Maleeha grew up without a father. On a cheerful, sunny afternoon of her fourth year, her father had passed away silently, in his sleep. The doctors said it was a painless, natural death.
Maleeha was sleeping between her parents at that time, under the single, whirring fan of their bedroom, on a lazy Sunday. The echoing sound of Azaan for the Asar prayers roused her from sleep and she blinked to adjust to the sunlight filling the room. She tilted her head slightly and reached out to tap her father’s shoulder. Her father was a light sleeper and usually a gentle tap on the shoulder was all that was needed to wake him up. When he didn’t open his eyes and squint at her in that usual, funny way which always made Maleeha laugh, she hopped on top of him and kissed his cheek. Surely, that would rouse him! And then when that didn’t work either, she decided it was time to pull out the bigger guns. So after stealing a quick glance at her oblivious mother, Maleeha started jumping up and down on her father’s tummy. A few seconds of that woke her mother up, but her father remained asleep. Suddenly, a wild thought came into Maleeha’s mind and her eyes widened mid-jump. She stopped and leaned down. She put her head on her father’s chest, where just two days ago he had told her his heart was. At that time he had pulled Maleeha close, her head on his chest, so she could hear his heartbeat. She had told him that it was her favourite sound in the entire world and asked if he could please record it for her so she could listen to it on their new computer. And he had laughed heartily. Then he had told her she could just put her head to his chest when she wanted to hear it. But at this moment, when she put her head to his chest, she heard nothing.
After listening to silence intently for a few seconds, she asked her mother if hearts stopped beating when people slept. Her mother told her she was probably listening at the wrong place and called out to he husband that it was time for Asar and he needed to wake up. When he didn’t stir, she called out again and shook him. Still no response. That was when she became worried. She pulled Maleeha off of him and put her own head to his chest. No heartbeat. She checked his pulse where there was none. She called out to him again and again, in disbelief and panic, frantically. She shook his arms. Tried again in vain. After a few minutes of this, she just lay there beside him, holding a weeping four-year old Maleeha, trying to think. But what does one think and how, when their husband just dies all of a sudden, after a promise of taking them out in the evening after waking up?
Eventually, Maleeha asked her mother what they would do now. Her mother got up and called her brother, told him, and then lay back in bed with Maleeha snuggled close to her. The child showed more maturity than could be expected of a four-year old. Her father had died, and she was trying to be brave about it. But for several years after that, all she could think about was that she only got to hear her favourite sound in the entire world once. And that she could never hear it again.