It is All Souls’ Day. This is what I am thinking, although I say nothing. After work I go with P. to the hospital, where we find her father already asleep, or so it seems. He is still dressed, but covered with a blanket and facing the wall. The television is on, an early-evening action film, but he is oblivious. I lean over, kiss him on the cheek and rest my hand on his shoulder. He begins to stir, so I speak my name. Kiss, hand, name. He shifts a little, squints, and closes his eyes once more. Then, to my surprise, he turns open-eyed towards me and says something that I take, at first, to be delirium.
‘I’ve left you some fruit on the…’
He pauses, the sentence hangs in the air, the word not found. Lost in the twilight brain.
‘The bedside table, on the bedside table. Some fruit.’
The words come. I look to my right and see a mobile phone, a box of tissues and a glass of water. No fruit. But then I find them, tucked beneath an open tissue. Two ripe berries from a strawberry tree. I realize then what he has done.
A few days ago I had taken him out in his wheelchair, half an hour together in the hospital gardens. It was a sunny morning and I lingered, trusting that he wouldn’t catch cold. Along a path I had never before explored, we discovered, the two of us, a small grove of lemon trees, separated from the garden by a mesh fence, its diamond holes just too small to pass a hand through. And then, at the end of the path, another tree.
‘Miri, un arboç,’ I said. Look, a strawberry tree.
I reached up and picked one of the berries, knowing from its colour and feel that it was not yet ripe. I placed it in his hand and waited. With his right index finger, he rolled it back and forth across his left palm.
‘No te lo comas.’ Don’t eat it. ‘It’ll be sharp.’
He let the berry fall to the ground, and I wheeled him back to his room.
So, he had remembered all this today. A daughter this morning had taken him for a walk along the same path and they had picked a few berries from the tree. Ripe enough to eat. He must have held two of them in his hand, trusting that later I would visit. They were there waiting for me. The sweetest berries I’ve ever tasted. As sweet as a father’s love.
Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), and ripe berries