Creative

Non-fiction: Open heart, closed thoughts

"Were they lying to me? Did I not look old enough for the truth?"

By Laila Mostafa

Image: Shutterstock.

Sixty minutes. That’s how long they said it would take.

I looked at the awkwardly placed ash grey clock leaning on the wall in front of me. The so-called hour they claimed has come and gone, twice now. The clock’s face grimaced as its black, metal hands prepared for its third trip around.

Were they lying to me? Did I not look old enough for the truth?

Perhaps it was my animated Hello Kitty pajamas, or maybe it was my bare face and untamed, frizzy hair.

Nevertheless. They should have known better.

After all, how could I have known that I would be awakened halfway through the night by my mother’s agonizing screams and cries for help? How was I supposed to know that, instead of dialing my grandmother the next morning and arguing about the cliff-hanger at the end of her favorite show, I would be emotionally hanging on a cliff of my own?

They should have known better.

If only I could express my concerns to someone or talk to them about it.

I looked around and searched for anyone to talk to, but the hallway was empty. No white coats. No navy blue short-sleeved scrubs. Not an unfamiliar person in sight.

Sitting across from me was my 46-year-old mother. She appeared to have stopped crying; however, her red, swollen eyes suggested otherwise.

In her eyes, I could hear my mother’s loud, urgent screams from a few hours earlier. I could still hear her strained, brittle voice crying for me to call for an ambulance. I could still see her refusal to let go of my father’s hand as they wheeled him out of the car and into the operation room for an open heart surgery. I could see it all so clearly, with the pained voices still ringing in my ears.

I could not bear to see my usually strong mother in such a fragile state. At that moment, I wanted to throw myself at her and into a tight, warm embrace; I wanted to wipe the newly produced set of tears slowly running down her face and share the screams I knew in my heart that she was trying so hard to silence.

Knowing that my actions would only deteriorate my mother’s already bad condition, I decided to shift my focus on my other surroundings.

I decided to talk to my brother, who was sitting only a few inches away from our mother. His eyes, like my mother’s, were red and swollen; however, the puffiness in his eyes seemed to be a result of both worry and anger. Judging by the way he was impatiently shaking his legs and nervously watching the wide off-white door in front of him, I understood that he was scared.

We were all scared.

We felt like a puzzle without the last piece: incomplete, useless.

To us, my father was everything; the smile that brings our laughter; the heart that fuels our love; the spark that ignites our passion and inspiration. He is everything.

Sitting on the long, silver steel waiting chairs at the hospital, the three of us felt broken. We needed my father’s recovery to glue us back into one piece, into the strong, tight-knit family we had always been .

After the third hour had passed, we felt our patience finally reach its limit. Just as my brother stood up to angrily speak his mind, we saw the white coats and navy blue scrubs finally open the door. They were smiling and we translated that as a sign of good news.

We learned that the operation had gone successfully and that my father would be wheeled up to one of the available recovery rooms.

In that moment, I noticed a white and grey gurney emerging from a distance. I squinted in an attempt to see who was on board, and then I saw it: His smile.


Laila Mostafa is an Egyptian writer and a literature student at the American University of Sharjah. Her passions include arts and culture, theatre and contemporary literature. She is currently interning at Sekka.

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