Ascension Day. A public holiday in Germany. And yet I am leaving home at 7.30 am. On my way to the station, under a baby-blue sky and through a mostly deserted city, I come across a handful of cars. The occasional jogger or dog walker. The very occasional barfly.
Boarding the train. 2.5 hours to Hamburg. Staring out of the window.
I got the call nine days ago. What had initially looked so promising was deceptive. The tumours are growing. I read everything I could find on chemotherapy, radiotherapy, proton therapy. I even contemplated contacting S to have somebody explain the technical details to me. But none of this would be to any avail, the doctors say. It will be fast now. Come quick.
Walking to their house. Sweaty hands. Stomach-ache. It feels like I am on my way to a date. But this is not about a first encounter. It is going to be a last one.
He is on morphine when I walk in. It makes him sleepy. I kiss him on the cheek and see the scar on his temple. He drifts off again. After an hour, he becomes more lucid, and we talk for a bit. I try to be my normal self. Relaxed. Chatty. Don’t mention the C word. Ignore the elephant in the room.
His mum is joining our conversation. I talk about how he introduced me to Cypress Hill. How we sat in his room for hours, listening to music. How I had given him a silver cigarette case, long before his parents became aware that he had started smoking. He remembers.
Headaches are his constant companion. He asks for medication. His dad is out to get some takeaway, so I light a spliff for him. Cower next to his bed and help him put the joint to his lips.
After five hours, I have to go home.
How do you say goodbye when it is very likely for the last time? I try to be breezy. Crack a joke. Be casual for the sake of his (and my) emotional state. “Shall I visit you again in the next days?” His answer is like a shot: “Yes!”
I hug him. Kiss him again on the cheek. There is one thing I still need to say. “I love you very much, but you know that, don’t you?” “Yeah, I know.” “Good.”
I make it to the door to bid farewell to his parents. His dad hugs me tightly and then walks away, anxious not to let me see the tears in his eyes.
There is no crying in baseball. There is also no crying on public transport. Furiously marking papers for 2.5 hours. Listening to music. Listening to Cypress Hill.
When I cycle home from the station, I can see people enjoying the last hours of the holiday. The smell of barbecue. The sound of beer bottles being opened. Laughter. Music. Celebrating the beginning of summer. Celebrating life.
He is my little cousin. He is 34 years old. I have no words for how I feel.