In his experience, the doctor says, it’s better not to ask too many questions. It was an accident, he says. The donor was otherwise healthy and whole. You shouldn’t worry, my friend.
The doctor reaches for his hand, but Samir notices the other one sheathed in the pocket of his white coat, fingering the fine edge of the cheque. The grip is firm and brief, celebrating a deal well struck. Samir walks out, still worried, but less worried. As he reaches his son’s room, he knows he is less worried than the seamstress down the hall, or poor Mr. Chambers who has been waiting a year, and can’t wait much longer.
He feels guilty, ashamed. He tries to assuage his shame by telling himself he’ll find a way to give back. As he looks down at his son, he feels no regrets. He knows that anyone else would act as he has done, if they had the means. Cedar sleeps, aided by machines. His limbs are arrayed and his body swaddled in white hospital blankets. Samir grasps his thin hand through the linen, hoping Cedar will give him some sign.
The surgery is a success. Samir can’t quite believe it when the doctor tells him. He smiles for the first time in so long that it hurts his face.
Cedar recovers. He starts slowly, learning to stand and walk with the aid of the nurses. In two months, he’s jogging every day. In six, he’s a defender in the local football league, praised by his teachers and admired by his friends. But he is a sensitive boy, and he knows he is alive because someone else is not. He starts asking questions.
The doctor says it is better not to ask questions, his father says. Give thanks, and put it out of your mind.
Cedar can’t put it out of his mind. He wonders about the other man, the young man whose heart now resides in his own chest. Cedar wonders what his name was, why he died, how his own reprieve came about. It seemed wrong to accept so precious a gift from a stranger. He begins to dream of the donor, returned from the dead, his hand extended to take back the stolen heart. He insisted it wasn’t theirs to give. It wasn’t yours to take.
Cedar does not sleep. He tries to starve the dreams out by staying awake into the thinning night. Samir begins to receive notes from his headmistress about Cedar’s declining grades, his inability to focus. He drops out of the football league. He stops talking to the girl he likes. It’s too much effort to keep awake, so he sleeps through his classes. Even then, the donor finds him. The ragged hole in his chest stretches as he reaches out his hand, palm up.
Tell me who it is, Cedar demands of his father after the most recent fight over his grades. Samir doesn’t know. He won’t ask the doctor. It’s against the rules. What’s more, Samir doesn’t want to invite doubt. He does not want to undo the power of his prayer. He doesn’t want to know what he bargained for.
When Samir finds his son, it is too late. Not the too-late of a razor or bullet, because the borrowed heart still beats. The paramedic that cuts him down from the garage cross beam explains that Cedar’s brain no longer functions, that the barest activity remains. Samir insists on riding along, and remains at his son’s bedside. They hook him up to the breathing machine. His chest rises and falls with a mechanical jerk. He looks to Samir like a grotesque puppet, his body manipulated by a clumsy hand.
The doctor comes. He tells him there is no hope. He offers his condolences, but the same jocular handshake. Samir does not ask the question. He signs the papers that say they can turn off the machines. He stays to watch them do it, and then he leaves, feeling bereaved and somehow swindled.
The doctor walks away, nose to his clipboard as he writes “accident” as the cause of death, and adds a tick to the “donor” box. It wasn’t the first he had sold a broken heart, and wouldn’t be the last.