It is shocking to see the people who cared for us as children becoming reliant on our care. But we can’t keep ourselves sheltered from the world forever and, at some point, we will have to step up to the plate.
It was the last week of the first month of the year when my mother called and asked me to speak with my grandfather. He was unwell, she said, but he could talk now.
I wasn’t prepared at all. My mother handed the phone to a man whose voice trembled with each syllable, whispered incoherently across the telephone line, sending shivers through my skin. I couldn’t believe the weak voice was his.
My grandfather’s voice is something I am very familiar with. It’s a low reverberating voice, which gives song to his tobacco-scented words.
His finely woven quilt of stories that draw from the world’s mythologies produced tales that will never leave my imagination. Whether a five-year-old child or an overgrown nineteen-year-old, I still find sanctuary in the skies of his words. He always walked to the bus stop to pick me up when I returned from school.
On most days he was exceptionally silent. On some he’d tell me anecdotes from his times that I cannot recall as well as I’d like to. But he would always come with an iced napkin and put it over my head; ‘It is too hot. I don’t want you to fall sick’, he’d say.
I was always his favorite, and all the other children in the household knew. There is a moment I remember when my cousins deliberately excluded me from playing a game. My grandfather, who hadn’t driven a car for years, drove me to an ice-cream parlor and got me my favorite flavor, bringing nothing back for the others.
I spent my evenings in the temple watching him sing songs of devotion; he would slip into a trance-like state and sit there for hours, and I’d just watch. I always felt like I was witnessing something spectacular, a phenomenon of sorts that was intended only for my eyes.
He is eighty-four now.
That night, something inside me altered as I tasted my salty tears, crying without pause as though that would abate my suffering, as though it would aid his recovery and, in process, my own. Miles away from him, I could feel the emptiness around him; his dehydration left me with an incomprehensible, inexpressible dryness that I often find myself with to this day.
His voice is like a soft shadow at the back of my head, measured whispers that I have tried to preserve over the years in tightly sealed containers of sensibility. His face reads like a map of memories, pickled and stored carefully for future reference.
When I ask him if he would like to play a game of cards with me, he responds dismissively, “I am too old. I am too useless.” He takes an assortment of prescribed medicine, twelve in all: seven post lunch, and five post dinner.
On some nights, he cannot fall asleep and has to take a sleeping pill. Then he doesn’t get up till the afternoon of the next day and I feel a fear I have felt many times now, a fear that I am old enough to understand, perhaps, but never old enough to accept.
Dadu, I cannot lose you. I love you too much, and you are too much of me for me to lose. I will bring you iced napkins to shield you from the heat of the world and be your walking stick for you. I will talk to you about the share market, bearish and bullish, and be your faithful accountant. It is okay if you do not want to play cards with me. I understand.
Maybe tomorrow you will.
Written by Swastika Jajoo
Have a look at Columbian artist and fashion designer Daniel Ramos Obregón´s collection of extra body parts – for when you could use an extra pair of hands, lips or feet for that matter.