Surya sat at his desk, tweaking away at the watch. He inserted the final component and replaced the watch face to close it up.
It was ready. He just had to test it out. And he knew exactly where (and when) to go. He turned the dials on the side of the watch and then tapped on a button to the right of the watch face. He vanished from his room in a bright flash of light.
Surya fell to the ground, disoriented. He blinked away his dizziness and stood up, trying to make out where he was. He seemed to be in a copse of trees at the edge of a park. He cautiously looked out from behind a tree and his breath caught in his throat. The watch worked.
He took a minute to compose himself, then took a deep breath and walked out into the park. He only had about ten minutes before he had to go back. He approached a bench that was occupied by one man.
The man looked content, smiling out at a group of children playing near the center of the park, watched over by their parents. He nodded good-naturedly at Surya as he approached the bench.
“C-Can I sit here?”, stammered Surya.
“Of course”, said the man.
Surya sat next to him, his eyes fixed on the ground. He was worried that if he looked up at the man sitting next to him, he wouldn’t be able to look away again. He had to say something though.
“Nice day, isn’t it?”, he said, groaning internally. He could definitely do better than that. He’d put in a lot of effort to be here right now.
“Yes, it’s great”, replied the man, smiling gently.
There was a moment of silence. Before it got awkward Surya nodded towards the group at the center of the park. “Is that your family?”
The man nodded. “Yep, my son’s here for a friend’s birthday party”.
Surya smiled. A man of few words, just like he remembered.
Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “You seem like you’re a great father”.
The man looked at him quizzically, one eyebrow raised. “Uh… thank you, that’s very nice of you to say”.
Surya could feel the heat rising in his face. This was going poorer than he’d imagined. Maybe this had been a bad idea. He could think of only one way to salvage it — being honest. Well, mostly honest.
“Sorry if that was a weird thing to say. I…uh… I lost my father a few years ago, and seeing you here with your family just reminded me of him”
The man’s expression immediately softened. “I’m sorry to hear that. Losing a parent can’t be easy. Were you close with him?”
Surya nodded. “We were really close actually. I miss him everyday”.
The man smiled sympathetically. “May I ask how he passed?”
“He was sick for a really long time”.
“I’m sorry, that must have been difficult for you to see”.
“Yeah, it was hard. I alternated between feeling sad and numb for a while, and towards the end it was mostly just helplessness. It’s hard not to feel frustrated. Why us, you know? But he’d keep saying that we were lucky that we’d have time to spend together and to say goodbye”.
“He seems like a very strong-willed man”.
Surya smiled. “That he was”. His smile slowly faded. “But even if I knew down to the day when we would lose him… there’s never enough time. There are always regrets, wondering whether you could have done more, regretting the things left unsaid, the things that you’ll never be able to do together again”. He could feel the floodgates starting to open now.
“You’re right of course, there’s never enough time. How do you feel about it now, having had some time to process it?”
“I used to think that given enough time I’d be able to move forward completely but… there’s that place inside you that used to be a source of warmth and light, and now it’s just empty, you know? And you try to fill it with memories, with new people, with new purpose, but it’s just a part of you now. You think you’ve accepted it and moved on, but then suddenly you remember the smallest things. The way he could put on a serious face one minute and be an absolute goofball the next. The way he would always go out of his way to help the people who needed it. The way he’d smile proudly at you every time you visited home, and he could convey so much through that smile that he didn’t need to put into words. And that person is just…gone. Forever. And the world is a little bit grayer for it. You remember all this stuff and the pain is as fresh as it was when it happened.”
The man listened patiently, not interrupting. Now that Surya paused, he took a moment and started to speak. “We just met and I don’t presume to know you, but I do know that grief isn’t linear. You’ve suffered a terrible loss, and the pain of that loss will never go away completely, like you said. But there will come a point where those memories will become a stronger reminder of all the good he represented than of the fact that he’s gone. And at that point some of that warmth and light that you talked about will come back, even if the person who was the source of it isn’t around anymore.”
Surya nodded slowly. “I get what you’re saying, and I can feel some of that already — the good shining through the bad. But there’s also this sense of… dread, you know? Life feels so fragile, like you could lose everything at any moment. That feeling is so suffocating sometimes, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to move past it completely”.
The man paused and looked away, thinking. After a few seconds, he said, “Let me ask you one question — do you think your dad left behind any regrets?”
Surya smiled and shook his head slowly. “That’s one thing he’d keep saying to us. Right up to the end, he would tell us that he was grateful for the life he got to live and that he was confident we’d learn to carry on without him.”
The man nodded. “And I think that’s the best you can do, the best any of us can do. Life may seem short and fragile and meaningless, and to some extent — it is. And you’ve seen first hand just how fragile it can be. But you can approach that knowledge in one of two ways. You can let it consume you and be paralyzed by it. Or you could approach it the way your dad did, and live your life with no regrets. We have to remember to be grateful for what we do have, and to not leave things undone or unsaid. We just have to try and hold on tightly to the people we love for as long as we can”.
Surya smiled. “That seems like exactly the kind of advice my dad would give me”.
The man laughed. “Well, your dad seems like he was a great person, so I’m honored. if I can say one more thing without being too presumptuous — you seem like a great person too, and I’m sure your dad is still proud of you, wherever he is now”.
Surya could feel his eyes tearing up a bit and looked away. “That means… a lot actually. Thank you.
His watch started to beep. His one minute reminder.
“Ah, I have to go. I’m… meeting someone. But it was great talking to you, and I’m sorry for dumping all of this on you when we’ve only just met”.
“You have absolutely nothing to apologize for, these feelings can come out when you least expect them. It was a pleasure to meet you. What’s your name?”
“Uh, it’s Suresh,” said Surya, panicking.
“My name’s Murthy. I hope you have a great day Suresh,” replied the man with his warmest smile.
Surya smiled back and started walking away. The instant his face turned from Murthy, he couldn’t hold himself back anymore and the tears flowed freely down his face.
As he reached the edge of the park, he turned around and saw that Murthy’s family had joined him on the bench. Surya could hear him talking to his son as he held him. “Hey Surya, did you have fun with all your friends?” he asked, with the toddler babbling excitedly in return.
Surya wiped the tears from his face and smiled. For a few brief minutes, that place of warmth and light and joy had returned to him like it had never gone away, just like his father had said.
The watch beeped again, and Surya disappeared in a flash of light.