ended.
She gave him Karen and told him ‘she’s yours now, love her like you loved me.’
He allowed the tears to flow.
‘Baby, I am sorry I got so mad at you, I was scared…scared …’ he trailed off
‘Sorry daddy,’ Karen curled up deeper almost digging into his chest. ‘I won’t do it again.’
She piped out.
He rocked her against him holding her tighter, rubbing her little back and letting the tears flow. He was letting go now. He could feel it.
‘ l love you, baby,’ he was saying, ‘ I love you.’
‘ I love you, too daddy,’ and for a long while in that jam nothing seemed to matter. He dint care if traffic loosened again soon and a thousand angry drivers pummeled his car to the ground. This was the moment he had been looking for.
‘I miss mummy.’
He was quiet, then he sniffed, ‘me too pumpkin, me too,’
Then the unexpected question he had constantly avoided. ‘She is not coming back?’ it was rhetoric. He could feel her clutch the back of his thick neck with her little fingers, trying to return the caress. He took a while to answer that; the battle within him was intense. Letting go was hard
Sweat beads formed on his brow soaked the back of his shirt but he felt freer than he had in months. He let out his breathe, calm and slow. ‘No, she is not coming back, pumpkin. It’s just you and I now. ‘He run his fingers through her braids, ‘just you and I.’
She seemed to understand this quicker than he thought she had,
And the noise of traffic, mingled with the heat, angry pensive drivers and passengers became fading dreams in this moment.