I caught myself smiling so tenderly the moment my phone screen lit with baba’s text: “I have just landed. Where are you?”
I kind of laughed at his tone in the text. Where would I be, baba? Of course, I am waiting for you at the gate as we agreed. But that’s how meticulously formal my father could be. In that moment, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that my father and I hadn’t had a proper conversation since I left home. We have been in touch but we are also somewhat out of it. It suddenly hit me that I have missed him so much without even realising it. Possibly because I have been too distant, usually busy and often on the road, to the point that I never had the chance to sit myself down and have coffee with my feelings.
A while after, baba’s calm and untroubled face appeared amid the eerie and joyful ambience of the arrival hall. He waved at me with that smile on his face — and it was exactly the same smile he wore on his face the day I left. I kinda felt my heart sink as I walked towards him —and for the first time ever, I felt so terribly bad for leaving. You see, my father and I had a very good bond; not the typical father-daughter relationship (I was far too independent, and he let me be), but we knew how to keep each other’s company. Unlike my relationship with my mother that’s weaved and tangled with long nights of stories upon chitchats, my relationship with baba is rather about sitting in the same room together in silence. I still have vivid memories of both of spending the afternoon in the living room reading/studying without any of us uttering a word for hours. It wasn’t ever awkward, rather palpably tranquil.
The ride from the airport was not any different, only disturbed by a small talk the uber driver was trying to make. I could feel that baba was not at ease, so I took over the conversation to give him the chance to rest in his mind as the sky poured. I felt so happy to see him and it took me to an unpacked walk through my childhood memory lane. I recalled those anecdotes from my childhood and adolescence when baba was so present, so absent and so himself. Not an easy ride to have, but I was more consumed by his presence with me. I spent the whole trip from the hotel squeezing my brain and trying to remember some details about my father: his favourite cake, his favourite drink, the way he likes his coffee, and how much sugar he adds to his tea. Some of these details must have changed over the years we were absent from each other’s lives, but I had it in me and I felt so ready to look after him.
I spent the first two nights watching baba so conscientiously. My father has a very reserved personality, even around the people closest to him, but at the same time he is also very elaborative and eloquent. He is very soft spoken and precise with his descriptions and accounts, and he often speaks of textures, colours and patterns. Baba worked as a banker and a violinist, but in parallel life, he would definitely be doing more with his hands. He puts so much effort into what he does with his hands even if it something as trivial as folding laundry. Back home, I would instantly know that he had done laundry that day by the way my clothes are folded in my closet, with so much wholeheartedness.
Baba is the most caring and attentive person I have ever known. Right now, while typing this blog post on my laptop, he noticed my hand reaching out to the coffee mug and he quietly turned the mug around so the handle would be facing my hand for me to pick up. He notices all these little things others tend to miss and he reads everything around him so sensitively. My father thinks too much before he speaks, and there I found out where I got my rumination habits from. He taught me to be self-conscious; to see things means really seeing through them. During our random walks, I noticed how baba loves nature. We haven’t walk much together in the past, but apparently he is a tree chaser. He would grab my arm and argue me to take a look at a tree he likes, and he may even ask me to take a picture of it. I do tell him that they look pretty sad because it is winter, but I do photograph them anyway. I let him have that.
Before going out, I noticed that he spends some good chunk of time in front of the mirror getting ready. I realised that it is super important that his hair is combed well, his scarf is fitted neatly and his hands smelled like soap; which is basically his physique 24/7. Under any circumstances. My father is very delicate with his belongings; I still remember this blue shirt that lasted for 24 years looking so flawless.
I am so happy to be getting these flashbacks as they bring me closer to him, but I am still waiting for him to speak it to me. My father is a very private person, he is rarely open about his life or upbringing even though I have dedicated some time to bother him with questions. His replies are often short, eloquent but too short. Yet surprisingly, he still sounds like the most interesting person in the room. In my quest to know my father, I realised that my father doesn’t know me either. You see, baba does not like to speak so much. He also make sure to give others enough space that it starts to feel too big you almost want to share it and then some. I find myself in awe while observing him, not as my father, but as a human being in and out of his element. His presence is so subtle yet so present at the same time. He is a very quiet person, and it bewilders me that with all his light-heartedness, he manages to occupy just about the right amount of space.
Being around my father on our own made me feel his absence rather than his presence. My mind couldn’t help but recall some of my recent lonlinest moments that his absence was ever so explicit. I came to realise that the little child in me might know who my father is while the person I am today is still learning about him all over again.