My firefly

“Do you have a lot of friends?”
His smile widened. He held both of his palms to the front and started counting- “Sami, Meena, revathy, selvam, Muthu, pavizham, Raj” and folded each of his fingers as he spoke their name and after a small pause he added “kayathri” .

My firefly

Before I had death anxiety, before I fell in love with fireflies, I was just another kid who had a normal family and normal life. My mom was transferred to a school in Kerala- Karnataka border when I was 7 years old. Mom, me and my 3 year old sister moved to a house that we rented. Everyone there spoke Kannada and very rarely broken Malayalam.

The 7 year old me was realising my worst nightmare which is being that new kid at school – who joined the school in the middle of the year- and had no idea how to communicate because they all spoke a different language. This drained the life out of me and I hated school. But I have to say that the 7 year old me kept all that misery to myself because somehow I understood what my mom was going through.

One day as I was sitting in the children’s park at school I noticed that a chubby boy ,who resembled a teddy bear that I have, was looking at me from a distance. Usually everybody stared at me at school. But this was different. He was smiling. I looked around to see if he was smiling at someone else, but no.  He was smiling at me.

He started walking to me and I made sure that I smiled back because every other kid had ran away when ever I tried talking to them. So I didn’t want to mess this one. He touched my hair clip that had roses all over it ,which I wore to school every day because my grandma got me that clip as a parting gift, and said
“I Prabhu”, pointed at my hair clip, ” rose” and something else in Kannada.

I didn’t care about the Kannada part. I was so happy that someone talked to me and that too in broken English.
“I’m Gayathri and this is my grandma’s gift”
I replied with the widest smile on my face.
“Gift? Happy birthday gift?” He pointed at the clip again
“No. Not a birthday gift. Just gift” my response confused him I think.
” No birthday, why gift?”

So I understood his confusion. He didn’t seem familiar with the idea of a normal gift. He thought gifts were only for birthdays.
I didn’t know how to explain so I changed the topic.
“Do you have a lot of friends?”
His smile widened. He held both of his palms to the front and started counting- “Sami, Meena, revathy, selvam, Muthu, pavizham, Raj” and folded each of his fingers as he spoke their name and after a small pause he added “kayathri” .

I was on top of the world. I was a friend. I’m pretty sure that was the happiest day of my life. Or I’d rather say the the beginning of my happiest days. He was a great friend. He always walked with me, shared lunch with me, and helped me understand what his friends were talking in Kannada. He was my teddy bear.

For some reason my mom seemed a lil disturbed that Prabhu was my only friend. She often told me” Prabhu is a good boy but you should make other friends too”, to which I always replied “none of them talk to me mom. I don’t want other friends. I like Prabhu”. End of conversation.

A year passed and Prabhu and I was inseparable except for the days in which he was absent in class. I hated those days. He was a lazy teddy bear. That’s what I called him. He missed school at least twice a week and it drove me crazy. I would sit alone in those days like that new girl at school who didn’t have friends. Then he would come running to me next day screaming ” sorry sorry sorry sorry ” until I said it was okay.

Then one day he didn’t come back. I waited and waited and just waited. I suffocated mom with questions because my mom was a teacher in the same school but she kept her silence. I lost my patience, I hated school and I didn’t wanted to go anymore.

It was a working day and my mom asked me to put on a dress.
” Why ? It’s not my birthday? Then why not my uniform? I’m not going to school anyway” I was so determined.

“We are not going to school. We are going to see Prabhu”. My mom’s words were music to my ears.
I ran to my room as fast as I could and put on my the nicest dress I had and wore the rose hair clip above my ponytail.
My mom had called a taxi and I jumped in the backseat and was so excited to meet Prabhu.

“Gayathri, come here baby”
I didn’t want to go to mom’s side from the window side but I did it anyway because she’s taking me to Prabhu and I needed to be a good girl.
“Yes mom?”
“Do you remember how we lost Prakash uncle? Do you know why we can’t see him anymore?”
I knew why and I was very quick to answer.
” He had a heart attack and he died. I know mom. We can’t see dead people. They are in heaven”
I could see that my mom was shocked by my quick response. But she returned to her calm face and said “yes. That’s right. He had a heart problem and he was old too. But sometimes little kids also get sick”

I didn’t want to talk boring stuff when I’m so excited so I said ” I know mom, I get fever all the time. Are we there? Did we reach?”

Mom took a deep breath and exhaled.  ” No dear. We are not going to his home. We are going to a hospital. Prabhu is sick and it’s not fever. Sometimes little kids get terrible sicknesses too. And he has what Prakash uncle had. His heart is weaker than yours”

I wasn’t excited anymore. Prakash uncle died and I haven’t seen him ever since. I didn’t really like Prakash uncle so I didn’t care. But this is Prabhu. It broke my little heart. Suddenly my eyes were watery and hands were cold
” Mom? Why is his heart weak? You said good people have good heart and he is the best person in school. “

I could see that my mom was struggling to find words.
” Yes, he is the sweetest. But God makes mistakes. And I’m afraid our Prabhu was unlucky.”

I was sinking in a thousand thoughts. Nothing made sense. How can good people get bad sickness. How can god make mistakes and get good people sick? Then the train of thoughts ended and I had only one question left.
” Is he going to die? Is he going to heaven like Prakash uncle? Is he going to be alone?”

Mom took my cold hands and wrapped them in her hands. Her eyes were watery and her voice, breaking. ” We don’t know baby. No he won’t be alone. Little kids become fireflies when they leave us and come to visit their loved ones whenever they want. ” She managed to say this as she wiped her tears.

I couldn’t speak. The words I knew were suddenly insufficient.
” And we are going to see him in a hospital room. He’s already in pain and it will only hurt him more if you cry. So no Matter what you shouldn’t cry at the hospital. He will be happy to see you and he deserves to be happy. So mamma wants you to be a big girl today. You have to keep him happy”

I didn’t know anything about being an adult. But I understood what mom said. I had to keep my best friend happy even if I was sad.
“Mom, can we get a gift for Prabhu?”
“Sure we can. What do you want to get him?”
I didn’t have to think at all
” A super man t-shirt”
I talked about superman all the time and he wanted to be superman when he grow up.

We stopped in a shop in the city and bought a super man t-shirt. It had that big ‘S’ on the chest in his favourite colour, red.

It was a long ride and it was noon when we reached the hospital and I wasn’t even hungry. I held mom’s hand so tight with my left hand and held the gift in the other. I ran as I couldn’t keep up with my mom’s big steps because I didn’t want to slow her down for me.

Mom slowed down as we reached the icu. I saw Mallika aunty, his mother, sitting on a chair. She was sobbing and his dad held her to his chest. They both looked so tired. She looked up as we walked to her. Mallika aunty didn’t have that big red bindi she always had on her forehead. She didn’t have Jasmin flowers in her hair.

Mom held Mallika aunty’s hands and was crying. I didn’t know what to do and I barely understood what they were talking about. Then mom looked at me and said ” Gayathri, now we can see Prabhu. Remember what I said? Be a big girl.”

I saw Mallika aunty wiping her tears with her pallu. She instantly smiled as she opened the door to the icu. I looked at mom .” yes mom, I understand”.

I entered the room and saw my teddy bear. He was laying on the hospital bed. There was white patches and tubes attached to his body. Also a lot of machines on the side of the bed. One of the nurses took his mask off. The doctor bent down towards his face Nd said “Prabhu, look who’s here to see you. It’s your best friend. Gayathri is here”

I was a bit scared from all the icu setups but I promised to be a big girl. I gathered up my courage. ” Prabhu, it’s me. Wake up”
I could see his eyelids moving and very slowly he opened his eyes.
“Sssr… Ssrr” he was trying to say something.
I looked at the doctor wondering why he can’t talk.
“Give him some time. He can talk. He has been asking for you”

“Sorry sorry sorry…” he kept going.
I smiled and held his hand.
” It’s okay. Nothing fun is happening at school anyway. I miss you. Everything is so boring without you.” I had a lot to complain.
He smiled, that same smile that melted my heart when I first met him.
“You eat lunch alone?” He asked.
” Yes and I terribly miss Mallika aunties mango pickle”
He held Mallika aunty’s hand and told what I had said, in Kannada. She smiled at me.

“Oh, look what I got for you. A gift. I know you’re gonna love this.” I held the superman t-shirt with my two hands so that he can see the logo.
His eyes sparkled in excitement.
” Superman!!! I’m superman. Not birthday, just gift”
It seemed like finally he knew the idea of a regular gift.
“Yes. That’s right. And I want you to know that you are a superman.”
He looked at the t-shirt and then looked at me. He knew I meant it.

Mallika aunty took the t-shirt from my hands and put it on his chest and said that it suits him well, in Kannada. He was so happy.

The nurse told that the visiting time is over. My mom came closer to me and placed her hand on my shoulder. “It’s time to go. Say goodbye. I’ll wait outside.”
Then she looked at Prabhu “Prabhu, everything is going to be okay. We are all here for you. I’m praying. Ok?”
Prabhu nodded with a smile.

I didn’t know what to say.
I took my rose hair clip off and put it in his hand.
“Keep this. Hold on to this when you miss me. “

He looked at the clip and pinned it on his dress.
” Okay. I will give back. In school”

“Okay. Come back soon teddy bear” I kissed on his cheek.

I looked back a hundred times as I walked out of the room. He was waving to me. I couldn’t get enough of his infectious smile. 

That was the last time I saw him. And the next week, mom got transferred to our home town. We moved to our own home, to my grandma and cousins. I had everything but him. I missed his smile. I missed how he held my hand. I missed our future plans to go to the beach and the moon. I missed our little adventures and mischiefs. Nothing here seemed to replace him. He was in hospital for another 2 weeks.

Mom woke me up on Friday morning, crying, to say that Prabhu was gone. For the first time my heart ached so much that I couldn’t bear. I hugged mom as tight as I can and cried. The thought of not seeing him ever again haunted me for weeks. Then, very slowly, I came back to my normal life.

But that little girl who was scared of darkness ,who slept with the lights on, wasn’t scared anymore. She didn’t care about the horrors of night. She was waiting for her fireflies to come.

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