Calvin breathes gently. Despite the pain and exhaustion, despite the air of resignation that hangs around him, he seems peaceful. The morning sun is brutal, but Calvin continues to lie in the blinding brightness that escapes the curtains. Calvin. Our sunshine.
Father, Mother, and I have locked our gazes on the boy. If our thoughts could be heard, Calvin would hear us saying, “Our last day with you. Last day.” The words marshal years and years of memories. Memories that make us smile. Memories that make us feel thankful. Memories that make us cry.
And we face the inevitable question — Will the memories perish along with Calvin?
I lie beside him, with my arms around his weak body. He still tries to wag his tail. Dogs. I think of Father, who reluctantly left to work, for he’s weighed down with the knowledge that he will not see Calvin alive again. I think of Mother, who bottles up her emotions and poses questions like, “Will it be painful for him? Is that the only way?” I think of Sister, who is thousands of miles away from the boy, and who would trade all her wishes to spend one last minute with him.
For all of them, I whisper into his ears — We love you, Calvin — as my torrential tears wash his face.
Moments later, I measure his body to let a friend dig Calvin’s grave. As I measure, Calvin takes a deep breath. I run the tape on him when he is alive. Life shows how ruthless it can become. While the family suffers from the inability to face the separation, while Calvin still lies in my mother’s lap, I call the vet and inform that we are ready. A lie.
Calvin rests his head on my thigh during our last ride to the vet and his cataract-filled eyes become bigger, as the car moves faster. He grows curious, tries to look out the window and inhales deeply, as though he is taking along all the goodness in the world.
One year later…
Today, Mother peels a banana for Boo. “Calvin loved bananas, Boo. You knew that, didn’t you?” I hear Mother talk to Boo and remember all that Mother says about the boy who left us a year ago.
Calvin liked apples. Calvin loved strangers. Calvin ate birds’ droppings. Calvin was scared of firecrackers. Calvin was this. Calvin was that. Calvin was everything.
Boo runs her tongue around her lips and sprawls in the sunniest spot at home. As I wonder how the teeny-weeny, diffident dog whom we rescued a few years ago has become a spoilt girl, the answer to the ‘inevitable question’ appears.
Will the memories perish along with Calvin?
In that unassuming moment, it dawns on me that Calvin is ensconced in the memories. When he left this transient realm, Calvin became stronger and healthier in that safest of territories. Every tiny, beautiful memory of ours is a fort that protects him. Every time we talk about him, we give that fort a fresh coat of paint. Every time we utter his name, the fort’s doors open and the black boy comes running out, with his long tongue out. He wears an effervescent smile as he jumps on us, and he covers our faces with his sticky saliva.
Nothing can snatch Calvin from us. He is just here. He will always be here.
Memories don’t hurt anymore, for their purpose is different now. They keep him alive and fan the undying love we have for our first pet.
And now, we love him with no fear; he cannot be lost again.