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Departure Lounge

“We used to be out there,” I tell my spouse, pointing at the lawn outside.

From beyond where we sit, we have a panoramic view of the children’s birthday party. One of my grandnephews just turned two and the whole garden outside is festooned with balloons, banners, and inflatable rubber castles. I see young mothers exchanging pleasantries with other young mothers, young neighbors chatting with former classmates, young husbands following their toddlers all over the place, young single guys like my son seated around the table eating barbecued prawns and drinking beer. All the young ones are enjoying the last days of summer.

Inside are the not-so-young (senior citizens), and we are beginning to sense the tinge that usually afflicts us each time we meet and find ourselves wondering where all those years went.

Not too long ago, we were there outside taking care of our own young ones while our elders sat in here. The elders have moved on and it’s our turn to sit here and look outside. It’s not new to me anymore. In Florida I lived in a place called Kissimmee, also called Heaven’s Waiting Room, because of the number of retirees living there. The place where I sit now, however, makes me feel like we’re in transit at an airport departure lounge waiting our turn to board the plane.

For the reality is, whether we like it or not, we’re all getting there, in spite of Woody Allen who, once asked his opinion about death and dying, said: “I’m strongly against it.”

“Let’s do this more often,” Sonny, a kababayan about 3 years my senior tells me. “Let’s have lunch together next week, or let’s look for a place to go next weekend.”

I would have said I’ll call you (translation: I’m not too keen about it). But I did not.

You see, recently I just visited a friend at the Jamaica Hospital.

His name is Jagmo. Jagmo is a tall, slim guy in his fifties who, like me, migrated here years ago. He is a soft-spoken, hardworking employee known to everyone for his kindness and jovial nature, the proverbial jolly-good-fellow in the office. We worked for the same company. He was one friend who was always there whenever I needed volunteers for overtime work and to “cover” for employees who could not make it during snowstorms.

One day while I was doing my marketing near Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue in Queens I happened to chance by Jagmo.

“Mr. Manny! I’ve been trying to locate you ever since you retired.”

He too had recently retired. He reminded me of the time he invited me to lunch at a West Indian Restaurant but I was too busy we never got to have lunch there. I always promised him I’d call him, which I never did. “Now that we are both retired, how about it?” he said.

“Ok, I’ll call you.” We exchanged new phone numbers.

Jagmo called me twice, but he got the same answer: “I’ll call you.”

I did not hear from Jagmo for a few months. One day at the same market, I met one of Jagmo’s close friends, Joginder, who also worked in the same company as ours.

“Our friend Jagmo is in bad shape,” Joginder said.

“What do you mean?”

“He went home to Guyana for a vacation, but on his way back to NY he suffered a heart attack on the plane.” “Where is he now?” I asked.

“Jamaica Hospital. He’s been there for about a month now. They moved him to the rehab annex building.” I dropped all appointments that day and drove straight to the hospital.

“Is this the rehab ward?” I asked the attendant, because I did not recognize the patient lying down on his side. He was my good friend Jagmo. He had lost a lot of weight.

“Jagmo, old buddy, what happened to you?”

He merely stared blankly at the wall.

“He cannot talk,” the attendant said, and left us alone.

It was a depressing sight. I put the bag of oranges on the bedside table and sat on one corner of the bed to get closer: “You get well, Jagmo, you hear? You promised to bring me to that restaurant, okay?”

I stayed for about a quarter of an hour trying my best to make him talk, waiting in vain for a response. He only stared blankly at the wall.

“We are going to have lunch at your favorite West Indian Restaurant okay?” I held his arm. “We love you, buddy.” A tear fell from his left eye.

“You take care, okay?” I called out from the door, trying to suppress my tears.

I am still here at the children’s party. The sun is low but the children are still outside enjoying the last hours of summer. Time to go home, we tell the kids. Meanwhile, Jagmo is at the rehab place. I have been told he may never regain his senses. The two attendants I spoke to at the desk said he had been in that vegetative state ever since the attack. I refuse to accept this. That single tear tells me we’re still going to have that lunch at that West Indian restaurant.

“Let’s do this more often,” Sonny reminds me, as we prepare to leave. “Let’s have lunch together next week, or let’s look for a place to go next weekend.”

“How about next week?” I call out loud through the crowd, as we part ways.

To which everybody agrees.

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