“My piss is red,” he said, his voice thin and crackly over a bad landline connection. “Can you look it up in The Book?”
My dad had been a doctor and I inherited his Book of Basic Diagnoses. Flipping through its worn pages, I found what I suspected: Cancer.
“Have you eaten anything red lately?” I asked him.
There was an empty crackly silence on his end of the line.
Then he said, “I had pimento yesterday.”
“Well, that’s it,” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the airport.”
When he got off the plane he was clutching his midsection.
“You must’ve gotten some bad pimento,” I said, kissing his stubbly cheek. He always shaved.
I drove him straight to hospital, where he vomited in reception. The nurse moved him to the head of the queue but the scanning machine was broken. She said, “Go home and we’ll call you when it’s fixed.”
I tucked him into our bed where he couldn’t stay still, his torso bucking up and down of its own volition. Ruptured tumor, I thought.
“Maybe it’s a perforated ulcer,” I told him.
I called the nurse.
“Bring him back to hospital,” she said.
Late that night in a bleak waiting room, sitting with his brothers, making thin jokes about bad pimentos and possible causes of his ulcer, I thought of my late father, the surgeon, coming out of an operating theatre with one word on his lips.