‘Grandpa is too sick. We don’t know if he would make it’.
This was the phone call that woke me up. Not how I planned my Saturday week off. I checked the time and it said 6.13 am. I don’t even know how I reached the bus station. Before I knew I was on a bus to my grandpa’s. A seven hour journey would have been exhausting otherwise. But today it didn’t bother me a bit. My mind was occupied with the thoughts of my grandpa. ‘Lilly’, he would say, ‘you should not listen to what these folks have to say, you should be slim if you want to , you can be fat if you want to , you shave your head if you feel to, it’s up to you dear, because that is how Lilly used to live’.
Now the second Lilly he is referring to is my late grandma whom I have never met. Though my actual name is Susan, grandpa always calls me Lilly. He is my best friend, motivator and personal guide.
I called my mom in between to know how grandpa is doing now and her voice was a bit unsteady. Not because of sadness but because she was confused. ‘He is fine now, you know. I mean I guess he is alright now’, she said. ‘Which is a good thing, right?’ I asked, not sure what to feel exactly. ‘Well, he was too sick today earlier and then he fell asleep, for like two long hours. We called all our relatives and then he woke up from his sleep and now he … he looks fine. Really better actually. Like it wasn’t even him who was all sick earlier’. I suddenly felt a lump in my throat. ‘Okay, but mom you do know what they say about such sudden wellness’. She cut me off. ‘Yes, yes I know I know, don’t say that. But this is not that. It’s like he is five years younger all of sudden. He was sitting up on bed earlier. Then he said he wanted to come out and sit in the drawing room. So we helped him. Then he recognized every single person in the room who he failed to remember before. He even asked about the cat they had about 5 years ago’.
The more she was speaking, the more I was worried. Remembering everyone and everything suddenly is never a good sign. I don’t want mom or myself to have false hope. She was still talking when I came back from my thoughts. ‘Isn’t that right Susan, don’t you also think so?’ I didn’t know what she was asking about but I decided to agree with her because the cheer in her voice sounded too innocent to spoil. ‘I will call you once I get off the bus. I am happy and relieved that Grandpa is fine now. Then again I hope you people had called grandpa’s doctor as well’. I said. ‘Of course yes. He is on his way.’ She said a little annoyed and hung up. And I started to worry about her.
When I reached Uncle Philip’s house I could see more people than I anticipated. It was more like a family get together than visiting your sick grandfather. People were eating, drinking and talking normally. Grandpa was nowhere to be seen. When I asked mom she said, he wanted to take a stroll with Philip in the backyard. ‘Really? I asked. ‘Yeah but..’ Before she could finish she was called by my dad. I went to the backyard looking for Grandpa and Uncle Philip. Grandpa has been living with Uncle Philip for the past 30 years. He couldn’t live in the same house as his and grandma’s after her death. So he moved in with his eldest son. Grandma died in sleep. She was having her usual afternoon nap on the bed beside the window and he was listening to his usual radio program on the front yard. She never woke up from the nap. Everyone believed she died peacefully because there was no sign of pain on her beautiful face. No sign of her bed sheet curling or twisting. No one would believe she was dead because she looked as if she is in a deep sleep with beautiful dreams. But grandpa believed she called for him while she was in pain and failed to hear because he was listening to the radio. From that day onwards he stopped listening to radio.
Philip uncle remember everything vividly. He was the one who lived near grandpa’s house. Grandpa yelled at him to come quickly because grandma was not waking up. Every story or memories related to grandma ended with this incident. Because that’s where everyone’s story ends.
Grandpa’s house and Uncle Philip’s house were in like 20 meters distance. When I found them Philip uncle had a pained expression and grandpa was a few feet ahead of him. ‘He said he wanted to walk alone. I said I would hold his hands but he said he won’t want any help. Said he started walking before I was even born. ’. Uncle answered the question I had in my mind. ‘Well there is no argument on that point‘. I said with a smile. ‘Oh how I wish if dad could walk like….’ He was talking when our little chat got Grandpa’s attention and he turned to see me. ‘Ah, Lilly, there you are!’ He exclaimed and I froze for a second. Mom was right. He did sound and look like he was five years young.
‘Come here, I wanted to talk to you’. He said and I half ran to him. He was standing beside his old house closely looking at the cobwebs and big fat lizards. ‘You see, this wasn’t like this always. It was a clean and proud house. Now the roofing is broken. Most of the walls are now torn down. I never came back here after Lilly was gone. I couldn’t bring myself to be here…where my Lilly left this world.’ He started talking and I realized this was the first time he has ever spoken to me about grandma’s death. In 25 years, he told me almost everything from how brave and bold grandma was to how cool and progressive her attitude was towards her children. He proved his points with the help of a thousand of anecdotes from their life. But he never said anything regarding her death or how he felt about it. I never asked him because my mom and her six siblings have narrated each of their own versions to us kids. And for the first time in my entire life he was talking about his wife’s death. I turned back to see Uncle Philip and saw that he was going back into his house with my uncle leaving grandpa in my care. ‘I was in this same house when it happened. Right there on a chair listening to the radio. I should have been by her side, don’t you think? I should have helped her. I know I disappointed her.’
I know I am not wise or old enough to handle such situation. Yet I tried to comfort him. ‘Everyone knows it is not your fault, grandpa. There are many situation and things in life that we can’t control.’ I said wishing Uncle Philip or someone else to come back. ‘Every moment in life is precious; we never know which is our last. We never know if we are going to see our dear ones the next day, or next hour or even next minute. All we could do is spend every possible moment with our people. Love them, tell them you love them. Make them happy. Doing this tap tap on the phone all day won’t do that for you’. I was waiting for a moment to lighten the seriousness of the talk and I took it. I said, ‘you can’t say that grandpa, I can tell people that I love them by doing this tap tap on the phone you know. Also Celine aunty called us every…’ ‘I used to see Lilly in my dreams after she was gone…’ he cut me off and continued talking ignoring the fact that I was talking to him. I was embarrassed because my attempts to lighten the mood was failed, I couldn’t respond in a way that grandpa expected from me and I was cut off in midsentence before I could prove my argument. ‘For years, I saw her in my dreams. Sometimes the dreams were so real that I believed she never left. I woke up and search for a second before realizing that she is actually no more. Then my heart sank. Every time I was reminded that she is gone I lost piece of myself too. I started my mornings in tears. Every morning, I was shattered and was forced to pick up the pieces only to be shattered again the next day. God knows how I lived my days. I was struggling to keep myself up. To be the strong person everyone wanted me to be…’ all this was news to me because never in my life had I seen my grandpa sad. He always seemed strong, funny and pampering to me. I also noticed that his mannerisms and sound has become the one he had twenty years ago when he used to tell me the tales from his and my mom’s childhood. As he went on talking, I felt that he was getting younger by mind. ‘Then one day the dreams stopped. At first I thought it was for good. I could pull myself together. But no. Having no dream of her was also devastating. I realized that having my Lilly at least in dreams was worth living for. I used to see her standing in the front porch even after she died. I know I was imagining it. I used to sit in Philip’s yard and imagine her in this house. After a while I lost that ability too. For a long time I thought I was going to die too … but then you were born. The first girl child after Lilly’s death’. He paused for a second as if to relive those moments. And I thought ‘so that’s why he calls me Lilly’.
It was evening and getting darker minute by minute. I knew he was a sweet and pampering grandpa. But never thought of him as such a vulnerable poor thing. I almost forgot that he was on death bed earlier today and almost everyone believed that he wouldn’t pass an hour, let alone a whole day. He was looking more closely at the house. We were standing in front of the window which had an old utterly damaged cot on the other side. I felt unease when I remembered that it was the window beside which grandma died. As child I never dared to go near the window. I always kept a distance from the house when my uncles and aunts came in for their monthly cleaning. It was Grandpa who told us kids about spirits. ‘Dead people never really leaves their dear ones . They always try to keep their loved ones safe and happy’. Grandpa used to say. As I got older I decided myself that it was childish to have curiosity for a home. As years people stopped cleaning and taking care of the house. Soon enough it started to decay. And as an adult I conveniently forgot the existence of an almost haunted looking house where an old lady with my name died. Now that I think of it, he is the one who made me superstitious.
Feeling concerned for his health and my own mental state, I urged him to get back into the house. ‘Let’s go back to the house, shall we, everybody must be waiting for you. It’s getting darker also’ I said and before I could finish he started again. ‘Lilly is back on my dreams again you know, for the past I saw her every day in my dreams. But this time it was different. In every ream she was wearing the same outfit. The one she wore on the day of her…’ he trailed off. ‘And I could imagine her also. But you know, I don’t think I am imagining her this time. I could actually feel her presence. The smell of her cuticura talcum powder. I saw her last night in my room. She was reading The Bible, although I don’t remember which part’ my uneasiness grew stronger. ‘Now you are scaring me Grandpa, shall we please go inside? It’s getting colder, let’s go’. I begged him and I know he will get back to the house because I told him that I was scared. But he didn’t move. Instead he mumbled something. ‘What did you say grandpa?’ I asked. But he didn’t respond. Then he mumbled some more. I decided to call Uncle Philip to get grandpa into the house. But before I do so Grandpa exclaimed again. ‘Ah! There you are Lilly.’ And this time he was not looking at me. He was looking through the window at the bed. Grandpa looked delighted and much younger than his actual age. He looked …. He looked my mom’s age. I felt nauseated and I turned to look for mom or dad or Uncle Philip or anyone for help. I saw someone frantically waving and calling me back inside. I was relieved and motioned whoever that was to come and take us both. But they just stood there and kept on calling me. I said Grandpa that someone was calling for us. I turned gain with a sudden rage that no one bothered to come out and take this old man back to his house even at this late hour. ‘Let’s go, grandpa’ I said. But he stood there mumbling things to the window. I was losing my patience and grabbed Grandpa’s left hand. A shiver ran through my body. His hands were as cold as ice. ‘Grandpa….’ I called. He turned and smiled at me. He looked his age. The 89 year old man, who was so sick, who could barely talk for ten minutes without wheezing, the man who people believed won’t make it or pass not even an hour. ‘Grandpa…’ I called again.
Someone pulled me suddenly that I almost lost my balance. It was my cousin Grace. ‘What are you doing here alone?’ she asked. ‘What ….? I …… No… Grandpa’ I tried to say but her watery eyes and red face stopped me. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘Grandpa is struggling. He is leaving us. Your mom sent me to find you’ she said. I was confused. ‘No he is not. He is fine and right…’ I turned to grandpa and froze when I saw no one there. I was standing alone right in front of the window of that old house.
Grace held my hand and ran as fast as she can to the house. I reached there and saw everybody weeping and praying. I couldn’t understand what is happening nor could I recognize my own relatives. ‘Grandpa said he wanted to go for a walk, but we didn’t let him. How could we, he was so sick again in the evening that he could barely stand on his feet’. I heard someone say it. Before I could say anything Grace pulled me into Grandpa’s room where all his kids and grandkids stood. I entered the room and someone pushed me to the front saying ‘he was saying your name’. I heard that and I couldn’t move further. My mom saw me and pulled me to the front where grandpa can see me. ‘Call him. Say his name. Say you are here’ someone whispered to me. I kept silent. My mom tried to wake him up. She said. ‘Dad, your Lilly is here’. He slowly opened his eyes and looked at me. Then closed his eyes again. ‘I think he doesn’t recognize her’. Someone said. I doubted it. Ofcourse he recognized me. It’s just he is not expecting this Lilly now. Suddenly he smiled and opened his eyes. ‘Oh he does recognize her. He is looking right at her’. Said aunt Celine. Grandpa said mumbled something. ‘What is it, dad?’ Aunt Celine asked. Only I heard what he said. ‘He is saying something to her’, Uncle Philip pointed at me. He mumbled again, this time bit louder. ‘Ah! There you are Lilly’ and then he died. Only I knew he was not looking at me.