Nathaniel had three days to live.
Cancer, they said.
It had begun in his stomach and was gallivanting up his esophagus at a harrowing speed.
“Fuggit!” he said, unable to say the ck. It hurt these days to say cuss words where the tongue did a jig at the roof of the mouth.
I’ll do something worthwhile, he decided, and flipped out his notebook and drew two columns.
People to thank. People to apologise to. He wrote.
There were twenty-three names on the left. And one on the right.
His chest ached. Even after thirty-two years.
We all should make that list while we are alive, Anita used to say. He was making one while he was dying.
I’ll start with Manu Pal, he muttered, and picked up the telephone.
He spent eight minutes with Manu Pal, his first boss from his first job as a stenographer. The man who gave him a raise and a promotion, for no apparent reason except for some such nebulous nonsense he called “belief in his employees”.
Then there was Rini Pannikar, the nurse at the hospital who nursed him through a broken leg for six whole weeks.
Joslin, his neighbour, was a peach. On many occasions, he had walked Nathaniel’s old dog when his own old bones were tired.
And Nayana Dey, the colleague, Gayathri Swaminathan, the distant cousin, Bobby Nanda, the long-lost friend, Jacob Puropuri, the friendly postman, so on and so forth.
Last but not the least, Jasmine White, the woman who wrote his favourite book ever, The Things we Bury will Sprout and Grow One Day. Nathaniel never bothered with books in his life, let alone writers. But the book was a gift and when he read it on a day he was dead bored, he cried.
And that was a total of nineteen times. Nothing really ever made him cry, especially in a good way. Well… except her. But that was in a bad way.
He wanted to thank Jasmine White too although he’d never met her. He put her name down against #23.
By the end of day two, all names were struck out. He had successfully conveyed his gratitude to seventeen of them, four of them were untraceable, two were dead.
On the third day, Dr. Dan fiddled with Nathaniel’s pulse and eyed his vitals with a severe face.
“Is there someone I can call?” he asked for the third time.
“No,” said Nathaniel, with zero fuss. His life was simple, with all loose ends neatly tied up. Almost.
No wealth to give away, no one he owed, no family to bawl over his dead body, no story left behind, not even a little one. He was glad old Mulberry, his pet boxer, had died last month. And he’d given away all his pots of petula flowers.
The room was bare.
Only an old clock, ticking away heartlessly. He kept it on purpose.
“Now I’d like to be left alone. Thank you for trying doctor,” he said
The doctor sighed loudly, shook Nathaniel’s hand and rushed out the door with a tear at the edge of his right eye.
Now there was only one thing left to do. Nathaniel dialled Anita Santario’s number.
“Hello,” he said, “May I speak with Anita Santario?”
“Hi, I’m Nate, her son. Who are you?”
“Sorry, I’m Nathaniel, an old friend of hers. Can I talk to her?”
Pause. A sigh.
“Mom passed away two years ago. What did you say your name was again?”
“Nathaniel… Nathaniel Roy.”
“Your name sounds familiar. Mother might have mentioned you.”
“Yes, she said that you were the reason she even wrote that book.”
“She wrote? What book?”
“The Things we Bury will Sprout and Grow One Day. She wrote it under her pen name Jasmine White.”
“Yes, she said that all the pain from when you broke her heart was what she used to write her book. There is a great beauty in pain, she used to say.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. I know she wasn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“She made this list. People to thank. People to apologise to. Your name was on it.”
“Under which list?”
“People to thank.“
Prarthana JA, the author of We All Should Make Lists, lives in Bangalore, India. She quit her job as a corporate writer to take care of her babies, a feisty toddler and her first novel, which she hopes to finish soon. Her screenplays for award winning short films, The Wedding Saree, Opaque and Spiral, are up on the internet. Her short stories have appeared in The Indian Periodical, Defenestration and Emovere, an anthology.