In his younger days, my grandfather was a merchant ship mariner. He sailed half way across the globe and found ivory pipes, whose tips had once been touched by the lips of African kings; he found wood statuettes [which are now frail and wobbly] of women carrying children on their backs; he drank pulled tea with his newly found Arabian friends. My grandfather discovered the true nature of the hawk, whose claws he cut off after its death. The bird flew with the ship for weeks across the Atlantic, never straying too far from the enormous masts; entertaining the crew.
At nights, some times, enthralled by the light of the fish net, my grandfather would surrender his body to sleep. [I am reminded of this years later, when my little brother is falling asleep on my lap, gently pulling at the sleeve of my jacket (unconsciously), his body uncontrollably shaking to the rhythm of his dream]
About two years ago I received a call from my grandmother, instructing me, her voice lagging behind her words, pleading me to give my phone to my parents so they could talk. A few days later my dad told me that his father had died. Surprisingly, I found little change in his voice. Based on the symptoms I’ve been told, I figure bone marrow cancer.
I wish I knew him better than the stories he told, or the box of post cards he’d sent home. But when I did get to spend time with him, my grandfather and I rarely spoke. We walked the dog, he pushed me on the swings, thought me how to fish. Every morning when he was shaving I would ask to watch, knowing he would pick up the bottle of cream and smear it all over his face then all over mine for no reason, just laughing and laughing. My grandfather would take his jacket off his back to cover me up when I was shivering like a soaking dog, while we watched the cars pass by on the balcony and drank coffee from small cups. I miss not having to talk, not having to pretend all the time.
When I moved here to the U.S, I would call him over the phone, interrupting his mechanical speech he had to repeat over and over because it was part of his job [he was then a parking lot attendant] and picture him breathing a sigh of relief to hear my voice again. I would say: “it’s me grandpa, it’s indi, I miss you very much, and I love you every day”. he would always say: “I love you more, my girl” and make a kissing sound which almost always blasted my ears and filled me with an overwhelming ache because I wasn’t there; but at the same a vibrant joy.
He did not die alone, but I think he was lonely. I think he longed for the past and yearned to see his comrades once again. I think he was afraid, like most people are, not knowing about this place we go to when our breath is long gone. I wish I was there, by his side, reading to him like he read to me when I was little.
My grandfather used to pour liquor on the floor, telling me it’s for all his dead and dying friends. I would do it with him… now I do it for him, just the taste he’d be thirsty for.