The face jumped out at me while I was flicking channels. I froze and quickly returned to the news I had just passed, where two images were still displayed on the split screen. The reporter announced in an uninterested tone that the death had taken place that morning. It was sudden. Heart attack. “He was forty-eight.”
The image on the left showed a man with salt and pepper beard, pensive, looking outside the frame of the camera. The right hand photo was from a performance on stage, with the orchestra behind him, his eyes half-closed, his brow lined and lips parted in song. “Award winning singer and composer,” continued the dry voice of the newsreader. The images slid away and she came back on screen, talking about something else. But I didn’t hear another word.
Those were familiar pictures. I had seen them, even when not intending to. Even when I tried not to. These snaps always popped up. He was famous. But he was not, when I knew him.
That faraway look in his eyes in that salt and pepper photo always brought a pang of guilt. Was there a sign of something lost long ago? Was it the remnant of an unexplained, never-understood phase in life that had hardened over time?
At some point in time, should I have called and explained?
Through the years, I had always wondered. Maybe I should have. As time passed, it became difficult, and then impossible. Twenty years later, what guarantee was there that he even remembered?
Of course he remembered. Probably not word to word, probably not to the last tiny detail, and definitely not as vividly as I did. But oh yes, he remembered.
And I remembered because though it seemed the right thing to do at the time, it came back to me day after day, reminding me that I had not handled it well. My decision was justified, my action was not.
I should have explained. If not right away, later, when I came to my senses. Or much later, after things had cooled down. Or maybe, when the first wave of retrospective wisdom washed over me. Perhaps years later, when we met again briefly.
I never did. And now I never will.
Strange how the moment you think nothing is happening in your life, something completely unbelievable turns up. Strange how no matter how hard you try to foresee all possibilities that could happen in the next twenty-four hours, something comes up, totally unpredictable. Every day is unexpected, even when you’re prepared for all kinds of eventuality.
We all know death would come, by and by. We even imagine our lives without the important people of our life. A separation. Grief. Unbearable longing. But when it happens, every preparation seems inadequate. There is a void where a person was. A clean cut. There are no more conversations, no more laughter, nothing more. There are only memories. Everything that you had planned to do with them will not happen, ever.
I could have called.
I should have called.
And now it is too late.