I rarely eat cereal or read the papers in the morning, but as a wannabe writer, it’s a wonderful way of opening an early scene in writing.
Here, let me show you.
This morning, I was just picking up the paper while crunching merrily away on melting fruit loops when my mother told me the bad news.
Someone close to our family had just passed away.
I should explain our relationship. You see, when my sister was 2 and I was, well, a fresh baby, both my parents had to work and as a result, there was no one around to look after us. So my parents got us: a nanny. To make myself feel better for now and because it’s cute somehow, I shall refer to her as: Mary Poppins.
For the next 10 years or so through which I started blooming into a mean-tempered, overfed brat, Mary Poppins babysat us until my mother decided that we were old enough to take care of ourselves. Thereafter, we would still make time to visit Mary Poppins because she rocks. My childhood kicked ass.
As delightful as it all seems, I must say, I can never really tell if Mary Poppins is happy. You see, Mr. Mary Poppins isn’t exactly the kind of man that a woman would want to marry. He’s loud, he’s uncouth, he’s mean to Mary Poppins, he doesn’t communicate with his children and he’s really lazy. But all in all, he’s nice. He likes kids and he treats us rather well, though he hardly speaks to his own. He doesn’t know how to, I guess. But I never noticed it until I got older. By then, it seemed weird to talk about it since I wasn’t exactly part of the family even though Mary Poppins and her children treated us like so.
So, I never did. Whenever Mr. Mary Poppins had a temper tantrum, I would just go into pretend mode with Mary Poppins and her children and act like nothing happened. Sometimes, I would attempt breaking the tension. Other times, I would stick a toe out and try prodding the surface. But Mary Poppins never spoke much about it. She loves bitching about Mr. Mary Poppins and his mother though because that’s what old wives do.
But as much as she appears to hate her husband, she never left him. Her children, now in their thirties and forties, always wondered why she would still give a damn about Mr. Mary Poppins when he’s such a jerk to her. Yes, he has cheated on her on multiple occasions.
Being particularly fond of Mary Poppins because she took care of me when I was a fresh baby; I, like her children and everyone else, could never take a complete liking to Mr. Mary Poppins because we side Mary Poppins.
Mr. Mary Poppins died of a heart attack this morning.
66 years of age, he was overseas on a 10-day vacation with his brothers. He had been complaining of a constant aching in his tummy but all seemed well.
Until when one of his brothers found him suddenly motionless down on his hotel bed. They were about to head off together for breakfast and he was waiting for them. He had already cleansed and changed: ready to go.
I stared at my mother when she told me and she stared back when she was done. We had no idea what to do. We knew Mary Poppins wasn’t exactly on good terms with Mr. Mary Poppins so it seemed possible that his death wouldn’t upset her that much. On the other hand, they’ve been married for decades, and despite all that Mr. Mary Poppins never did for her, Mary Poppins would always be there, faithfully picking up after him.
I told my mother I had to check on Mary Poppins no matter what. I could feign ignorance but I couldn’t bear to have the poor woman tell me herself. When the responsibility to break the news falls heartlessly on the newly widowed, the agony with which he or she is tormented could be weaponized. Others can only imagine.
So there I was, standing outside her door, wondering if I should just turn and run since my presence made no difference and I feared saying the wrong thing. Until it happens, you will not believe what a coward such situations will make out of you.
But as always, Mary’s door was already open and I saw the look on her face when she saw the look on mine. Two minutes ago, I made myself swear that I wasn’t going to cry. I was there to comfort her; not to be comforted. But then I saw the puffy eyes and the at-the-ready Kleenex in her hand and I lost it.
Because I’m the kind of person who can’t make a single peep when I cry. Talk about being comforting. Fortunately though, I’m the kind of person who can’t make a single peep when I cry. It’s literally quiet tears. Such tears are easy to disregard and hide. Like I’m not crying at all, which is good.
So that’s what I did. The only thing I could do. I sat down next to Mary Poppins and her children in their living room and together, we cried a little puddle of noiseless tears as one of Mr. Mary Poppins’ brothers retold the story of how Mr. Poppins left us all in shock. The fact that he was away from home when it happened made it worse. His wife didn’t even get to see him alive one last time. If he was suffering, nobody was there to help him because nobody knew. It happened all too quickly.
And time was not on their side. What about the funeral? Should they ship his body back first or should they opt for immediate cremation because the former costs gazillions? When and how will they get Mr. Poppins’ death certificate? How long will it take? Who can they contact? Where should they go? What about insurance? And the flat? And the bank? What were his last words? Why did he have to be so far away? Why did he have to go? Did he have any regrets? Unfulfilled wishes? Would it have made a difference if she stopped him from going? I could see all of that flashing through Mary Poppins’ mind as she continued to cry quiet tears like mine. She was so helpless, and I was so helpless watching her because I was completely useless there. I didn’t have a single answer to her many questions; either that or I wasn’t in the position to give one. I could only hold her wrinkly hand or pat her shoulder – and it really does nothing at all.
It’s truly one of the worst feelings in this world: not knowing what to say and do for someone who needs something to be said and done. I urged her youngest daughter to let me know if I could help in any way. She nodded knowingly; upset too but she managed to keep a shadow of her usual chatty spirit. Yet, it was already truth: her father was no longer around, and I will never get to see Mr. Mary Poppins lounging around the house again. Or Mary Poppins yelling at him and him screaming back. Or Mary Poppins’ normal cheerful self, at least for now. Thankfully, there was a boisterous five-year-old grandson around to break those moments of silence in which that relentless fact kept creeping in on us. If there was anyone who could cheer Mary up now, he was probably the only one.
Just before I had a chance to rush off so that I could cry shamefully alone, Mary’s daughter was telling me about her journey on the bus home from work after her mother broke the bad news. Like her siblings, she was distant from her father and admitted that she hardly felt a thing; except for a little regret because the man left so suddenly.
Then, it happened. She was just staring blankly out of the window, lost in thought when a strange, insect-like creature landed on the glass pane right in front of her.
“I looked at it, and it looked back at me. We just stared at each other for a while, and then it just flew away. I guess it was him saying goodbye.”