Death — a five-letter word that is the cause of change for many. It is difficult and sometimes a rude shock, changing lives forever. In certain cases, it marks the end of long held traditions.
“What will poor Alicia think when she gets to know about her grandfather, who is suffering from cancer?” Alicia’s mother thought out loud. Even worse, what if she gets to know that it is a hopeless case? Cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes — was there anything greater to him than his cigarettes? We’d all requested him to give it a try and quit smoking. But what was the result? He stopped for a week, and then he resumed again!” Mother sobbed as father wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.
Although her parents’ bedroom door was closed, Alicia overheard what was said. She sat down with a thud on the ground. Oh Lord, her dear grandpa. Yes, grandpa was having a face-to-face conversation with death. It was terrible. She ran upstairs with tears rolling down her cheeks.
She was a little five-year-old girl and was very soft. Alicia was a “girly-girl” without any airs about her. She had blonde hair which she combed neatly. And she would then plait them like an expert. She was blessed with an angel-like and loved-by-all personality.
Alicia’s 70-year-old Grandpa, meanwhile, was addicted to smoking. As a result of this vice, he was now terminally ill with cancer.
The wider effect of vices
Grandma had passed on five years ago. Coincidentally, she too was cancer stricken. She was devoted to Grandpa, always giving him company. In fact, Grandma adored him. Grandpa too was very fond of her and loved to talk about the day they met in a park — when their dancing eyes had met. Well of course, their friendship had converted into a lifelong union.
Grandma’s cause of cancer was, of course, Grandpa. This was because she was a regular second-hand smoker. After her demise, Grandpa lost his interest in living and further increased his smoking frequency. This led to a quick decline in his health. He often cursed and blamed himself as the cause of his beloved wife’s death.
Alicia walked over to his room and knocked on the door. She whispered, “Grandpa, may I come in?”
“A-ha! Sweety! Come in, come in!” came Grandpa’s familiar voice from inside.
Alicia bent her head to fight her tears back as she entered his room.
In his youth, Grandpa was a well-built, upright man. His form seemed to bring a skyscraper to mind. But he was now lean and frail — resembling a lanky frame and looked almost skeleton-like. Grandpa was seated on a chair. He was reading a book and he smiled as Alicia walked in.
In his hand, Granpda held a copy of ’Best Ways to Stay Happy in a Hopeless Case’ — a book written by John Henry Carter. The author was well-known and he’d written this as his final one at the age of 99. Alicia snatched the book away and said, “Promise me, you’re not going to read this stupid book again. If you do, it goes to the fireplace, okay?” Alicia said amid sobs.
“Why are you crying?” Grandpa asked helplessly and reached out to hug her.
“What does it mean by a hopeless case?” Alicia cried.
“It means I am surely invited by God. If I remain unfaithful to him, he will send me back. And if I remain faithful, he will keep me back.”
“Grandpa! I am growing up now. I understand what death is. You can’t fool me!” Alicia replied.
“Okay, okay, dear. Now, let me sleep, will you? I need lots of rest. When you come to see me next, bring me something; anything you like. I’d like to spend time looking at it, and maybe, I will simply think about memories of the times I’ve spent with you.”
At this, Alicia eased up a little bit. Kissing her Grandpa on his bald head, she hopped back to her room. She knew exactly what to bring the next day.
The following morning, she made sure to remember to take something for Grandpa. Alicia went over to his room, knocked on the door and went inside.
“And what is it in your hand?” Grandpa asked, rubbing his shrunk hands in excitement.
Alicia had taken with her a tally counter that Grandpa had once gifted her. It wasn’t an ordinary one though. It was given to Grandpa by his Grandpa, and so went the cycle. She went across to where he was seated and as she handed it to him, Alicia said, “It is damaged, Grandpa. Each time I press it till 99, it works just fine. But when I press it one more time to convert the numbers to 100, it stops! It infuriates me.”
“What? Let me try. I bet I will surely convert the numbers to read 100 now.” Saying so, Grandpa took the tally counter and kissed it gently. Then, he pressed it one time.
The first zero turned and now read one. The numbers kept turning steadily with each click — two, three, four, five and so forth.
And it turned
Alicia was sitting still, very still, at the edge of the bed. With bated breath, she watched her Grandpa’s thumb pressing the switch gently as the numbers flipped from one to another.
Her eyes were open so wide that an onlooker would have been able to see the enormity of her gaze. Grandpa’s hazel green eyes were stuck on his wrinkled thumb. They were brimming with tears — of both grief and happiness.
His movement grew slower. However, although his eyes were drooping, a quiet and helpless smile came over his face. Soon, he started losing his grip over the counter.
Alarmed, Alicia cried, “Grandpa, are you okay? Y-You are a-acting strange. Is anything wrong?”
Grandpa nodded lightly and continued pressing the tally counter. By this time, Grandpa had clicked up to 98 and was just pressing the counter again. It read 99 when Alicia caught sight of it.
Alicia held her breath and stared at the wrinkled thumb intently. It forced itself to flip. The numbers turned from 99 to 100. And ‘click’ went the tally counter to read 1-0-0.
“Grandpa! You did it! It is 100! How did you do it? Tell me, Grandpa, how did you do it?” Alicia quizzed in excitement.
The tally counter fell from Grandpa’s hand and shattered into pieces.