I was on flight KM 103 from London on its way to Malta. It was a comfortable three hour flight. White cotton-like clouds floated beneath us. The pilot had already announced that we were descending to our destination where the weather was sunny. I looked from the small window and saw the Maltese landscape coming nearer and nearer.
Then I opened my handbag and took out the black and white photograph, now yellow and wrinkled with the passing of the years, and held it tight in my hands. The photo showed a young man with a small girl perched on his shoulders. His full black hair was smoothed down and glossy with ‘Brylcream’. A wide grin was on his face. I remember very well when that photo was taken. It was on my eighth birthday at Golden Bay where the family used to go sunning and swimming in the hot summer months. How we laughed and enjoyed ourselves on that golden beach.
I turned the photo over. The words ‘Champion of Golden Bay’ were written in black ink. They were Mum’s words. She liked to put captions on the back of family photos. I smiled as I remembered how proud my father was of this photo and of Mum’s caption on its back. I loved this photo too and made it a point to take it with me when I left home. I remember that Mum had shouted to Dad to put me down but he laughed and held me even higher. That must have been sixteen years ago now. How time flies!
Mum had phoned me yesterday from home, informing me that Dad has had a relapse and was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed to be in a serious condition. He was losing his battle with big C. She had urged me to come back home without delay. I took the first flight home. He had been ill for some months now, but I never thought that it was that serious. However Dad was a fighter; he would not give up easily. “Please God let him live!” I murmured as I looked at our old, fading photo once again.
I was eager to be at the hospital and see Dad. I remembered how he always encouraged me to improve my position in life; he gave me confidence to overcome everyday problems; his words of wisdom still rang loudly in my ears – “Don’t judge a book by its cover”; “You cannot stop the future and you cannot rewind the past”; “the Lord works in mysterious ways”; “A stitch in time saves nine”; “take care of your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves”; and so many others, all with a meaning and a lesson.
The plane had now landed in Malta. The sun, as predicted by the pilot on flight, was blazing. I alighted from the plane, passed through customs, found myself at the ‘Arrivals’ lounge, dragged my small luggage outside the terminal and hailed a taxi.
“Mater Dei hospital”, I directed the driver. He looked at me a second time. It’s not often that a flight passenger takes a taxi direct to the hospital. “I hope everything’s all right Miss” he said in an attempt to console me. “Yes, yes “, I replied looking blankly away from him. I was dropped at the entrance, hurried inside and asked for directions at the reception. “Follow the ‘Blue’ line, second floor.” They told me. I followed, as instructed, took the lift and again asked for the ward. “Second room on your right,” they told me. My feet felt as heavy as lead but I hurried on.
I saw him as I entered the ward. How frail he has become, I thought. Mum was by his side, holding his hands. I tiptoed in quietly. “Hi Dad, Hi Mum” I asked and went straight to embrace them both. I opened both my arms and held them close to me.
“Oh Jennifer, Jennifer!” exclaimed my Mum. “I was telling Dad that you were on your way”. She looked relieved to see me. I kissed Dad on both cheeks, held on to his hands and asked “How are you Dad?”
“I’m fine Princess”, he said. “They are fussing too much over me really, I’ll be out of this hospital in no time, you mark my words”. But he did not look fine to me. Propped up in his hospital bed, he looked a shadow of his former self. His pyjamas looked two sizes too big for him.
We sat there, the three of us, occasionally interrupted by the nurse who came in to give him an injection, adjust his bed equipment and to mark his note board, which hung by his bed. “It’s so nice to see you Princess”, he said to me as he looked at me with his loving eyes. “Listen Dad” I replied. “I came across an old holiday photo a few days ago. The one taken at Golden Bay where you’re balancing me on your shoulders, remember?” “Of course I remember” he said. “You were only eight years old and as light as a feather”.
“Dad, you’ll win this battle, I know. You and Mum and I will walk out of this hospital together arm in arm like we used to do years ago”, I said, convinced that he’d win and pull through in the end. His fingers tighten around mine. He smiles at me the way he always smiled at me and, suddenly, I have to struggle to keep back the tears. “I’m going to beat this thing, you know”, Dad whispers as I bend over to kiss his cheek. I doubted whether he really meant it or whether he wanted us to believe that there was some hope after all.
He looked so tired, so worn-out and so in pain, that I felt so sorry for him. I wanted, at that moment, to encourage him as he used to encourage me so often when I was younger. “I know you will”, I say with a certainty I felt in my heart. “Remember Dad, you are the Champion of Golden Bay. You will always fight like a champion!!”