My grandmother is not well. She is old yes and I suppose thats what
happens when one grows old. You don't feel well. I hear she is in the
hospital alone. I want her to go peacefully yet medicine keeps her
alive. She is to far away for me to help her. She has lived a full,
beautiful life and I want her death to be with dignity. Everyone
allows her to be in a bad condition when we need to be brave and end
her life with dignity. We are weak. We allow the doctors to make a
mockery of our values and judgments. (sigh) Here is a story I wrote
to her in the year 2002 to give you all an idea of what she was like.
She was a force of nature, a giver of stories, a strong presence in my
life. When I read 100 years of solitude and then read Marquez's
interviews of his inspiration I understood perfectly when he said
everything came from his grandmother. Biji made me see our family that
way. I have always been enthralled to hear her speak of the tragedy
and joy in living.
My grandma surrounds herself with photographs, spending more time with
these images than with the people they represent. Voices from afar on
the telephone respond to her existence, reminding her that people
remember her, who she was, who she has become.
She is a shell of her former self.
I sleep next to her, hearing her breathing, in and out, the air it
keeps her spirit alive. I wonder what she thinks, dreams about, as the
days keep going by.
Morning brings the sun to my eyes. She’s already awake sitting on an
easy chair, waiting for me. In the bathroom I can hear her rumbling
pots in the kitchen, she’s trying to cook something. I come out to help
her, telling her to sit down, take it easy.
She insists on cooking, so I let her. I watch her move, she’s a blind
person in the dark, unaware of the darkness, it’s all the same to her.
She reminds me that she cooks for herself all the time.
I eat and listen to her. She starts talking. I feel like I’m not there.
She keeps going, stories, some sad some interesting, one about how on
the hottest day of the year, she walked to the supermarket, on the
other side of town, to eat a mango. A goal, her entire existence
converging on a sweet mango. She touches it, tastes it, more real than
pictures or voices from afar. I imagine her in the hot sun, alone on a
park bench, eating all she knows. She’s in the moment.
I look at her, I can’t tell if she sees me. She gets quiet, she lies
down on the couch. I sit in front of her reading, it’s all I know to
do. Occasionally she wakes up to say something. I try and read and
listen at the same time, I try to ignore her, I feel uneasy. I tell her
I’ll get the groceries.
I walk out. I get a cup of coffee and an overwhelming feeling of
wanting to make love takes me. Usually the feeling is incessant, like a
leak from the faucet, dripping making noise, raising awareness, but not
drawing attention to itself. Eventually it becomes a slow din, fading
into the background. This is different, it’s a flood of feeling so
strong, as if I was the one dying, looking back at my life in regret.
I walk into the grocery store, the sun going down on this gray winter
day. I know by the time I come out, it’ll be dark. I spot a photo
booth, jump in, take pictures. The pictures remind me I’m young, that I
have a long time to go. My mind it feels really old though. I feel
stuck alone waiting to die. My whole life behind me, only darkness
ahead, an unknown. It’s not true. I look at my young face, I see that
everything these old people wish to do I can do.
My grandma is 84, I’m 24. 60 years apart, yet we share the same
struggle: getting through the day. She waits for 6:30 to roll around,
to play cards downstairs, with 5 or 6 other senior citizens. “It helps
pass the time,” she says. I sit all day next to her, reading, trying to
keep busy. Slowly the day turns to night over and over. My uneasiness
eventually subsides, I feel rhythm, a feeling that I have done this
before, of being content in just being, of being here for her. I don’t
want to leave her.
I tell her I’ll join her for cards. We head down, sit at the table
ready to play. The game is easy, mostly of chance, the little skill
that comes into play, has to do with screwing over the person sitting
next to you. We all sit around the table stranded, do our best to deny
it, with endless chatter. Once in a while everyone asks each other how
I lose every game. I’m the first one out. In a game of chance you would
think I would win some games. I tell my grandma I’m heading up and that
I’ll be waiting for her. 3 hours later she drudges in. She won 2 games
and she seems happy, she made it through another day. She tells me
she’s sleepy, she goes to bed.
A little lamp lights the room, the rest of the place is dark. I sit and
listen to the night. My eyes start getting tired, but I see nothing in
sleep, it means nothing to me here.
I wake up to the sound of a vacuum. The orderly is here, she assists my
grandma in cleaning and other household chores. I think of the whole
day ahead of me in the shower. Rain coming down, washing away my sins.
I think of leaving, it’s been 8 days and I’m starting to lose track of
time. I don’t remember what yesterday was like and tomorrow, I don’t
care for. Am I in the moment? Is my grandmother my mango?
Over breakfast, I casually mention how I should head back to the city,
how I have so much stuff to do, that's so important. She tells me to
stay one more week, says she’ll feel sad if I go. I tell her I’m going
back so she’ll be proud of me, how I’m thinking about going back to
school, getting my act together, getting a job, becoming successful so
she can then talk about me downstairs over cards, to her orderlies,
random strangers, I would become just like the rest of her
grandchildren, a faded image on her walls. I take out my unsmiling
pictures from the photo booth, I pin them on the wall. There’s four of
me, all looking at her, abstract, far away, making her feel as good as
God does on lonely Sunday afternoons.
– Gaurav Deep Arora
March 31, 2002