“So, what do you want to do today?”
I ask as I sit down on the bed, helping my friend to sit up. She smiles a little, squinting her eyes as the sunlight hits them. I had walked into the room and immediately pulled the curtains apart to let the new day seep into the room. I look at my friend, and I wonder if she looks thinner than yesterday. Maybe I’m imagining things.
She yawns and then says in a raspy voice, “Let’s just go to the park, please? I miss the squirrels and pigeons.”
I laugh, “I’m sure they miss you too!”
Cancer has now seeped into her bones, so she can’t walk without help now. I help her out of the bed and into the bathroom. There are handles installed throughout the bathroom, so she waves off my help as she wobbles inside herself. I still pace outside, worried and ready to barge in if I hear any thudding noises. The doctor has warned us that if she had to break a bone now, it will not heal and add more to her pain.
My friend exits the bathroom in one piece and she looks fresh—yet my heart hurts when I see how her skin now stretches across her bones, the cheekbones jutting out. She used to have these big, round cheeks that always had this permanent pink flush. Now, her skin is just pale, as if all the blood under them simply abandoned her one day.
I pat her bed head down and say, “So, what do you want for breakfast? Eggs and bread?”
She hums, “Could I also have those strawberries?”
“Sure!” I point at the bed where I had laid down her new clothes for the day. “Get ready, okay? I’ll be in the kitchen.”
She nods her head and slowly makes her way back to the bed. I head to the kitchen and start preparing breakfast. I crack two eggs and put two slices of brown bread in the toaster. I have had my breakfast prior to coming here, so I only make myself some coffee. I also wash the fruits, and then, as the dish gets ready, my friend walks into the kitchen. I see her grimace as she sits down by the table. I take a deep breath. She must be in more pain than she is letting me on.
A year ago, my friend was as healthy as one can be. But then, she started to get sick, very sick. After a slew of tests, they finally diagnosed her with leukemia. She didn’t have any family to take care of her; her father had left away and she was estranged from her mother. I have known her since we were teenagers, so I stepped in. And, I lived only three blocks away from her, so I jumped in before anyone could even ask. Seven months ago, we thought her condition was getting better, but then, a new test revealed that her bones were now slowly withering away. Soon, she won’t be able to walk at all.
The thought of it sends a shiver down my spine. I remember how active she used to be. How athletics was basically her lifeblood. And now, even the short walk from bedroom to the kitchen has her grimacing in pain. It hurts me…
“You’re staring again,” she says, grinning at me.
I straighten up and plate the scrambled eggs. “What do you mean?”
“When you get all sad and stuff, you zone out and stare into space, and usually, it’s about me.”
I feel my face heating up at getting caught. I just stick my tongue out at her and put the food down in front of her. I sit down opposite her with my coffee, and she leans forward, smiling, “You don’t have to make that face, you know. I’ve accepted it.”
We often don’t talk about the end. Both of us are aware of the situation, that the doctors have already told us. Perhaps, her limited time has given her a new perspective on life and death, but I have not accepted the inevitable. I feel my eyes burning with unshed tears.
I lightly swat her hand and frown, “Finish your food. I don’t want to go to the park if the sunlight gets any harsher.”
She laughs, “Yes, ma’am, noted.”
We are at the park right now, and I laugh as a pigeon comes to roost atop my friend’s head. I wasn’t entirely kidding when I said all the squirrels and pigeons miss her. They know who she is—she has been coming here long enough to earn their trust. There is a squirrel at her feet, nibbling on the nut we gave it, and there is that renegade pigeon just claiming her head as his perch.
I can’t stop my laughter as my friend warns the bird, “Don’t you dare poop on me.”
The pigeon coos, and I say, “You’re a Disney princess and a half, you know!”
She sticks her tongue out and lets the pigeon by her side eat the birdseed from her hand. The animals do not bother me. But they adore her. Even the bad-tempered geese on the lake like her and they do not like most humans who’re frequent to this park. As if on cue, the geese couple show up, loudly quacking, proudly announcing their entrance. My friend’s face light up as she coos, “Oh, you guys came today!”
She has a different bird feed for them, so scatters some for them. I look at the geese and smile, “You know, they’re already pretty pampered by everyone. You’re just getting them fatter.” One of the geese honks at me, as if greatly offended at the weight comment.
My friend lightly hits my shoulder and frowns, “And?”
I don’t say anything and keep staring at her, then at the geese, who genuinely look happy to see her. I am certain geese are the most expressive birds. For now, we’re not leaving the park, and I’m not leaving her for sure.
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