Michaela was a student of Tamal Laghari’s. She was a very bright girl who had many friends. When she died from an acute asthma attack, he was devastated. He went to the funeral where he met her mother. She was an attractive woman and a widow in her late thirties. Her husband died when Michaela was eight. After that happened, the house was sold, Michaela and she left Manchester and moved into a London flat.
Michaela was sixteen and she enrolled in the school where he taught Mathematics. She was excited about her future and had planned to study Computer Science at Cambridge University. Then, it happened. She was running up the steps in her cousin’s home when she collapsed. Her frantic mother called the ambulance but despite the doctors’ efforts to save the bubbly teenager, she died.
When he heard the news he tried to remain calm for the sake of the other students but when he was alone, he cried. He wasn’t able to go to the visitation but he went to the funeral where he met Michaela’s mother and the rest of the family. Everyone was overcome with grief. Many of her friends from school were there, weeping. It was a extremely sad day.
Michaela’s mother was composed although she was crying. In the lobby of the church, she stood with her brother and his wife as mourners went up to her to offer their condolences. When he went over to her and introduced himself, she smiled gratefully and said, “Thanks for coming, Mr. Laghari. You were her favorite teacher.”
“She was my top student and she reminded me of why I love being a teacher,” was his quiet reply.
She smiled again and squeezed his hand. “I appreciate you saying that.”
He shook hands with her brother and his wife and then, he went into the sanctuary. The service was a very moving one with family and friends sharing memories. Her cousin sang “Amazing Grace” and her uncle gave the eulogy. Her mother sat there, clutching a tissue in her hand. After the reading of Psalm 23, the pastor stood up and preached a stirring sermon about Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. There is peace for those who trust in Him and make Him Lord of their lives. They know that they will be raised to everlasting life when He returns. After the service, they went to the cemetery.
Tamal watched as the pastor prayed after those present sang, “Jesus is Coming Again.” Everyone threw a flower onto the grave after it was lowered and he watched as they began to shovel dirt onto it. His eyes shifted to Michaela’s mother. She was standing beside her brother who put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against him for a few minutes and then, they walked slowly to where his car was parked. There was a repast was in the basement of the church.
Michaela’s favorite foods were served along with refreshments. Those who didn’t get a chance to share their memories or stories of Michaela did so then. Tamal said a few words. When it was time to leave, he went to say goodbye to Michaela’s mother. “Thanks for coming, Mr. Laghari,” she said, clasping his hand as she smiled up at him. “It meant a lot to me having you here.”
“Please call me Tamal and I had to come and pay my respects. She was a very special person and I will miss her very much.”
“She spoke so much of you that I felt as if I knew you. Besides her father, you were the only other male figure she looked up to.”
He smiled sadly. “I had no idea.”
“She wanted me to invite you to have dinner with us and I was going to tell her to ask you but…”
“I’m happy that we finally got to meet although it is under such sad circumstances.”
“I feel the same way. Mrs. Brathwaite , if there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.”
“I will, Tamal and please call me Lucille.”
They hugged and then, he left. Over the following days and weeks, he found himself constantly thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again. Finally, one evening, he called her and she sounded happy to hear from him. They spoke for hours and before the call ended, he asked her to have lunch with him. She accepted.
They met in front of Hibox, a Lebanese, Mediterranean restaurant. “They serve vegan Palestinian and Lebanese food here,” he informed her before they went inside. They were led to a table beside the window. He held the chair for her and she thanked him as she sat down. He sat opposite her. She looked very well, he thought.
“Are you a vegan?” she asked.
“No, but I enjoy vegan food. I don’t eat red meat, pork or seafood. What about you?”
“I’m not vegan either but I enjoy having meatless meals occasionally. And like you, I don’t eat red meat or pork or seafood. I cut those out of my diet a long time ago.”
“From since I was a child, my mother always instilled in me the importance of a healthy diet.”
“I instilled that in Michaela too. I started eating healthy before I got married and had her.”
“Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, I’m the youngest of three children. My parents migrated here from Guyana before I was born.”
“Your parents are Guyanese?”
“Yes. My brothers and I were born here.”
“You’re not going to believe this but my parents are Guyanese too.”
She stared at him. “Really? Which part of Guyana?”
“Georgetown. What about your family?”
“New Amsterdam. Have you ever visited Georgetown?”
“No. What about you?”
“No. I’ve never visited New Amsterdam although I have relatives there.”
“I have relatives in Georgetown too. My paternal grandparents are still there but my maternal grandparents are living in Manchester with my parents. My mother had them move in after my brother and I moved out. She worried that since they were getting old, they wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves.”
“Both sets of my grandparents are dead. I think it’s good that your grandparents are living with your parents. It’s better than putting them in a home.”
“My mother always said that families took care of their elderly. She couldn’t understand why people would put their aging parents in homes instead of having them live with them.”
“My mother felt the same way. When my father was suffering from dementia, she took care of him until he died. She refused to put him in nursing home.”
“That must have been tough for her.”
“Yes, it was. She died not long after he did, from a heart attack.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’m just thankful that neither of them lived to see their only grandchild die…”
Instinctively, he reached over and covered her hand with his. “God, in His mercy, spared them that heartache.”
“Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around.”
“You’re right. No parent should ever have to bury a child. It seems unnatural, somehow.”
She brushed her cheek. “I don’t mean to spoil our lunch,” she said apologetically.
“You aren’t spoiling anything,” he quickly assured her.
“Michaela wouldn’t want us to be sad but to enjoy our meal.”
Just then the waiter brought their orders and Tamal reluctantly removed his hand from hers. As they ate they talked about many things and he even got her to laugh. He couldn’t help thinking how beautiful she looked when she laughed. Her eyes sparkled. He wanted to make her laugh as much as possible.
After they left the restaurant, he walked her to her car. “I’d really like to see you again” he said quietly.
“Are you free this Saturday?”
“In that case, I’d like to invite you to have dinner at my place.”
“I would like that very much.”
She smiled. “Good. I’ll see you on Saturday at seven.”
He held the door open for her to get in and closed it. When she rolled down the window, he said, “I’ll be there at seven sharp.”
“Goodbye, Lucille.” He watched her drive away and then walked to his car.
Saturday came and true to his word, he showed up at her flat at exactly seven. She greeted him with a big smile. “Hello.”
“Hello.” His eyes were riveted to her face. She looked amazing in the mid-calf floral print dress with cap sleeves. She led him through the living-room. It was a nice, cozy flat with a mixture of classic and modern style of furniture. He suspected that the differences represented the differences in tastes of mother and daughter. Personally, he liked the classic look. Before dinner, they had a non-alcoholic cocktail.
Several minutes later, they were sitting around the dining table. “Would you like to say Grace?” she asked.
“Sure.” He said a prayer and then, they started with a simple green salad.
“I thought I would prepare a traditional Guyanese dish for dinner,” she said when she set the plates down on the table.
He looked at his plate. “This looks delicious,” he remarked. His mouth was actually watering. It smelled delicious too. When he took his first mouthful, he thought he had died and gone to heaven. “Hmmm.”
She smiled. “I’m happy that you’re enjoying it.”
“I am. Was your husband from Guyana too?”
“No, he was from Barbados. He came to England to study at the University of London.”
“How long were you and he married?”
“For about ten years. He was twelve years older than me and was a very sweet man. He was a good father to Michaela. We met at a mutual friend’s house warming party. We dated for about a year and then, he asked me to marry him. He was a very loving husband and I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him.”
“Did he know that you weren’t in love with him?”
“I think so although he never said anything. He always told me that I was a good wife and that I made him happy.”
“You made him happy and that’s all that matters.”
“Yes, I suppose so. You mentioned that you have a younger brother who is a chemical engineer.”
“Yes and recently got engaged to his girlfriend. The wedding is next year in the autumn.”
“And what about you? No girlfriend?”
“No girlfriend so, no wedding bells. My parents, especially my mother is beginning to get anxious because I’m in my late thirties. I’ve dated in the past but nothing serious ever came out of it. I guess that was because I hadn’t met the right woman.”
She noticed that he said, “hadn’t” instead of “haven’t” and the way he was looking at her. It suddenly felt very warm. “I was thinking that we could sit outside on the balcony and have our dessert.” She got up from the table.
“Yes, it looks like a nice evening.” He helped her to clear the table and then, he went out on the balcony. She joined him soon after carrying two small plates, each with a good size slice of Carrot cake. They sat down on the chairs and watched as the sun began its slow descend. A nice cool breeze was blowing. Beneath were the muted sounds of traffic. In the distance were the lights of the city.
Neither of them spoke for a while. Then, she asked him if he wanted some tea. He shook his head. They spent a long time on the balcony and then, it was time for him to leave. She saw him to the door. “Thanks for inviting me for dinner,” he said. “I enjoyed it and your company very much.”
“The dinner invitation was long overdue” she said. “I had a wonderful time too. Keep in touch.”
“I will. Goodnight.”
They kept in touch. Every day, they spoke on the phone. They went out for lunch, dinner, walks, drives in the countryside and to the theatre. He loved being with her and felt like he was in paradise whenever he was around her. He wanted so badly to tell her how he felt but was afraid that it might spoil things between them. Perhaps, she just wanted to be friends–nothing more and he had to respect that even though it was hard for him to be around her and not want to hold her hand or put his arm around her shoulder or to tell her that he was madly in love with her.
Lucille stood at Michaela’s gravesite. A year had passed since she died. The pain was still there and she knew that it would be there for the rest of her life. Her only comfort was that she would see her daughter again on Resurrection Day. She didn’t visit the grave as often as she used to. She limited her visits to twice a month. Sometimes, she went alone and other times, Tamal went with her. Tamal. What a comfort and blessing he was for her. Aside from God, Tamal helped her through the rough moments.
They saw and talked to each other frequently. She wondered what Michaela would say if she could see them. Would she be thrilled that her mother and her favorite teacher were spending so much time together? She probably would be. If she suspected that I’m in love with him, she would be on me to tell him but how could I when I’m not sure if he feels the same way. There are times when I think he does but then, I chalk it up to wishful thinking on my part. Should I be brave and tell him how I feel? Do I risk making a fool of myself and ruining our friendship? “Lord, what should I do?”
At first, she thought it was God calling her name, then, she heard a footstep behind her and turned around to find Tamal standing there looking at her. Was this God’s answer to her question?
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I tried to reach you but I couldn’t get through. I guess your cell is turned off. I figured that you would be here.”
“Yes. I came because it has been a year since she died. I couldn’t have gotten through the grief, the pain and the loss if it hadn’t been for God and you, Tamal.”
“I will always be here for you, Lucille, for as long as you need me.”
“It’s so peaceful here. I love the sound of the leaves of the trees rustling in the breeze.”
“I don’t know if this is the time or the right place but there’s something I need to say to you.”
She looked up at him inquiringly. “What is it, Tamal?”
“Meeting you has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. The times we have spent together has meant the world to me. I treasure and value our friendship but…what I was hoping and praying for is that you would want us to be more than friends.”
Her heart began to beat faster. “You want us to be more than friends?”
“Yes and I hope that it’s what you want too.”
“Yes, Tamal. It’s what I want too.”
“Oh, Lucille.” He took her in his arms and held her. Then, he drew back to gaze down into her upturned face. “You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.”
She smiled. “It looks like God answered both of our prayers.”
They stayed at the graveside for a while and then, left, holding hands. After a short engagement, they got married. They bought a house in the countryside with a less than a half hour commute to London and they were blessed with two children–a boy and a girl.