I thought of using those words you grasp at in times like these similar to a person looking for a branch or something to hold them up when he's slowly slipping away in quicksand, but it somehow seemed inappropriate.
"I'm so sorry."
Why are you apologizing? Did you cause the cancer?
"Is there anything I can do?"
How about ripping that poison out of her deteriorating body?
And as my brave friend started talking about work and her squash and their plans for next year, I thought of my dad.
The police found my father laying face down in the middle of Buffelsdoorn Road about 11 feet from his Mercedes with all the car doors wide open, his wallet with money still in the cubbyhole, his jacket still on the backseat, his Rolex watch still on his arm, but he was beaten to a pulp and unconscious. My dad's pants were chafed at the knees as though he was trying to crawl on the tar road. From what and to where, we still don't know.
When my brother phoned me that night at half past one, all he said was:
"Dad's in the hospital. He's in surgery. It's bad."
My dad was on the local rugby club's committee and he always went to watch the practice on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. That Tuesday the police found his car on a route that leads away from my parent's house and we all know my dad practically invented short cuts as he grew up in Pretoria (our nation's actual capital) and always complained about traffic. It was also strange that nothing was stolen because, well, it's South Africa. The police could not question my dad and we were all left puzzled as to what really happened that night.
We waited and waited and waited some more and I could see my mother grow older. I could see my sister growing more scared and my brother angrier.
I felt like a statistic. Before we always spoke of crime and how it affected people we knew. Now we were those people.
Our house doctor came to the waiting room and said we could go in pairs to see my dad for a few minutes, but warned us that he was still out of it and that we shouldn't get a fright at what he looked like. He said we should prepare ourselves for the worst as he had little faith that my dad would make it through the night with the head trauma he suffered as well as something about his internal organs and I wanted to ask him if he could for once, just once, speak proper Afrikaans so we could actually understand what the hell was going on and what was happening to my dad. But my tongue was thick in my mouth.
My brother went in with me.
We walked to the bed and I still remember turning to my brother and saying:
"That incompetent nurse gave us the wrong room. I'm just going to check on the white board in what bed Dad's laying."
The man on the bed couldn't be my dad. His face was swollen like a balloon and beaten purple and dark blue beyond recognition; his eyes and nose were one just one big, indistinguishable heap. You could at least tell where his mouth was thanks to a tube coming out of it and there was this monitor constantly beeping with every breath he fought for. There was a weird, pungent smell in the room and for some reason I wanted to scratch myself the whole time.
No, that wasn't my dad. He didn't even wear his glasses and his hair was all messed up. My dad carried a little comb in one of his pockets (not his sock) because he hates messy hair. And he is totally lost and blind without those glasses. At least he allowed me to pick him a new pair the year before as he wore those old school horn rimmed ones and looked like Noah Bennet in Heroes. You're going to scare your patients away, I convinced him as he's a dentist and works with little children every day.
When I checked the white board in the passage I discovered that the man in the bed had the same name as my dad. I just walked out.
We all sat in that waiting room all night drink cup after cup of bad coffee as the soda machine was out of order. Everything was out of order that night. We contemplated on what could've happened and why my dad was on that road. We wondered if there was anyone with him in the car and why someone would beat up a pretty defenseless 61 year old man. I suppose that's where my brother's angry part comes in.
I won't bore you with details of rude detectives and empty promises, physiotherapy and months of rehab. After two years my dad can think, walk and talk like any other guy on the street. He's just really moody now, but so am I for at least one week in a month. No biggie.
I used to know of my parents, but didn't really know them. I never paid a thought to them being young once, a time before me. I never asked my dad what he bought with his first pay check, who was his favorite teacher at school, when he first kissed a girl and if he passed his driver's license with flying colors. I know that now and more. I'm glad my friend is getting that opportunity too.
This is my dad and I at a function a few years ago. He doesn't like wearing his glasses when we take photos because he always says he's a superhero when he takes them off (yes, like Clark Kent) and the camera exposes his secret anyway. We smile politely and nod.