My grandfather lay effortlessly on the off-white mattress with a vermilion blanket resting gracefully on his thin body. A heavier sapphire sheet covered the blanket, weighing down any radiant hue that could brighten that frowning room. The plastic shades were twisted randomly and the dirty thick windows blocked any pure light rays entering the room, turning them to a dull and gray hue. The cool December air of India entered through the bottom and edges of the white painted wooden door that connected the room to a veranda. I sat with my legs crossed on a wooden chair parallel to his bed, hiding my cold feet underneath my long shirt. This was the first two-week visit that my grandmother wasn’t cooking for me, that my aunts and uncles weren’t visiting to meet me, and that my grandfather wasn’t teaching me advanced math.
Instead, he slept for hours at a time. I knew that the only thing I could do was be in that room. All that lay there was a queen sized bed, a few cabinets, green and yellow folded blankets and suitcases piled on top of one another. That room was a room of waiting, a room where the question was not “if”, but “when”. These heavy questions lingered in the air, turning the cabinets and ceilings paler than they ever were, the answers to these questions would create a network of distress and destroy connections of hope.
To the left of the queen sized bed, stood a brown-legged bed side table with a shiny white surface, now stained with water and powdered medicine. Medicine bottles were lined up against the wall, in order of the tallest to the shortest with the labels facing outward and bottles of water were pushed up near a lamp and a crystal glass cup was placed right near it. A table with broken wheels stood in the corner, which would be pushed to the edge of the bed when he would eat. His body had turned weak, his muscles had disappeared completely and only a small amount of flesh rested on his thin bones. His hair had turned paler than before and his radiant dark brown skin turned slightly gray and his cheeks were now covered in a soft layer of white hair. All of his upward creases were facing down ward, his eyes turned smaller and his smooth forehead wrinkled. His thin white cotton pajamas rest on his chest loosely sometimes hanging off of his thin shoulders. His hands and fingers and feet had lost form and he shivered as cruel winds passed through the room. He crinkled his face as he swallowed his food, each bite of nourishment paining him more than the last, struggling to make its way down his dry throat. Fifty years prior, his body was strong and his skin lay firmly on muscle, his face was fairer and radiant and his cheeks were facing upward. The veins in his hands were turquoise like the seas he used to sail as a hydrographer. The strength of the color seemed the same as the immensity of the passion and love he had for this job and the soul he put into all of his work. Today, he was a finalist, in the game of life.
A small religious prayer book lay on the bedside table. Its plastic cover had worn down and was warped at the edges and each page had curled in the corner and had now grown yellow in color from its original crisp white. The cover had “Navagraha” written on it in Devnagri script, meaning “nine planets”. These celestial bodies of mass live millions of miles away and move in perfect paths never colliding and never changing, they influence all aspects of human life. They set the pace for life and only a strong belief in these “gods” allow one to be guided in a clear path. The picture on the cover had all of these planets lined up in rows of three.
He had always found an escape and liberation in his belief for these gods. He saw before his eyes Hindu temples from countries he had visited so often in the past. The Singaporian temple, which he had visited so often resonated in his mind. A deep gray stoned base with a vivid roof packed with statues of gods. The colors of red and gold would crowd his mind and as he looked up the colors became hazy and unrecognizable. The thought of these celestial bodies of mass transcended his mind to another universe. A universe where these pains in his body and aches in his mind didn’t exist, these planets gave him hope and allowed him to rely on a greater power to take control of him and have a companion within him. He imagined deeply another world in which all the fears, frustrations and errors in his life were non-existent and the constant throbbing in his stomach and the pain in the eyes of those around him disappeared. When he would sleep, his eyes would cringe and his forehead would wrinkle as though he were exploring this other world. A darker world with light shining off of these nine planets, and the planets lined up perfectly with the sun in the middle and a clear path leading toward the sun. His body would feel light and his heart would carry no pain and worry. He dreamt of the way a world should be, a world that removed the aches and pains of all. The days went by slowly, just as these planets revolved slowly and carefully.
His wife would sit on a dark brown armchair opposite to him. She had lost her father in her late teenage years and grown up with five other siblings; she was always used to helping others. My grandmother had adapted so swiftly to the paths that my grandfather’s currents took her. She added Indian spices to Singaporian noodles, and saffron to French desserts; her heaving breathing resembled the love she poured into these dishes and the love she had for her job as a home-maker.
Her light green sari fell gracefully and her brown sandals protected her feet from the cold earth beneath her. She would move swiftly from the kitchen to the room bringing medicines and crushed pomegranate juice. The seeds of the pomegranates fell to the bottom of the crystal glass while the foam of the water rose to the top, leaving only a clear red liquid in between. The pain in her eyes grew worse and worse each day seeing her husband becoming weaker and weaker. Her eyebrows strained with heaviness as the immense pain tugged at her heart. The heaviness in her heart weighed down her body and her gray hair became limp and her cheeks wrinkled with worry. Dinner was the dreariest time of the day for the both of them. She would eat in the kitchen on the pale white surface and he would eat in his room on the rolling wooden table.
As she reached to take a bite of her meal, he rang a bell near his bed, calling her to the room. She moved rapidly to him with her hands dirty and sat down beside him, he looked at her worried face and her teeth struggling to swallow her bite. His heart dropped and he urged her to finish her dinner. She brought her plate to his room and ate with him, each of them making brief eye contact and focusing on the laborious task of eating. She swallowed with great difficulty watching his suffering and he swallowed with great difficulty watching her suffering and from the pain of the rough feeling in his throat. The night would end with a light desert, some sweetness in these days of sorrow. He would then take his prayer book and read it, while she would turn the pages for him because his fingers were too swollen for him to do it himself.
In these silent moments of love, and long seconds of waiting she wondered what had become of her husband. They had been married for 52 years, 52 years of association. The years were filled with happiness, children and subtle bickering. Sometimes they would both sit at the kitchen table for dinner and talk for long minutes as they slowly ate their food. She would offer him more rice and with a soft touch would give him a large spoon of it, patting it down on his plate to soften it, so that he wouldn’t have to do it for himself. They would talk about their children and grandchildren and their lives, and then sometimes they would fight. Her soft-spoken voice could never dominate his deep and powerful words; her opinions were often pushed aside. He could never admit that she was right, though in the back of his mind he always knew. She stared at his swollen face and thin bones and told my mother of her dreams of the world where these pains would be non-existent.
She dreamt of the place where these planets move gracefully and perfectly and earthly and material matters don’t throw the order off course. The impurities in his body would be destroyed by the power of these planets and there would be no noise, no pollution and no sadness in this world, he could live without worry and pain.
Three weeks of long descriptive updates over the phone followed those two weeks of silence. My grandmother told me how he lifted his head up slightly and reached for his crystal cup half way filled with water, he swallowed the liquid with great difficulty and as he clenched his fists as the water traveled through his closing throat he felt a stillness. The stillness pushed him past dreaming of a painless life and toward trying it. He swallowed the water and turned around. His heart beat rapidly for several long moments and then started beating slower but with more power, finally decreasing into nothing; his body soon became completely still.
Salty tears trickled down her face and touched her lip, the sourness hit her tongue and she felt a shiver of pain in her spine. He had escaped from his suffering, his soul was free from his aching body, but her soul was still trapped in hers. Her body did not ache, but her soul did. This world that she so dearly believed in snatched away her companion, the salty tears traveled through her body and into her soul, resting on the surface of it. They absorbed into her blood and spirit, forever tainting her with sorrow.
Her heart beat too quickly and her hands shivered, the next few hours passed like long days. The sun crept up through the clouds and pierced into her eyes, she dreamt of better days for herself. She sat on the vermilion and sapphire sheets, staring out through the open veranda door; the body had been cleared from that room and all she had to do now was dream. She got up after several moments and folded the sheets, she then fitted them into one of the suitcases piled in the corner, and left the room several seconds later, keeping the door slightly open.
A few months earlier I had seen the strength in his arms as he performed the sun salutation. He walked miles on cool evenings and had a glass of whiskey every night while watching the news. Four months later, he barely spoke, his legs were too frail to stand, and his eyes showed immense pain as he tried to swallow. And three weeks afterward, he was no longer part of my world.
And now, ten months later, I still can’t completely absorb the weight of this loss and the lessons I know I can take away from it, so instead, I write.
Age 16, Grade 11