Friday, December 26

On Speech

My father was a man of few words. When alive he had little to say, and after his death he said even less. He communicated with us, those of us who were still around to hear him, in looks and grunts and gestures. Near the end of his life he fell ill, sank into a coma that went on for weeks and weeks, and then for months and months. No looks, no grunts, no gestures. We hired someone to care for him. She was a retired nurse who might also have been someone’s nanny. She loved the old man, she said. And she felt that, in some way, she communicated with him, and he with her. But no, we tried to teach him the eyelid trick—you know, one blink for yes, two blinks for no. His eyes, though, remained closed. For us, no blinks at all from him. Then, one day, he surprised us all by waking up. He opened his eyes one morning when we all, except for the nurse, happened to be there in his room. I can’t remember why, but there we were, the four of us—my sister, my two brothers—all there in his room, as though summoned. “Look there! His eyes are open,” one of us said. And the rest of us looked, and they were. His eyes strained to focus at first and then looked around the room, taking in each of us in turn. And then, his mouth opened and much to our surprise the first words to come out were in Spanish. “¿QuĂ© pasa?” he said. I think we all shrugged, as though nothing at all were going on. As far as we knew, father had never uttered a word in Spanish before. And so he died. Silent again, and forever.