Ash told his sisters his fears about their mom and dad. “Oh Akash, don’t be so dramatic,” said his sisters. “Pappa is just tired from working so hard. And Ma just has a cold or something.” They both sounded so so confident that Ash relaxed a little, though he still felt a cold ball of worry in the pit of his stomach whenever he saw his mother’s pale face or his father’s drooping shoulders.
As summer sped by, things seemed almost normal. The family, along with Cami, of course, traveled to the bay to celebrate the 4th of July.
A few weeks later, friends and relatives gathered at the Chowdhury house to celebrate Ash’s 13th birthday. Everyone had such a great time eating, laughing, and playing, that Ash didn’t think once about his parents’ health.
Later, he wondered if the strain of throwing his birthday had had been too much for his parents. Whatever the reason, the next day, everything happened at once.
Ash wandered outside after breakfast to find his father standing in the middle of the front yard. Ash blinked. His father was wearing a pair of his sister’s too-snug jeans, and an old, faded t-shirt that had once belonged to Ash’s older brother, Pranav. Even more shocking, Ash’s father had shaved his head and was now nearly bald.
Ash froze. “Pappa?” His voice came out high-pitched, like a girl. “Pappa, are you okay?” Ash’s father did not answer, but began to strut around the yard, waving his hands and muttering to himself. Then, without warning, he whirled around and began to yell at Ash in Hindi, his face furious. Ash backed away, then turned and ran to call his brother, Pranav.
When Pranav arrived to help, their mother clutched her abdomen and began to moan in pain. “Call an ambulance!” Pranav screamed at Ash “Hurry!” Ash did so with trembling fingers. Then he waited with his brother and sisters as the ambulance took both his parents away.
A few days later, Ash and his family and Cami were able to go and visit his parents in the hospital. “The truth is,” said the doctor, “we don’t yet know what is making your parents so ill. We are running a lot of tests to try and figure it out.”
Ash stood very still in Doctor Mack’s office. He let his eyes drift from the fish swimming in the doctor’s fish tank, to the shelves loaded with books, to the corner of the room, where Dr. Mack and Cami were engaged in what seemed to be a very deep conversation.
We don’t know what’s making your parents so ill, he kept hearing Dr. Mack’s words over and over in his mind. Ash was only sure of one thing – whatever his parents had, it was not just a cold.