I have a habit of keeping a dream diary. Every time I experience a ‘worthwhile’ dream, I note it down in it.
Last night was one such experience.
The dream started with me walking on a familiar road with a somewhat dejected stride. Apparently, I had been offered an internship at a magazine and my job entailed me having to interview a certain patient and her family at the Cancer Ward of a local hospital. So much for my first task, I thought!
Suzanne R. Fitzgerald – The youngest cancer patient in the ward, at the prime age of three years. Her family consisted of a father – Robert, and an uncle – Samuel (who was in jail). Nobody had any information on her mother. Some say she died during childbirth, while others narrate stories of her running away with her lover after leaving Suzanne with her father. Not that I really cared. I had one job to do, and I’d do it well.
I entered the hospital, the name of which I can’t recollect (It was a dream after all), but the cancer ward did look familiar. I enquired about Suzanne and was told that she’d be in room 307 with her father.
Robert was reading the morning newspaper when I entered the room. I introduced myself, and told him the reason for my uninvited presence. He was pretty welcoming and even offered to answer any of my questions until Suzanne arrived after her early morning check-up, which he said, “might take up to an hour”.
I thanked him and set up my voice recorder.
From Robert I learnt how Suzanne had developed Osteosarcoma (or bone cancer) a few weeks after childbirth. The doctors noticed it only months later and by then it had turned lethal. They had jotted down a humongous list of medications and multiple tests for Suzanne, which left Robert no choice but to shift to room 307.
“My wife, Emily, passed away 3 years ago leaving Suzzie with me. She’s all that’s left of my wife, and I love her to bits”, said Robert, trying his best to battle his tears. His in-laws had bequeathed her their family orchard, the revenue of which helped pay Suzanne’s bills.
“It’s not easy”, he asserted, “to look at your beautiful daughter, hold her, stare into her eyes, and tell her everyday that everything is going to be OK. More than giving her hope, you end up trying to console yourself because she trusts you. Every day I curse myself for having to lie to her. But I can’t do much. All I can do is smile and be there for her.”
“But she’s different. She loves it here. She has made her own friends amongst the nurses and the doctors. She doesn’t mind the check-ups, nor does she complain while taking her medications. She reads books, listens to songs, and sometimes watches movies on the television. She talks a lot, and I’m glad she does. She’s like a mystery wrapped in an enigma – No one knows what she might be up to next, but the people out here are nice. They love her and they’ve helped us a lot. One of the nurses even gifted her a doll.”
Just as he said that, a nurse brought Suzanne into the room. Standing by the door, clutching her old doll, she gifted me the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
I had seen many types of smiles. Smiles that were masks; smiles that conveyed joy; smiles that showed enjoyment, pain and sometimes even sadness. But Suzanne’s smile was different. Her smile had innocence carved all over it. Her smile told the story of a girl who thought nothing could go wrong in this world – that hers was a world without problems. She didn’t know about war, hunger or Cancer.
Whether she knew that she was going to die soon or no, I know not. But what I know is that she was happy. I had read somewhere that ‘people wait all week for Friday, all year for summer and all their life for happiness’; but here I was standing face first with a 3 year old girl and her father who had found happiness in the worst of situations.
“Who is he, dad?” she asked as she ran up to Robert.
“He’s a friend”, replied Robert, “and he’s here to ask you some questions”.
“Actually, I’ve got all I wanted”, I said, before walking over to Suzanne and giving her a tight hug.
The wind had picked up outside, and I saw strains of black clouds near the horizon. Robert came out to drop me. “She’s nice, y’know,” he said, “I’m glad I got to spend time with her, even if it’s not much.”
“You’re brave,” I said, “Not everyone can smile through such hardship.”
“I can cry if I want and people will be there to give me pity,” he confessed, “But I choose to smile. For My Daughter.”
The memory of the rest of my dream is unclear, as my alarm woke me up moments later. But as I stretched to clutch my dream diary from my bedside drawer, I realized one thing – “Happiness can be found in the direst of situations if only one remembers to smile.”