My baba (dad), was shot nearly 17 years ago now. The memories I have of receiving the news are somewhat obscure, maybe because of how young I was, or maybe because I was overwhelmed by the fear that I may never see him again. I vaguely recollect my mum trying to hold back tears, melancholia in her eyes, and suppressed dread. In that moment, our pain was palpable, but fortunately for us, life gave him a second chance and he survived the shooting.
Jamaica Road, Bermondsey was where my dad’s off-licence was located. It was a day just like any other until an attempted robbery took place. My dad, a dignified man, refused to give away his hard-earned money because he still had his little girl (me) to provide for. But this didn’t matter much to the shooter, who ended up firing at my dad.
After his recovery operation at the hospital, the doctors informed us that we couldn’t hug him for about a month. As a child, I didn’t focus on how fortunate I was that he survived, instead I felt woeful that I couldn’t hug him for that long – a whole month seemed like an eternity to me.
Growing up I began to recognise my blessing. Realising that my kind, gentle father was still in my life reminded me to reflect on my privileges. But now more than ever, my fear of losing loved ones has become a very real possibility again.
I strived so hard to disregard the gravity of the Coronavirus outbreak until it became a global pandemic and I had no choice but to acknowledge it. When I found out that those who are elderly and suffer from various health conditions are amongst the high-risk group, I was perturbed.
I tried to hold back tears, disguise the despondency in my eyes, and defeat the sense of trepidation rising inside me. The anxiety of losing my baba yet again overtook any emotion I had. My fears became more profound when I found out relatives were passing away because of the virus, all in a similar age-range and health condition to my dad.
When I almost lost my dad previously, my mum told me that the doctors were performing a light-operation on him, that he suffered no harm. Even at that age, I didn’t believe it, but it was my mum’s way of protecting my mental health. This time, if anything happened, I knew I wouldn’t have that shield of youthful ignorance to hide behind.
I have witnessed the deaths of so many loved ones, from my grandma, to my uncle, who was also my mum’s best friend. We lost him to cancer in a matter of weeks. He was similar to my dad in so many ways: proud, well-respected, sturdy and delicate all at once, and full of empathy and warmth.
When I found out my uncle had passed, I was on my lunch break. I was new to my job, so I hid my emotions and cried in the bathroom. I spoke to my mum over the phone, who was sat beside my uncle’s lifeless body telling me, through murmured tears, it looked as though he would wake up any minute; it seemed as though he was simply asleep. I broke down in the middle of Soho.
I have heard my mum’s hopeless outcries before. Once, when I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing her screaming in deep agony, suffering from intense back pain. Aged 14, I ran downstairs when I heard her weep because of a family drama. When my grandma died, I lost count of all the tears she had shed. Once, she passed out from extreme pain and I shrieked because I thought I’d lost her. Deep grief was something I was used to, but no matter how much pain you endure, how often you lose a loved one, you won’t ever become numbed to the fear of saying farewell to the special people in your life.
Calamitous and morbid scenarios had overwhelmed my consciousness. BBC breaking news notifications about rising deaths relating to the virus consumed my lockscreen. It was etched into my mind. I’d suffered this notion before so it didn’t seem fair I had to endure it a second time.
Choosing my fondest memories of my dad is hard – when I was five he took me for a stroll along the canal, near Shoreditch park. When I was in secondary school, every Sunday we’d pay a visit to McDonald’s, then stop by Krispy Kreme (I was a chubby kid).
During my time at university, my dad would work six or seven days a week to guarantee my comfort. Back in London and after a night out, I called him at 3 am because I was being followed and he ran out of the house with some sort of a bat, beyond ready to take down whoever had caused me discomfort. At the time, I kind of laughed. I thought it was an excessive response but now, I understand him. If only there was some equivalent bat I could use to protect him from all potential harm, including this virus. I wish I could charge at this invisible enemy, pulverise it and tell it to ‘leave my family alone’.
I count my blessings and thank God that I still get to hear my dad’s voice every day. Trying to figure out if he’s arguing with someone on the phone or passionately talking to a relative back home is a privilege I that I am still afforded. Seeing him get a bad quarantine haircut from my brother and hide in his room so we won’t video him is a gift. Going downstairs to eat breakfast and witnessing him play cards on Facebook with his friends, and cursing when he loses, is a privilege.
I know he’s still in my life, but there are so many what if’s I’m facing during this international crisis and I’m trying to figure out a way to make them vanish from my mind, for good.