The Gift

He comes in as I am about to settle down to write a support email. In his usual fashion, he hasn’t knocked on the door or asked me if this is a good time to talk, instead as I stare at him with a look of mild irritation, he pulls up a chair and sits down next to me.

He is humming to himself as he does this and he keeps up the beat by tapping his foot and drumming his fingers on my desk. We sit like that for a few minutes, eventually the humming stops and he notices me staring at him. I force a smile and wait for him to say something, hoping that whatever he wants to say will be quick. I expect another lengthy explanation or excuse about some work that I have assigned to him. We have been through this many times now and I am well aware that my voice has a rather sharp edge to it when I mention deadlines.

Today however, his mood changes when he stops the humming. His face takes on a different, almost mellow expression as he asks me if he could take a further week off after Christmas. I sigh and almost start to explain why this isn’t feasible when something about the moment stops me. I can’t place my finger on it but there seems to be some subtle poignancy about the moment and the situation that makes me want to let him talk.

I wait for him to say something more by way of explanation and when none is forthcoming, I ask him if everything is alright. For a long while he says nothing and simply stares at his shoes and then suddenly all the facades of nonchalance and the “couldn’t care less” attitudes that his tattooed forearms and pierced eyebrows seem to scream out, fade away. His face softens and I suddenly find myself looking into a pair of troubled eyes.

“Its me grandmum”, he says in a muffled voice. “She is real bad, got Alzheimer’s and stuff and now they say they have detected cancer too”, he swallows a lump,” She won’t last long at this rate”. He inhales rapidly and keeps staring at his shoes.” She doesn’t recognize me over the phone now”, he adds, “And I thought I would kind of spend a week with her you know, it is not like she has lost all her marbles, some days she recognizes me fine and then it is like the old times “.

“You can take the week off”, I find myself saying as he looks up at me, “I hope she recognizes you and I hope the two of you have a lovely time together, it will be alright”. My voice trails off because there is nothing more left for me to say and nothing more left for him to hear because we both know the reality and we both want to leave the definite unsaid.

With shyness that beguiles his usual exuberance, he shyly shows me a hand bound book, his collection of poems that he has written for his grandma. Each page has painstakingly done illustrations and little notes to her of days well spent and memories well cherished. “It is nothing fancy, just my Christmas gift to her”, he says and then adds almost as an afterthought, “She might not be around the next year you know”.

“She will love this”, I say struggling to keep my voice level. I tell him something I learnt years ago, that the best gift you can give is one wherein you give a part of yourself.

Reassured,he smiles and gets up to go. When he reaches the door, he awkwardly turns and whispers thanks and tells me that he will finish all his work before he leaves. As the door softly closes behind him and I hear the familiar humming again, I almost want to call him back in and thank him. He doesn’t know it but he has just taught me my most important lesson, the wisdom that you don’t give any less just because you know the end is around the corner.

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