December 4, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2016

It was the happiest day of Dilip Singh's life. At twenty eight years of age, he had accomplished all his major life goals thus far -- he had graduated from a top University, got a job at a prestigious firm, and married the woman he had wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Now, their first child was about to be born, and he was feeling the pure joy of the moment. It was an incredible feeling and even though he had only slept a few hours in the past three days, he was alert, wide awake and excited. His wife, Preetam, was still in the hospital. He had quickly driven home for a quick shower and a change of clothes, and to pick up some towels and other items. It had been a long labor, but the baby was almost here. This was the best time for him to take a break, so he had rushed home.

The entire family was delighted with the news, his parents in India were anxiously waiting for a phone call from him. Preetam's mother had made the long journey from India two weeks ago, and was now by her side at the hospital. Dilip's siblings kept calling and texting every hour to ask how everything was going, and to offer their love and prayers. Preetam's brother was on an airplane with his wife, flying in from Toronto. They would arrive tonight, and would help out with taking care of baby and mother.

As he packed fresh towels and clean clothes into his small bag, Dilip noticed another text message from his sister on his phone. He smiled as he thought of how everyone in the family was united in welcoming the new addition. He felt the warmth of their love and caring, even when they were so many hundreds of miles away.

When are you coming? he texted back.

We'll be there Sunday, what about Jassi, was she able to get the time off from work?

Jassi was his youngest sister. Oh yea, he texted, she's coming next week. Said she wouldn't miss this for the world :)

Great! Soooo excited!

He finished packing and headed downstairs. Quickly leafed through the unopened mail lying on the table, and then had a bite to eat while standing in the kitchen. He hadn't eaten much during the past few days, and didn't realize how ravenously hungry he really was. He scarfed down some toast and cereal, and then finished his tea in a hurry.

He was lucky to be working for an employer that offered him three weeks of paternity leave. It would be precious time to spend with his newborn child. He envisioned a lot of sleepless nights changing diapers, feeding the baby, and rocking her to sleep in the cradle of his arms. He was eagerly looking forward to it. His parents were scheduled to arrive for a visit within the next month. Then they could give the child their blessing and love.

As a first-generation immigrant, life had initially been difficult for Dilip, and part of his definition of success had been to be able to make it in America. Today, with all that he had accomplished, seemed like the crowning moment. All of his struggle, his hard work, efforts, and toil were about to be rewarded. All of his parents' sacrifices and efforts were brought to fruition in this moment. The next generation of his family was coming into the world, and the child would grow up with more opportunity and better education than he had, and would enjoy political and economic stability so that she could pursue her heart's dreams. She would have the chance to excel at whatever she chose to do. No doors would be closed for her. There would be no limit to what she could accomplish. Her life would be better, and knowing this made all the years of struggle and hardship worth it for Dilip.

He also felt fortunate that he had a very tightly-knit and loving family. When he had married Preetam, her family had welcomed him as their own son. He was grateful for all the blessings that he enjoyed.

His phone buzzed just as he was finishing his tea. It was a message from Preetam's mother. The baby was about to be born! He felt his heart race when he read the message.

I'm heading back right now... he texted, and ran out the door, bag in hand.

He had driven to the first intersection of his otherwise quiet neighborhood, and was waiting at the red light. The early morning sun cast a few rays of orange-yellow sunshine along the row of trees ahead. The sky was clear-blue. Dilip rolled down his window and breathed in the clean, fresh morning air. He could hear birds chirping their merry song in the trees. It was a wonderful day.

His phone buzzed with another text message. It was Jassi, his sister. Hey I just heard the baby's on the way!  You're gonna be a Daddy soooon! :)

He felt his heart beating fast in his chest as he realized that his life was going to change forever. It felt really, really good, and he was deliriously happy. He was anxious to get back to the hospital soon. He didn't want to miss the birth.

The cross lights were turning amber. His red light would be green within another few seconds. He was getting ready to shift out of neutral. He didn't see the man walk up to the driver's side window.

"Why are you here?" an angry voice demanded. "Go back to Afghanistan! This is for America!"

By the time he turned his head and caught sight of the barrel of the gun, it had already discharged and the round at point blank range traveled straight past skin and muscle before smashing into cranial bone. Shattering bone and diving deep into the cerebrospinal fluid, the bullet tore tissue as it ripped through the brain. In a fraction of a second, Dilip was dead.