The Railroad Man: A New Journey
February 7, 2010
My father was the foundation of my world, the backbone of my life. If there’s one person responsible for who I am, it would be him: Melquiades Perez.
The morning was cold and gloomy. The plywood walls weren’t enough to keep the house warm. I was lying, half-awake on my bed, listening to the sound of the rain pouring rhythmically on our tin roof. “It’s time for his bath,” my sister said, waking me up. “ You still have to fetch your plane ticket today.”
Automatically, I stood up, dragged myself towards the room across from mine and prepared for the bath.
Inside the room, on a single wooden bed, laid a half-dead man, skin-and-bones, barely breathing. A crouched grown-up baby in an extra large diaper, his eyes were dull, empty and blind. Was he asleep? It was hard to know.
“God, please lessen his suffering,” I prayed, soundlessly, almost adding, “Please take him.”
“Got the soap?” my sister asked.
“Yes, I’m ready.”
Because of being bedridden, his wounds had rapidly become deeper and larger, but tending them—washing, applying ointments, dressing with gauze—didn’t bother me. He weighed only about 80 pounds, not even half of his weight when he was still active, making it easy for us to move him around.
My days had become routine. I bathed him, tended his wounds, checked his blood pressure and sugar level, injected him with insulin, blended his food, fed him using the rubber tube in his nose, and, when necessary, changed his diaper.
We had had been in this situation for almost half a year, since he’d been discharged from the hospital. “No one in this world can save him now,” one of the doctors casually said. “No one, not even God.” If the doctor was right, then who, when his time to suffer or die comes, can save himself?
My father and I were alone in the room. I was carefully drying him with a towel, avoiding the newly-tended wounds. He was staring blankly at the ceiling. “I need to go back to Canada soon,” I said, my mouth close to his ear. “Aren’t you going to stop me?“ I waited for a response, but as expected, he didn’t even move his lips. A Cerebral Aneurism (slowly but surely) took my father.
My nephew and niece entered the room, stood beside me, placed their mouth close to their grandfather’s ear and performed their daily routine. “Handsome Grandpa,” they started singing. “Please don’t cry. Don’t you know we love you, very much?” They kissed him on his cheek, gave him a hug, kissed me on my cheek and left the room. It was visible, through their eyes, that their young hearts weren’t yet strong enough to look at their grandfather’s sorry condition. Even my father’s dog, in its dumb grief, sat quietly and obediently at one corner of the room and spent moments of silence with its dying master.
Later that day, after I fetched my plane ticket, my friend and I went to an amusement park. We rode the Roller Coaster, Ferris Wheel and strolled around. It was fun and a great escape from reality, I thought.
Little did I know, while I was enjoying myself, my father, at the same time, was fighting for his last breath.
Back in our house, my sister was crying, her eyes swollen. My aunt was standing beside her, stroking her back. Everyone turned their eyes on me as soon as I entered the door, as if wanting to tell me something but not having the courage to do so. I ran towards my father’s room, pretending like I had no idea what was happening, hoping that I would still find him on his bed, waiting for me.
The moment I had feared the most had come—the bed was stripped; my father was gone.
When I arrived at the hospital’s emergency department, my cousin stopped me. “What year was Tito born?” he asked, filling out a form.
“Where is he?” I replied.
“Where’s his birthplace?”
“Just tell me where he is!”
My cousin hugged me, tight, “He’s gone, Mack,” he said, crying. “Tito is gone.”
I forced my way through the door and saw my father lying on a stretcher, surrounded by people who didn’t take notice of him. I wrapped him in my arms and kissed him. I cried in front of him, for the first time in years, knowing that he couldn’t feel my tears on his cheeks, couldn’t witness my frailty.
It was now the first night of the wake, my sister and relatives were gathered behind me, comforting each other, praying the rosary, wailing. I was looking at my father’s framed picture, the only proof of his prime, wearing his white martial arts suit and black belt, which was placed on the coffin’s glossy, glass surface, girded with white flowers. Then I looked at the man in white suit—straight, stiff, lifeless like a log—inside the casket. He looked a lot like my father, I thought, but he was not.
As they lowered the coffin and laid the marble tombstone on the green Bermuda grass, I recalled my father’s life.
He dedicated his life to our family. He worked abroad and endured years of loneliness. When he came back home to us, I witnessed—the sweat that wet his shirts, the cracked calluses on his dirty hands, his sunburnt skin—his hard work. I grew up without a mother, so he was also the one to put on the apron and make our omelette. He ploughed the field, planted the seeds, irrigated the land, harvested the crops, cooked and served the food on our plate while my sisters and I, ate. He complained about his rugged and overused boots, that he hadn’t any money for new ones, but never had I heard him complain about the work that he’d done for our family. He loved us. He didn’t say it often, but I knew he did.
My father was a railroad man who had been through different stations of life. And on the night of February 6, 2006, his train arrived at its final station, his journey had met the end of its track.
I arrived back here in Canada with only one thing on my mind. It’s time to gather my tools, board the train, and start my own journey through life.