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.