The will to live
by Fleur Ockersz

31st January 2021

It is time for our mandatory Sunday walk. The day seems no different to the Sundays before it.  Pale blue skies, a sleepy sun, my sequinned beach slippers, and a seemingly content husband. The kids are still in bed, their toes peeping through sheets that are suddenly too small on their growing bodies and the breakfast already prepared for when they wake up.

Our home is in Dehiwala – a short distance away from the beach and located on the sea-side (as you would say if you were trying to locate a spot in the coast of Sri Lanka). A winding road patched with homes, small hotels, and restaurants leads to the beach. Often the smell of salt mingles with a slightly fishy scent – a smell that I find strangely comforting.

Today, as we walk side by side and then one after the other, the scent is muted because we are wearing two masks each. I find this stifling. Why can’t I breathe in the comforting fishy air? My husband is particularly cautious because the Covid cases are gradually rising again and we are experiencing a few months of freedom before another lockdown.

We arrive at the beach and I remove my masks briefly to take in that familiar sea air. Joey looks at me briefly too – I can’t say if it’s because I took off my masks or because he caught that spark in my eyes.

“The 15th anniversary is approaching, what do you want to do?” I ask.

“A weekend at Yala? Or a costume party?” He asks.

“Hmmm… I like the idea of the costume party. The kids are going to love it.” I say after thinking for a minute or a little longer. “Daddy is going to love it too.”

“Why wouldn’t you enjoy it? Let’s do something we both enjoy.” He responds while picking up pace.

I trudge along, a quiet battle with the sand and suddenly getting distracted by the sneaky, calm sea. We walk in silence for around ten minutes as I weigh, measure, and silently throw away options for the anniversary celebrations.

He’s not used to the quiet. “Remember Uncle Bennet’s inappropriate dance moves at our wedding?”

I laugh but my mind was miles away. Frolicking in the sands of memory from ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. To dinners with Joey at wayside kades, the ice cream evenings, the simple rice and curry lunches at home as a newly married couple, to our stuffy bed, and to the love shared, the dislikes and disagreements navigated.

“Let’s do the costume party.” I say after some time.

He is kicking a beer can that is peeping through the sand. “Sounds good!”

I suddenly feel tired. “You go ahead, I am going to sit here and take in the view.”

“Isn’t this a view you are too familiar with? Come on! Just a few minutes more?”

“Nope, the sea is unusually calm today,” I say as I plonk down on the damp sand.

He walks ahead. A sly grin escaping his lips.

 

2nd May 2021

Is it Sunday again? I couldn’t say.

The stuffy bed suddenly seems like the monsoon sea, dark and uninviting. I have been trying to stick to a routine. Waking up at 6:30 am, cleaning, cooking, washing – a blur of activity to mute and muffle the pain.

They say Covid is unpredictable. Could this be different to losing him in any other way? A tsunami, an accident?

It’s different. Much like the death of tyrant, his body was discarded. Shrouded in mystery and swallowed up by a sea of bodies. Just another number. I could hear the questions being asked behind my back. Wasn’t he careful? Where did he catch it? How long did the virus take to catch up with him?

The food sent my neighbours and relations near and far kept showing up at our door. A confusion of flavours, none that I was able to identify.

The children grieved in their own unique ways. Be there for them, I kept telling myself. But all I could do was complete mundane tasks.

It’s time to wake up again. I feel a dull ache in my body – an ache that has been persisting since the day he left. It was hard to pin down. The pain stems from my stomach, an aching nervousness. Perhaps like the day I was born? A feeling of complete isolation. Alone with a million thoughts and million memories that whirl furiously. I try to raise my head but feel dizzy and lay my head back on the pillow.

I close my eyes for a moment and feel my heart thudding vigorously and I feel comfortingly close to death. I realize that it’s that drum-like noise that controls it all. This awful pain.

I open my eyes a few minutes or hours later. I can’t say.

My attention is arrested by the cactus on our windowsill. I wanted one that would flower and that’s what we got. For months, the cactus remained barren but today… Today, there’s a bright orange flower. It’s piercingly orange but the sun’s rays and my watery eyes make me see it in different shades. Orange, a dull pink, and a lollipop yellow. How could this be?

Oddly, it reminds me of love. The fierceness of newfound love, the comfort to be found in love within a happy marriage, and the joys and passions that burn bright throughout a lifetime.

I am guilty to feel happy at the sight of the flower but it is soon followed by a kind of irritation that makes me ask, didn’t he have the will to live?

 

5th December 2021

I gather the courage to go on the Sunday walk. I leave early so nobody sees me rushing out alone. I know that nobody would really care because the constant refrain has been to move on. I can move ahead, one step at a time. Just focus on the road ahead and not the journey.

My intention today is not to exercise but instead to read through Joey’s famous newspaper scrap book. For years he cut out snippets of articles, poems, and sentences that he found interesting.

“I am not a writer and not an avid reader but that doesn’t mean I can’t find magic among these pages,” he would say. The dull ache was back.

But I pick up pace, choosing to jog slowly to erase the memories that were back to taunt.

When I reach the beach, I find a rock beside a restaurant we visited often. I call them ‘lovers rocks’ for they have known the depths and sharp ages of multiple forms of love.

And here I am alone, sifting through a scrapbook.

A few political essays, a dozen travel accounts, and finally a poem. It seemed relatively new, the glue scrunching the pages.

 

The Will To Live

by Edith Nesbit

 

Since Faith is a veil that has nothing behind it,

And Hope wanders lost where no mortal can find it,

Since Love is a mirror we break in a minute

In snatching the image our soul has cast in it,

What is the use of the Summers and Springs,

The wave of the woods and the waft of the wings–

Since all means nothing, and good things and ill

Make madness,–a mirage tormenting us still?

 

Since all the fighting, the ardent endeavour,

The heart cast bleeding to feed the Ideal,

Are vain, vain, vain, and the one thing real

Is that all’s vain, for ever and ever;

Why then, be a man and stand back from the strife,

Fall by the sword, but keep out of the snare;

Will but to be–and be willing to bear

All that the gods may lay on your  life!

 

In the far East, where light ever dawns first,

There has man learned how the Fates may be cheated,

How by our craft may their strength be defeated,

Though all our best be no match for their worst!

Kill the desire that they set in your bosom,

Long not for fruit when you gaze on the blossom,

Dream not of flowers when you gaze on the bud,

Kill all the rebels that shout in your blood.

Sorrow and sickness, disease and decay–

These toll the hours of Life’s desolate day;

Hopes unfulfilled and forbidden delight

These are the dreams of Life’s treacherous night.

So let me image an infinite peace

Touched with no joy but the ease of release.

Out of the eddies I climb and I cease

Keeping, in change for this man’s soul of me,

Something which, by the eternal decree,

Is as like Nothing as Something can be!

 

Not to desire, to admit, to adore,

Casting the robe of the soul that you wore

Just as the soul casts the body’s robe down.

This is man’s destiny, this is man’s crown.

This is the splendour, the end of the feast;

This is the light of the Star in the East.

 

So, Silence reconciles Life’s jarring phrases

Far in the future, austere and august:

Meanwhile, the buds of the poplars are falling,

Spring’s on the lawn, and a little voice calling:

‘Daddy, come out! Daddy darling, you must!

Daddy come out and help Molly pick daisies!’

And, since one’s here, and the Spring’s in the garden

(How many lives hence will that thought earn pardon?)

Since one’s a man and man’s heart is insistent,

And, since Nirvana is doubtful and distant,

Though life’s a hard road and thorny to travel–

Stones in the borders and grass on the gravel,

Still there’s the wisdom that wise men call folly,

Still one can go and pick daisies with Molly!

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