At least Rover kept her company. Khadija walked beside her dog on the trail by her neighborhood in Long Island. The black Labrador didn’t have experiments to run, concerts to perform, or long nights spent obsessing over patients. All Rover had was an outside doghouse and these evening walks with Khadija.
After he returned from his trip to Seattle, Khadija’s husband Qadeer had been spending many more nights in the lab. It wasn’t the first time he’d broken his promise to limit himself to two nights a week in the city. He seemed incredibly excited, but he would not share news on his latest projects with Khadija. All she knew was what everyone else knew: he was a leader in the emerging field of synthetic neoangiogenesis, or synthetic blood vessel creation. His goal was to create blood vessels out of molecular materials to treat cardiovascular disease and stroke.
The nights he did come home, dinner played out poorly. Khadija remembered last night’s dinner while she picked up speed along the winding gravel path, twisting through fragrant pines that filtered out the noise of the Long Island Expressway. She had just passed the two-mile mark.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“It was okay, the usual,” she said. Her mind was as saturated as a sponge from the needs of her patients and the business of her private practice.
“Yeah? Sounds good. Lab was good today – making gains,” Qadeer said, in between bites of the chicken ravioli cooked by their maid.
“I’m glad, Qadeer,” Khadija said. He looked tired to Khadija – the skin sagging under his eyes, the honey missing from his voice.
His cell phone rang, and he answered it. He filled his mouth with the last two ravioli squares while he listened.
“Okay, yes, right. Let’s try modifying the hard stop sequence tomorrow. I think we’re close. Thanks, Alexandra. See you. Bye,” he said. He hung up, left his place at the table, and went to the study. Steam still rose from the green tea Khadija wanted to drink with him.
“Have tea with me, Betty?” she asked the housekeeper.
Betty sympathized. She had raised three boys and her husband had been a captain in the NYPD. She too, knew what it was like to be left alone at the dinner table while men chased ideas, projects, or money. She worked for her neighbors, the Rahmans, because she was desperately tired of being an empty nester. Khadija’s company alone was worth more to her than the pay.
“Sure, darling,” Betty said, “The doctor sure does look busy, but that’s no reason for him to leave his beautiful wife alone with her tea, is it?”
“Oh Betty,” Khadija managed, “you are too kind.”
Khadija and Betty talked until Betty left at nine PM. They washed the dishes together and shared dessert – Betty had made flan like she used to for her own sons. Khadija fell asleep around ten, her mind buzzing with goals for the next day – patients who were about to deliver, patients seeking advice regarding contraception, patients with fibroids, patients with cancer.
Sometime around midnight, she felt a kiss on her cheek.
“Good night, jaani,” Qadeer said.
“Good night,” she said, turning to face him, annoyed but hopeful.
He was still in his work clothes, already asleep.
As she jogged along the winding trail, looking upon the fabulous manicured lawns and the opulent houses, she wondered about her husband. She knew he was driven to succeed from the moment she’d met him. Twenty-three years later he seemed to be forgetting all the things he used to be to her – counselor, confidant, exercise partner, friend. At this time last year, they were praying Fajr every morning together. She craved his honeyed voice, rising just above a whisper as he tenderly recited Sura Fatiha before the break of dawn. Those mornings were a highlight of their marriage.
She wondered about her son, too, as she turned off the pine-lined trail into the neighborhood sidewalk. Ali had stopped sending the daily texts he was so conscientious about and that Khadija was so accustomed to receiving. She missed his updates from New Orleans: “Ran by the river, Ammi,” or “Big breakfast today!” or simply, “Had a wonderful day, Ammi, Love you!” As these grew fewer and further in between, he occasionally called his mother and apologized: “I’m sorry, Ammi, just busy with classes this semester and getting a lot of gigs, too.”
For her son who was always so in love with the swimming pool and his saxophone, she failed to imagine that there might be room for another kind of love.
Swallows chirped in the tree overhead. She jogged the rest of the way home with Rover. The brilliant sun was about an hour away from setting in the purple sky. From a distance, she could see the rays of light glinting off of Qadeer’s car in the driveway. He sat on the porch, looking up at the sky.
Rover bounded to him, breaking free from Khadija’s leash. He jumped into Qadeer’s lap and licked his cheek and neck and ears, nearly capsizing the rocking chair on which Qadeer sat.
“Not on the lips!” Qadeer said, pushing the dog away, “my wife gets those first!” The pungent warmth of the dog’s tongue give way.
“As-salaam-u’alaikum,” Qadeer said.
“Wa-alaikum-as-salaam,” Khadija responded.
Rover watched like a child as husband and wife held each other, then he averted his gaze as they kissed lightly.
“You’re embarrassing Rover, Qadeer” Khadija chided her husband.
“Sorry, Rover,” Qadeer said as he kneeled down. Rover gave him a big, wet lick across the top of his head.
“Can we talk?” Qadeer asked, standing, facing his wife.
It wasn’t easy, but she stowed away the disappointment growing inside her heart from her husband’s constant absence. Thankfully, it had been a light day for her at the office and the weather outside was beautiful – sixty five degrees with a delicate breeze from the North. Spring was just around the corner. Their french revival house, the crowning achievement of their earning lives together, glistened pink in the twilight.
“Sure, jaani,” she said.
“Too tired to walk?” he asked. He admired his wife. She wore a New York Knicks baseball cap, long sleeve Stanford Cardinal shirt, and black windpants. Her cheeks blushed from her run home. He thought the drops of sweat on her neck looked like the dew drops on the stem of a flower.
“Me? I’m never tired!” she laughed.
“I know, Khadija.” He smiled.
While her husband changed in their bedroom, Khadija pondered the faces in the photographs hanging above their fireplace. In the center portrait, their son Ali stood tall in his royal purple high school graduation gown, with his purple mortar-board and purple tie. Khadija beamed, wearing a cream suit with a purple shirt, a purple puma brooch glimmering on her lapel. Qadeer smiled. A purple pocket square was his one concession to the Pitcairn High Pumas. Sometimes, looking at this picture, Khadija would think to herself: “My hair looks great.” But mostly she looked at the picture because her family was together. Her family was happy.
In the portrait to the right, Khadija and her parents and siblings sat around a glowing bride and groom. Khadija’s niece had married into a French Canadian family one year ago in Quebec. The cool breeze of a Montreal summer that day was like the weather outside today.
The portrait on the left showed Qadeer’s siblings and father in Pittsburgh, all seated at the dinner table where they’d grown up. Qadeer’s mother was the only one missing, having died of sudden cardiac death five years prior.
Khadija wondered if what Qadeer wanted to talk about had to do with his father. Murtaza Rahman sat proudly in the photograph, his snowy white hair flowing, regal. The crow’s feet and laugh lines in his copper skin stood out. His cheeks leaned back into an easy, broad grin. He looked so vital. And it was no surprise that it was Qadeer who closest to his father in this picture. The younger of two sons; the most naturally intelligent and at the same time the most diligent at his school work; the one most drawn to the Urdu language; the one most drawn to Murtaza’s garden in the suburban Pittsburgh home they lived in; and the most fair-skinned; Qadeer became his father’s favorite the moment he was born, and stayed that way even after the arrival of his younger sisters. Murtaza Rahman wanted greatly for his children to succeed, and to be a physician was the paramount of success in his eyes. Qadeer filled the cup of that dream until it runneth over.
As Murtaza aged, Qadeer housed him lovingly. Khadija and Qadeer set aside a first floor guest room for him in their home. They parceled out a patch of the sprawling backyard for Murtaza to have his own garden. There, Murtaza was happiest, tending to the same fruits he’d enjoyed as a boy. In his old age, he learned to care for flowers. For his part, Qadeer enjoyed working in the garden with the rigor that he inherited from his father. But sometimes, tired from a day’s exhausting labor, he would simply sit inside his home with his wife and look out the French doors at the old man nurturing his plants.
Not all was perfect, though, between father and son. At eighty, Murtaza still claimed good health. He walked the neighborhood trail regularly and took care of himself within the confines of the house. He kept his room clean, dressed well, and ocassionally woke up Khadija and Qadeer for a simple breakfast. Qadeer, though, remained frustrated by his father’s stubborn refusal to take medicine. Never an enthusiast for pills, Murtaza continued to resist his regimen of two blood pressure medications, a statin, and aspirin.
And he continued to smoke.
Throughout his life, Qadeer tried and failed to end his father’s smoking habit. He found it repulsive. He worried about what the poisons in the cigarettes would do to any cell in his father’s body, for he knew that just a few mutant cells could snowball into cancer. From later experience in his medical training, he worried most about what would happen to his father’s blood vessels. Would a heart attack take his father’s life, just as it had taken his mother’s life? Or would the toxins slowly, inexorably, cripple the man’s mind? Of the dire prophesies that swirled about in Qadeer’s head when he watched the white wisps float from the tip of a cigarette or emerge from his father’s mouth, it was this last possibility that came true. As he put on his running clothes, preparing to tell his wife how he planned to save his father’s mind, he wondered what Murtaza’s experience of forgetting must have been like last week.
The sun hid behind thick clouds as Murtaza peered out on the neighborhood.
Murtaza was bored. Rover looked forlorn. “Go for a walk, Rover?” Murtaza asked, pulling on his black tennis shoes.
“Woof!” Rover said. Rover immediately hauled his belly off the floor and stood to attention, tongue wagging.
“Let’s go, boy!” Murtaza said.
Murtaza carefully locked the door behind him as he left the house. He marveled at the palace that his son lived in. In size, it rivaled those of the British imperial mansions of his native India. Qadeer’s house was always the type of house he would drive by wistfully on the way back home from work in Pittsburgh, knowing it was out of reach. As he walked down the block, he wondered what kind of people might live in these homes. Perhaps there were other physicians, or lawyers, or else successful entrepreneurs. Men, and women, he supposed, who had gone to prestigious schools and worked long hours at difficult jobs and saved diligently.
Rover walked in front of Murtaza, who did not bother leashing the dog on this occasion. Murtaza had never seen Rover act out, even when the neighbor’s menacing bulldog snarled at him. Murtaza slowed his walk as he surveyed the spruce trees in the front yard of one of the homes. He looked to his left and saw a gravel trail leading through a lush forest. He took . It was not the Circle trail that circuited around to his son’s home. Oblivious, Rover went to his right, down the path that he spent many afternoons on with Khadija.
“My, what marvelous trees,” Murtaza thought, the light growing dim around him as the forest grew thick. The scent of pine and the crunch of gravel underneath his feet invigorated him. He kept walking, deeper and deeper into the forest, wondering how long it would be before the path led him back. In fact, the trail he followed ended twenty miles beyond, at a small creek where families picnicked on hot summer afternoons.
When Rover turned around, he saw nothing where Murtaza should have been. A flock of sparrows swarmed in the sky above. He bounded back in the direction that he had come, following Murtaza’s trademark scent: ithar, or musk.
“This can’t be right,” Murtaza said to himself as he leaned against a thick oak, catching his breath. “I don’t get tired this easily on this trail.” He thought about breaking his promise to himself of never smoking in a forest, a promise he’d made after watching breaking news one summer about California forest fires that ravaged thousands of acres. Investigators said the fire had been started by a single cigarette butt. Murtaza reached into his coat pocket. He found nothing there. Then he remembered that he had endured this temptation in the past, and to prevent himself from giving into it, he never placed cigarettes or a lighter in his pocket when he left the house to walk the neighborhood trail. He slumped down against the massive trunk and closed his eyes. Sleep overtook him.
A heavy, warm, wet tongue awoke him. Rover stood with his paws on Murtaza’s chest and thighs.
“Woof!” he shouted.
“Alright, alright, don’t shout at me, boy,” Murtaza said. “Where did you run off to?”
He stood up and used the inside of his jacket to clean the saliva off his face. Rover walked alongside Murtaza towards home.
When the pair did not reach home by seven PM, Khadija went looking for them. She feared for the worst – anything could happen to a man of Murtaza’s age, and on the seldom used Circle trail that she walked with him and Rover, it could be hours before any one would notice.
Near the entrance to the Circle trail, she heard Rover. His excited yelps, though, did not issue from in front of her. Instead, she turned around and entered the gravel trail, now even more concerned. She followed the sound of Rover.
One mile from the entrance, she found Murtaza seated on a large stone, with Rover seated quietly at his feet.
“Abba, what are you doing on this trail?”
“I just wanted to get out of the house and take a walk, but I suppose I took a wrong turn somewhere. But Rover here is taking me back.”
“How long have you been out of the house?” The Circle trail only took 45 minutes to complete, even at Murtaza’s pace.
“I believe I left right after Zuhr prayer.”
That would have been 1:30 PM. It frightened Khadija to think how far Murtaza must have walked before being found by Rover.
They walked home together. Khadija remained pleasant and acknowledged Murtaza’s remarks about the beauty of the forest in the fading light. The clouds had broken, and the sun lit up the clouds like they were golden sheets for the bed that was the sky. Silently, though, she pieced together Murtaza’s risk factors: “History of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, prior transient ischemic attack; history of smoking; poorly compliant with medication.” A string of recent episodes shot through her memory: the time Murtaza had asked her to help him look through the entire house for a book that turned out to be right by his bedside (where he had claimed to look first); the time he said he had fed Rover, but she saw the bowl of dog food, untouched, clearly not offered to Rover; and his frequent asking about what her son’s name was. She turned over a diagnosis in her head. He likely had dementia. Most likely vascular dementia.
He had been visiting them from the small home in Pittsburgh that he so loved, with a ticket to go back in three weeks’ time.
She called her husband, wanting urgently to tell him what had happened, about her judgment about his state of mind. Should they cancel the ticket back?
Qadeer’s answering machine greeted her. He worked in the lab that night.
Khadija sighed and clicked off her phone.
She walked over to the guest room and saw her father-in-law, fast asleep. Rover watched him intently.
“Go on Rover, get outside. Let your training partner get his rest. You get some rest, too,” she said, and she ruffled his head before showing him the door to the backyard.
A single firefly floated in the darkness of the backyard, and she wondered why it was shining alone tonight.
The next afternoon, Khadija received a frightened call from Murtaza while she was seeing a patient at her clinic.
“My daughter,” he said, his voice quivering. “I’ve left the water for my tea on the stove for too long. There’s a small fire in the kitchen and I can’t put it out.”
She thought she could hear a faint crackling in the background.
“Call 911,” she instructed calmly.
“Okay,” he said, “yes, I’ll do that.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said.
“Come quickly, my daughter,” he said.
She was about to hang up the phone, when she said, “Do you know our address?”
He hesitated for a moment, then she heard him open the front door. “Yes, I see it here.” And he told her the address.
“I’m coming. Allah Hafiz (May you be in God’s Protection),” she said.
She called 911 immediately after hanging up. She thanked God that she only had to re-schedule five patients that afternoon.
In her black Range Rover, she commanded the hands-free phone to call her husband.
Again, his answering machine greeted her. This time she left a message:
“Qadeer, you need to come home now. Your father left the stove on and there is a fire in our kitchen. Call me back now.”
The train hurtled out of the tunnel like a cannonball. “What is happening to my father?” Qadeer wondered, putting down the phone after hearing Khadija’s sobering message. Could it be that the vascular dementia he had so feared was finally making itself known?
He did not want to believe it at first. When Khadija brought it to his attention that his father asked “What day of the week is it?” much more frequently, he simply chalked it up to the benign forgetfulness of the elderly. It made his father more loveable in a way; here was a larger than life man who couldn’t remember whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday, and it didn’t really matter to him anyway because deadlines and meetings and railroad timetables no longer riddled his days like so much machine gun fire.
When Khadija reported that he’d forgotten Ali’s name several times, Qadeer grew concerned. Murtaza never asked Qadeer what Ali’s name was. He also didn’t mention Ali much around Qadeer, now that he thought about it. Murtaza always referred to Ali as “my grandson” in front of Qadeer. Either Khadija was exaggerating the frequency of Murtaza’s forgetting, or Murtaza was more comfortable showing his weakness to his daughter-in-law than to his own son. Qadeer suspected the latter.
At dinner that night, microwaved leftovers filled Murtaza’s plate. He had hazarded his life by entering the kitchen to turn off the stove shortly after he called 911. The firemen that arrived contained the flames easily. One of them wondered why the old man hadn’t used the fire extinguisher on the counter top just across the center island.
Khadija and Qadeer sat in silence at opposite ends of the table. Murtaza sat in the chair to the right of Khadija.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call back earlier,” Qadeer said.
“I really needed to talk to you yesterday about this, Qadeer,” Khadija said. “Abba walked into the forest. Thank goodness for Rover. He was with Abba and helped him get back towards the street, but even then I had to go a mile into the forest trail to get him back home. I hope you accept that something is not right with Abba.”
“Abba, how come you didn’t tell me you were forgetting?” Qadeer asked.
“At first, I didn’t realize it. Then, when I did figure that out, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t want to be a burden on you or Khadija. I guess it’s getting bad now. I’m very sorry for the kitchen. I’ll pay for the repairs,” he said. He tentatively picked at the saag paneer on his plate with his fingers.
“Abba, you are not a burden on anyone here,” Qadeer said.
Khadija did not say anything. She gazed intently at her husband.
Qadeer looked up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath. He reached over to touch his father’s hand. Murtaza set down his fork and looked at Qadeer.
“Abba, I know this is going to be very difficult for you to accept,” Qadeer began. “But you can’t live alone anymore.”
“Son, it was just an honest mistake. Don’t tell me you’ve never left the stove on and gone away for a couple minutes.”
“Abba, this is not the only time you’ve made a serious mistake. I’ve been keeping track. You sometimes do not take your medicines at all for three days in a row, and then at other times, you get confused and you take multiple doses at the same time. You’ve forgotten your own grandson’s name. You’ve gotten lost. You cannot live alone.”
Silence at the dinner table. Khadija chewed on a half-mouthful of saag paneer and naan.
“Are we going to have to sell the house in Pittsburgh?” Murtaza asked his son.
For all the larger-than-life legends she’d heard about him, Khadija pitied her father-in-law now, for how easily he’d thrown in the towel against his son in this fight about his future.
“Khadija and I will discuss with Umar, Fatima, and Aalia what will work best for you,” Qadeer said, listing out Murtaza’s children.
“You’ll be alright,” Khadija said, caressing her father-in-law’s other hand.
Murtaza did not eat much that night.
When they had all finished, Murtaza sat on the couch and gazed upon the photographs hanging above the fireplace. He turned his attention to the photograph of his grandson the graduate, and wondered what he was doing in New Orleans.
Julia licked the powdered sugar off her lips. The beignets tasted better than usual and she was happy. She had good reason to be – she got the highest score on the first biochemistry test of the semester and Ali was proud of her.
“My grandfather would love this place,” Ali said. He leaned back into the plastic chair, sipping the cafe au lait slowly. The night air was full of the sounds of a funeral march passing by.
“My grandparents had their first date here,” Julia told him.
“Really?” Ali asked, intrigued that she had never told him this story though by now they had been to Cafe Du Monde a dozen times.
“Yes, my grandfather and grandmother met here back in the sixties. He was working at the bank just down the street and she was a student at the nursing school. They had seen each other at church but never gotten a chance to talk because both of their parents were so strict. So one day, Grandpa worked up the courage to walk over to grandma’s house in Prytania and ask her father if he could take her to Cafe Du Monde. He was interrogated, Ali. He didn’t know what he had gotten himself into. There he was, a skinny black boy in his Sunday best, being stared down by my great grandmother, my great grandfather, and all five of Grandma’s older brothers. They asked him what he ate for breakfast. Did he have loans? Who was the president of Egypt? What did Grandpa think about McCarthy? Did Grandpa drink alcohol? Who were his friends? What did his parents do?
“So what did your Grandpa say that earned him the right to take your grandma to Cafe Du Monde for some beignets and coffee?”
“My great grandma, so I hear, had quite the death stare. She looked my grandpa right in the eyes, and asked him, ‘What are you giving up for Lent this year?”
“And?” Ali asked, leaning forward, coffee in hand.
Julia tried to tell him but instead laughter bubbled out of her mouth like champagne from a bottle.
“Come on, tell me! What did your grandpa give up so he could get your grandma?”
Julia composed herself. Ali gazed upon her glowing cinnamon skin, her auburn eyes. There was still some sugar at the corners of her mouth and there was red lipstick on her napkin.
“He said…” and she laughed again, “he said, ‘I’ve given up being happy except when I’m with Miss Flora Mae Reynolds.’”
They both laughed. The funeral march played on and visitors ebbed in and out of Cafe Du Monde like the flow of the Mississippi River just on the other side of the embankment. The full moon was out and the city was getting ready for Mardi Gras again.
“That was great!” Ali said.
“Well, as my grandpa told me, not one of them said a thing. They all just stared at him. And then, my great grandfather said, “Well I guess you’re going to be sad except for between 5AM and 7 AM Sunday morning, because you better have her at church by 7 or you’re going to be sad for some other reasons.”
They ate and talked until midnight, and then Ali and Julia rode to her dorm in his hand-me-down Mercedes. He walked over to her side and opened the door for her. They walked to the entrance of her dorm together, arm-in-arm.
“Hey, congrats again on the test, Julia. You’re so close to med school now. Just think, by this time next year, you’ll know where you’re going to be.” Ali said.
“Thanks Ali. Tonight was really nice. I’ll see you at school on Monday. We’ve got family visiting tomorrow so I’ll be busy all day.” She said.
“Have fun, Julia. See you, “ Ali said. He walked back to his Mercedes and drove back to his place near Tulane, falling asleep while thinking of when they would next see each other.
The night before, when Khadija and Betty drank tea, Qadeer was not in his study discussing the progress of the nanoscaffolding for the synthetic blood vessels he was working on. He was holding an international conference with his siblings to discuss how best to help his father.
His older brother, Umar, sat in his home in Kuwait, where it was the early morning. He had thirty minutes before he had to drive into the offices of the multinational oil and gas corporation where he was a regional vice president. His sister, Fatima, was wrapping up work at her clinic in Los Angeles. And Aalia, the youngest, was up in the middle of the night in London, frantically finishing a project for her consulting firm’s client.
“As-salaam-u’alaikum,” Qadeer began
“Wa-alaikum-as-salaam,” the others said.
“By now, I hope you all have had time to think about the various options for taking care of Abba. We could try the standard approach, right? We could try to get him to take his medications, stop smoking, and see if that will prevent his dementia from getting worse. But I doubt that will work since he hasn’t been good about taking his medications for fifty years. And he’s been smoking for about the same amount of time. We’d need someone to be with him full time so that he doesn’t burn down the house. Which is fine, al-hamd-u-lillah, since he saved well for his retirement. But there’s also the option of cryogenic preservation. We could literally freeze Abba in time and bring him back when my synthetic microvasculature is ready. It will probably take me another five years. We can give him hippocampal regenerative treatment and help him reconstruct his hard drive. We can prevent him from dying the grueling death of a patient with progressive vascular dementia – one in which our father will be bed bound, unsure of where he is or perhaps even who he is. What do you all think?”
“Absolutely not, Qadeer,” Umar began. “Why would you put Abba in ice for five years? Who knows what can happen in five years? What if you die? What if one of us dies? What if the facility is destroyed? What if the company goes bankrupt? And what if you can’t produce the blood vessels in five years? Then what? We just keep waiting until someone else does? There are too many unanswered questions for me, Qadeer. Let Abba be – he’s lived an amazing life and we have all benefited from it. Let him age with grace and let Allah take him when the time comes.”
“My concern,” Fatima said, “is that there have only been three ‘successful thaws’ out of the ten people who have come out of preservation so far. Those were people who came out completely unchanged from when they went in. Two people came out with severe debilitation and the other five could not tolerate the thaw and died. So Abba, as of right now, has a 50/50 chance of coming out of the thaw alive. That means you have a fifty percent chance of killing him if you recommend this to him and he goes for it.”
“I think its great that you’re trying to help Abba, bhai,” Aalia said. I remember working in this high end memory care place in college in Boston, back when I thought about going to med school. There were these people there who were bankers, doctors, lawyers, professors. And they couldn’t remember who their spouses were. One guy, who used to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, would walk around smelling like feces because he just didn’t remember that he was supposed to go to the bathroom. I was later told it was because he had so many micro-strokes in the front part of his brain that he didn’t care about anything anymore. He died from a urine infection because the bugs from his feces got into his urinary tract and then into his blood stream. If that’s something that could happen to Abba, then I think he himself would have wanted to do anything he could to avoid it.”
“Umar, Aalia brings up a good point,” Fatima said. “It’s still up to Abba what he has done -he can still understand what is happening to him and that it can get worse. I spoke to him about it yesterday. He knows. He understands. And if he wants to do cryogenic preservation, we can’t stop him.”
“But we can try and talk him out of it, Fatima!” Umar said. “Are all of you crazy? He will be dead to us for five years. This is not something we can just reverse overnight. And it wasn’t meant for such short term use anyway. The people who thought this stuff up meant it to be for people who would come back decades into the future. Maybe that’s why its been so hard to bring people back – I mean, maybe we don’t have the right technology to even bring people back yet. Fifty percent? Would you do anything that had a fifty percent chance of failure? Take a plane ride? Cross the street? I don’t think so. And now you’re asking me to be okay with taking a fifty percent chance on my father’s life? I can’t do it.”
“Umar bhai, there is a one hundred percent chance that our father will die. There’s no doubt about that. The only questions are when and how it will happen. Like Aalia said, I would hate to see him whither away. He’s lived too noble a life to suffer an end like that.”
“Qadeer, look, I know you’ve made room for Abba the longest in your house, and you two are the closest out of all of us. You always have been,” Umar said, “But you can’t play God here. You can’t kill someone and bring them back without something happening. But God knows best. And if Abba wants this, I will try and talk him out of it. But if he still wants it, I can’t stop him.”
They all talked then, about the possible arrangements for preservation, the time frame for his “retrieval” as it was called, and they agreed that if he was to proceed, that all of them would meet with him before he took the plunge.
Khadija and Qadeer walked into the backyard, hand in hand. Khadija knew by the pace Qadeer was taking that he wasn’t here to exercise today, but because he had something on his mind. They walked to a bench in the backyard where he often told her of his wildest, most fantastic ideas, whether medical, financial, or spiritual. She would listen patiently, and when he was done she would hold him in her arms to let him know she believed in him.
“Khadija, I’m sorry I haven’t been good to you this past couple of weeks. I’ve been ignoring you and its wrong. Its just that I’m worried about Abba.”
“Me, too” she said. Qadeer’s apology was one she’d heard before, only this was the first time that it came with a more legitemate reason than his usual attribution to “progress”
“I talked to everyone last night: Umar, Fatima, and Aalia. I’m going to ask Abba if he would like to consider cryogenic preservation and retrieval. The neoangiogenics I’ve been working with might help him.”
She looked at him, searching for the origin of this idea. In making the statement he just did, was he asking her permission? Was he asking for her advice? Or was he the product of his father’s selfish genome, trying to do whatever it could to preserve itself, even one generation down?
Forgetting was written by Salman Ahmed.