The Ringing Telephone

SilenceAwesome Moments

The night was bright, and my sister, cousin, and I erupted with laughter. We fooled around with my father’s iPad, filling it with silly pictures of our faces. Yawns sounded and it struck eleven at night.

We were in a foreign city alone at a relative’s home while Mama and Baba took comfort in the presence of Ammi, who lay hostage in a hospital bed of the ICU. I longed for my grandmother and the warmth she radiated. We sat in bed and drank our piping hot tea in plates instead of cups, because that way they would cool down faster. I longed for her deep, resonant voice that embraced even the corners of the room.

My sister succumbed to sleep, and her oddly loud snores let me know. I took refuge from my impatience for my parents’ arrival in Taylor Swift’s Red album. My cousin slid her fingers across the iPad and played Fruit Ninja. Even though anxiety fluttered around like butterflies in our stomachs and even pinched the skin on our arms, we turned to music and video games to escape.

In this cacophony, there was a noise underneath, subtle but there: the ringing of the house telephone. None of us had been persuaded to answer. It rang twice, thrice, even six times, until it rang through Swift’s “All Too Well” and I could no longer bear to avoid it. It became apparent that my attempts to avoid Ammi’s deteriorating condition were failing; it was now imperative that I confront the reality.

As I mustered the strength to walk towards the phone, my mind wandered to the path that led me there; Ammi had complained of her incessant coughing and odd stomach aches for 20 years until she was finally taken to a doctor. She regularly soothed her throat with the orange candy Fanty, the one that I would always steal out of the side of her fridge because it hit all my tastebuds right. The doctors had performed several scans and check-ups on her, after which they ruled out any illness for my Ammi. But even though this was a relief to my parents and me, it had simply been a case of false information for my grandmother, who strongly believed there was a problem. After scouring Karachi, she was vindicated when a doctor scanned her for Hepatitis C, and found the disease. While Ammi may have anticipated the news, it was met with shocking dismay from the rest of us.

The medication she began to take after the diagnosis left her weak and shriveled, and her family members cautious and alert. Her liver began disappearing before our eyes, so we flew her across the country to Islamabad, hoping to stop the expanding cancer.

In Islamabad I finally beat my laze to answer the phone. Slowly, the sound from my headphones softened and my sister’s snoring quieted down. I greeted the caller and it was Baba. He spoke too quickly, jumping over words, and the noise around me became a light hush as I tried to make out his jumbled conversation.

I soon understood that Ammi had passed away with a peaceful last breath while reading a dua – a prayer – with my aunt. I said, “okay” in response to the news, but I was far from feeling like that.

The laughter and music were no more; no one was prepared to stomach the news we had just received. The absence of sound joined the scorching hot heat that filled my stomach as it dropped. My cousin’s usually cheerful face grew long and her bright eyes turned to glass, with silent tears trickling down. My sister, who was only knee high at the time, donned a heartbroken facade which tugged at my heartstrings. I was surrounded by silence, but a certain ringing resonated in my ears, one that resembled the flatline sound that came from the heart monitors, and the news, spoken in my father’s voice, repeated in an endless loop.

I had never experienced a moment like this — where no one uttered a single word — but it was as if our physical beings were transparent. There was a degree of tranquility in the dead silence. My sister’s arms enveloped my waist, and my cousin, unsure of what to feel, also joined the embrace, leaving us all huddled together seeking comfort from one another, together.

Eventually I returned to my bed, and I realized I could no longer find the calm state I had been in before. The music and laughter never resumed in the same manner and the city had never been more silent than this night. Instead, I felt the ringing in my ears resonate in all three of us, engulfing us in a strange sense of empathy and sadness we had never felt before.

From here on, silence became a bittersweet friend. One that bestowed memory of Ammi, but also my grief: a novel feeling of belonging.

Her passing touches seven years this November, but no matter the length of time, she forever remains in my hushed whispers and belting lyrics of Swift’s songs.

Mashaal Qureshi is an 18 year old senior living in Lahore, Pakistan. Besides writing, she spends her time researching migraine cures with neurologists, advocating for sustainable environmentalism, and playing her ukulele.

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