大衞的禮物

丈夫的遺愛馨香不散 Alexandria Barton-D’Souza

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illustration: Indiapicture

去年七月又一個尋常的早上,還是八月?我已記不清了。

一切似乎都很模糊。我剛剛開車送十二歲的女兒到學校後返家,坐在家中小小陽台的長椅上;一如往常,坐在長椅左側,手臂伸到椅後,這是多年來養成的習慣。但這次沒有肩膀讓我手臂掛着垂下,我右邊的位置是空的。

在那兒就連多坐一會兒都是艱難的事,但我也沒法走進我們那異常安靜的屋子裏。於是我只能像多數早晨一樣,在花園裏隨意走動。我停步凝聽鳥鳴啁啾:那是以往沒發現過的鳥兒,還是只是松鼠?這些小事曾為我的心帶來喜悅,但現在已不復如此。幾個月來我對周遭的環境變得麻木。

我累了,轉身走回屋內,發現有一小叢深綠的闊葉植物藏在樓梯旁的角落裏。我以前就看過它們,但沒多加留意。只是雜草吧!換作其他時候,我會把它們拔掉,但某種原因阻止我這麼做。

當天稍晚我把那叢植物指給園丁看。他看了看,然後用驚訝的語氣說:「這是萊姆樹吔!」他把一片葉子用手指捏碎,送到我面前。他說得沒錯,那氣味絕錯不了!

我感到困惑,不記得曾播下任何一顆萊姆的種籽。它們是怎麼來的?然後,一瞬間所有記憶都回來了。

二○一四年三月,與我結縭十七年的外子大衞診斷出一種極為罕見的癌症,從最初開始預後就很不樂觀,醫生沒給他多大的希望。腫瘤科醫生告訴他:「只能緩解症狀。」大衞健壯英俊,充滿生命力,再過幾個月就要滿五十歲了。他勇敢接受噩耗,雖然這打擊讓他震驚,但他幾乎立刻就站穩腳步。儘管不可置信,悲傷又痛苦,但他堅毅的心志更加強大,連他自己都想不透。他告訴我:「我要奮戰到底。」結果真是一場硬仗啊!

他順利捱過化療,幾乎沒有副作用,真正的痛苦,或許是七十二小時被化療藥的點滴管綁住。對一個片刻都靜不下來的人而言,沒有比這更糟的懲罰了。

但什麼事都不能讓大衞放慢腳步。他把工作帶到醫院病房;病房被他改成小型辦公室,他在那裏確認訂單、用電話下指示、開會,看起來跟每一個上班日沒兩樣。日子繼續過下去。兩次化療療程之間休息兩週,大衞回去做他最喜歡的事。他到孟買市郊的辦公室和同事見面;花幾個小時和親友聚會。如果打電話找不到人,我總會在我們當地教會的禮拜堂找到他,看到他低頭靜默冥想。我們透過這一切尋找答案:如何才能制止這場病繼續惡化?

也有自然療法可供選擇。我們討論了一些,也排除了一些。有一種他真的嘗試過,就是吃大量萊姆。我們到處蒐購萊姆,切成長長的薄片加入水裏,或者擠在沙拉上。向晚時,我常見大衞坐在外頭長椅上他最喜歡的位置,手中端着一杯萊姆汽水,冰塊哐啷作響,就像往昔一樣。飯前他會一口喝下整杯萊姆,酸得眼睛都瞇起來了。一整天下來,我要擠的萊姆一定有幾十顆,有時擠到手臂痠痛。但什麼方法都無效,大衞在去年七月離開了我們。

我手中握着那片捏碎的葉子,想起五月時有一天,我將萊姆汁的渣滓倒入花園。誰想得到在大衞離開我們幾個月之後,會有四顆小種籽冒芽長成了一叢?我立刻知道這些是我的大衞樹,是他給我的最後禮物。

在各種奇特植物環繞下,這些矮樹小又不起眼,對我卻很特別。每次看到,我都覺得和那個把生命活得充實輝煌的男人還有連結。當醫生告訴他只剩幾個月可活,他勇敢地說:「我已了無遺憾。」他還能給其他癌症病友微笑、鼓勵和擁抱。後來我告訴我們年紀尚輕的女兒,她父親決定要活下去,帶着微笑面對痛苦,是因為她比任何人更能帶給爸爸活下去的動力。他的意志力如此強大,我只能把自己的恐懼擱在一邊。每天看着他,我知道什麼叫打完美好的一仗,還有到最後,他如何優雅地接受發給他的牌,沒有一句怨言。

園丁明白了那些植物對我的意義,移入花盆,放在原來發現的角落。一年後它們長高不少,已有小枝椏伸出。雨季來臨時,我請園丁把盆栽移植到寬鬆的土壤裏。我希望擺脫盆子的束縛後,它們會長得又高又壯,開枝散葉擁抱這個世界,就像大衞一樣。


David’s Gift

Her husband left her something that is now fragrant with his love

It was yet another morning in July last year. Or was it August? I’m not quite sure.

Everything seemed a blur. I’d just returned home after dropping my 12-year-old daughter off to school. I sat on the couch on our little balcony – on the left side, as always – my arm stretched across the back. It was a habit I had cultivated over the years. But this time there was no shoulder to drape my arm around. That space to my right was empty.

It was hard to sit there for more than a moment. And I couldn’t get myself to enter our unusually silent house. So I did the things I did most mornings. I walked aimlessly through the garden. I stopped to listen to birdsong: was that an undiscovered bird or was it just a squirrel? These little things once brought joy to my heart, but not any longer. For months I was numb to my surroundings.

Weary, I turned to go back inside. Close to the stairs, tucked away in a corner, I noticed a small clump of bushes with broad, dark green leaves. I had seen them before but had not paid much attention. Just weeds. Any other time, and I would have pulled them out, but something held me back.

Later that day, I pointed out the bushes to the gardener. He looked at them and then, with surprise in his voice, exclaimed: “These are lime bushes!” Crushing a leaf between his fingers, he held it out for me. He was right – the smell was unmistakable!

I was confused. I didn’t remember sowing any lime seeds. How did they get here? And then it all came back in a flash.

It was in March 2014 that David, my husband of 17 years, was diagnosed with a very rare kind of cancer. The prognosis was grim from the very start. Doctors didn’t give him much hope. “It’s palliative,” the oncologist told him. Tall, well-built and handsome, David was full of life, and just a few months away from turning 50. He took this news on his chin, reeling from the blow, but back on his feet almost immediately. Disbelief, sadness and pain were overshadowed by a fierce determination even he couldn’t understand. “I’m going to fight this,” he told me. And what a fight it was.

He tolerated chemotherapy well with almost no side effects. Painful, perhaps, were the 72 hours hooked up to IV lines for the chemo drugs to be administered. For a man who couldn’t sit still for a moment, there couldn’t be a worse punishment.

But nothing could slow David down. He took his work with him to the hospital room: the place was transformed into a small office – orders were finalised, instructions given over the phone, meetings held. It seemed like any other workday. Life went on. The two-week break between the chemotherapy cycles was when David went back to the things he loved doing most. He travelled to his offices outside Mumbai, met his colleagues and spent hours with family and friends. When he couldn’t be reached on the phone, I would find him, his head bowed in silent meditation, in the chapel attached to our local church. Through all this, we searched for an answer to the question: what’s going to halt this disease?

There were options for natural therapies. Some were discussed, others dismissed. One he did try was to have large amounts of lime. We got limes from far and wide. Slivers of lime were cut and added to water. It was squeezed onto salads. David would be found sitting outside in his favourite place on the couch in the evening, a glass of lime and soda cradled in his hand, ice clinking, just like old times. And before a meal, his eyes crinkling because of the sourness, he downed a lime shot. I must have juiced dozens of limes through the day, sometimes until my arm hurt. But nothing worked. We lost David last July.

Holding that crushed leaf in my palm, I remembered the day in May when I tipped over the dregs of the juice into the garden. Who would have ever thought that four of the tiny pips would sprout into bushes months after David left us? I knew at once that these were My David Trees. His last gift.

Small and unremarkable among the more exotic plants that surround them, these shrubs are special to me. Each time I see them I feel connected with the man who lived life king-size. Who bravely said, “I have no regrets,” when a doctor told him he had but months to live. Who had a smile, a word of hope and a hug for another cancer patient. Later, I told our young daughter that her father was determined to live and smiled through his pain. It was for her that he wanted to live, more than anyone else. His willpower was so strong that I couldn’t help but put my own fears aside. I learnt from watching him every day what it means to fight the good fight. And how in the end, he accepted gracefully, without a murmur, the cards dealt to him.

Knowing what those plants meant to me, our gardener potted and placed them in the same corner where they were found. A year later they have grown much taller, with little branches growing out. Once the monsoon arrived, I had the gardener transplant the bushes into the loose earth. It is my hope that they will grow big and strong, unfettered by the confines of a pot, their branches spreading outwards to embrace the world. Just the way David did.

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