The Tree of Life
Sharif and his wife Ankhi were at the chamber of a reputed Sydney oncologist to discuss the MRI results of Sharif's suspected colon. On the wall hung a board which displayed a large number of his colon's images taken at different angles and perspectives. Sharif tried to get the underlying message emanating from the images. Each image had a few grey or dark spots which looked ominous to him.
The oncologist seated on his side of the consultation table said, “As your physician I am sorry to tell you that you have been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer.” He paused for a while and then looked at Sharif, “You have been carrying this disease for the last two years at least.”
The oncologist's diagnosis struck Sharif like death sentence from the presiding judge at a court. He felt an icy cold shiver running down his spine and freezing his body. Suddenly, the images on the board became blurred to Sharif. Tears welled up in Ankhi's eyes, as she saw a dark shadow descend on Sharif's face.
The oncologist briefed them about Sharif's treatment in the coming days, “There would be a major operation to remove the cancerous parts of your colon; if successful, and the cancer is not pervasive, then you can expect to live up to five years. Chances are that you may live beyond that. Besides, you will need chemotherapy from time to time.”
A guilty feeling for his laxness in dealing with this lingering malady overwhelmed Sharif. “Why didn't I care about my health? Why did I keep myself busy with accumulating money, growing assets - house, car, property?" He castigated himself, “Had I heeded to Ankhi's advice in time, I wouldn't have been in this dire situation.”
Ankhi was driving on way back home. Sharif remained quiet, while Ankhi felt as if a wild storm was blowing through her mind that seemed to tear her apart. Sharif broke his silence.
“Ankhi, why did the diagnosis take such a long time? Why didn't GP refer me to an oncologist early?” He sniffled. “Don't you think Ankhi, GP's doses of steroid suppressed early symptoms of cancer?” Sharif became agitated suddenly, “I will sue GP.”
“Sharif, please calm down. We will do everything to make you better. Pray to Allah and seek His blessings, please!” Ankhi entreated Sharif. Sharif became quiet again. But his inner turmoil continued.
My life has been turned upside down! Everything I achieved seems worthless now.
Allah, why are you so cross with me; what I did wrong? Please be kind to me.
Allah, please take back everything; heal me, I will do anything you want!
Then Sharif reflected over the likely responses the news of his sickness would stir up in the community.
“I would be pitied by everyone; my relatives and friends would come to see me, as if my days are numbered. Many would speculate how my treatment is going to drain out my savings. Oh Allah!” Sharif almost cried out.
Ankhi looked at the GPS monitor of the car to find where they were at that moment. She found that they had veered away from their destination route. The female automated voice from the GPS said, “I am calculating….” The voice seemed to keep Sharif alert for a while. He then sank back to his deep rumination again. “What is Sharif thinking about?” Ankhi pondered, “Is it possible somehow to delete what happened in the last few weeks and rewrite life?”
At the intersection they were held up in traffic. Ankhi looked ahead. The road mark said: 'Sydney - straight and Mittagong - to the right.'
“Sharif, you remember we visited Mittagong two years ago. Do you remember the creek side park in the town? It was then the end of autumn and the winter about to reign in.”
“Yes, I do.”
“We sat on a wooden bench under the canopy of a tree shedding dry maroon and faint yellow colored leaves. The sun rays filtered through the dazzling canopy and birds chirping. A gentle cool breeze blew across and we huddled to keep ourselves warm."
“We will come again to this park," we had said.
“But we couldn't make it.”
“Would you like to go there now?” Ankhi asked.
“Yes. Isn't it autumn over there?”
It took forty minutes to arrive at Mittagong. When they reached the park, it was mid-day. A gentle shower from a few patches of passing clouds fell down on them, revealing the clear blue sky. The shower rattled many dead leaves off the tree they were after. The different shades of the fallen colored leaves under the tree turned the grass cover into multi-colored mosaics. The sun rays streamed in from the blue sky to glisten the fallen leaves.
The wooden bench under the tree was vacant. It was slightly wet from the shower, but it didn't deter them from sitting on it. They remained seated silently on the bench for a long time, huddled together. As usual, Sharif broke the silence.
“Don't you want to know the name of the tree, Ankhi?”
“Do you know it?”
“No I don't. Let's ask that gentleman seated on the verandah of the house by the side of the park. He might know.”
Sharif and Ankhi went to meet the gentleman. After the introduction, Sharif pointed to the tree in the park and said, “You have been watching this tree possibly for a long time. Could you please tell us the name?”
“The tree belongs to the deciduous type, no doubt. But the deciduous tree has many species. Don't know which species it is. You know, I actually never bothered to learn about that. During late autumn and early winter, my parents really loved sitting on the bench when the whole park came alive under a bright sun amid the dazzling display of shedding leaves by the tree.”
“Where are they now?”
“Dad died last year from old age. About three months ago Mom had to be moved to an old home. She has dementia. She hardly remembers anything about what happens in her day to day life, but still can recall many things she was fond of from her past.” He paused for a while and exclaimed,
“Oh hang on! Mom was a trained horticulturist. She didn't work for long as one though. She knows the name, I'm pretty sure."
“Could you please see me the next week-end? By this time, I should be able to know the name of the tree from her. Her old home is about twenty-five kilometers' drive from here. I drive there once a week to see her.”
“Sure, we will be here!”
“If you could just give me your mobile number! I mean, you don't need to see me separately in that case.”
“We would like to come here again.” Sharif and Ankhi said in unison, “With our children.”
“OK, see you then.”
Sharif and Ankhi were driving back to their home in Sydney. It was Sharif once again who broke the silence, “We are going to Mittagong again, Ankhi, aren't we?”
“Yes, we do need to know the name of the tree, after all!” Ankhi nodded in affirmation. “Tanu and Hridoy would love the place.”
Faruk Kader likes to tell stories about isolation, displacement, daily struggle and dilemma, faced by the Bangladeshi diaspora in Australia.