The last time I saw my uncle, I was still donning my school uniform.
We bumped into each other at our usual spot – a flight of stairs leading to our homes. I was on my way down, and he was on his way up. I greeted him, and as always, he took a few seconds to recognise me, before breaking into a huge smile. I waved goodbye, and skipped down the steps, eager to get home after a long day.
This was nothing unusual. Our conversations were always short, always just a simple greeting. That day, I never realised how he was taking each step so slowly, or how hard he was gripping his walking stick.
Then, I stopped seeing him on the flight of stairs.
My life went on, occupied by upcoming examinations, project work, and making plans with friends. His absence was unnoticeable, insignificant to all the other things I had to do. Only when I visited his home on Lunar New Year, did I realise he had moved. His legs could no longer support the strain of walking up a flight of stairs, and my aunt could no longer support the strain of taking care of him. He moved to a nursing home.
It should have been a wake-up call, a reminder that he was no longer as healthy as I remembered, a nudge for me to pay him a visit. But I didn’t. “I will one day, just not now.”
I finally saw him again last week. This time, he did not smile. Friends and family surrounded him, silence filled the space. I would imagine, like me, many of them held the same guilt of not making time, the same guilt of always saying “later”.
I still remember him in his grey checkered button-down, cargo shorts, black loafers, holding on to his copper walking stick, and smiling brightly at me when I called out his name. I wonder if he would have thought back to any of our encounters on this flight of stairs. It is now something that I will never have an answer to.
Take a step back from your busy life, and spare five minutes to do the things you have always said “later” to. You are probably not as busy as you think.