Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dearest Grandma

It was about twenty or twenty one years ago; can't be sure which since it's been such a long time ago. I was watching a program on the antique television that we had then, you know, those black and white televisions which are housed in a cabinet complete with sliding doors. Suddenly, the screen became grainy (Well, the set was quite old and it was already breaking down by then). What happened next was beyond my comprehension. Up till now, I'm not sure what prompted me to do what I did back then. I started tinkering with the TV set, trying to make those irritating grains disappear. Soon, I was drawn to the cable of the television. My eyes chanced upon a section which is bandaged by cellophane tape. Without a second thought, my finger reached out and prodded it. Immediately, the world around me shook. I was electrocuted and I couldn't do anything. Couldn't shout. Couldn't withdraw my hand. I probably had seconds to live.

When I regained my senses, Grandma was crouched over me holding my hands in hers to inspect if I was injured. Grandma had saved my life. I escaped with just a little hole in my finger. I cried back then, from the shock of the encounter. Today, my tears flowed for the woman who had not only saved my life, but also shaped it for the past seventeen years.

Growing up with Grandma around was really an enriching experience. It was a mixture of both cries of pain and laughters of joy. At times I had to escape the cane that Grandma wielded but more often, I would be looking forward to the evening walks together with Grandma and the toddler that Mum was taking care of at that time. These walks, were especially special because they were more like mini adventures to me. As you can see, I grew up in a 'new village' and there were really a lot of intriguing corners to explore, from the 20 - 30m ancient trees to the fruit-bearing rambutan or mango trees. I would peer into the fish ponds, admiring the little self-sustaining ecology illuminated by the rays of sunlight that filtered through while my Grandma sat at a bench under the tree chatting with her friend.

Closer at home, Grandma reared ducks and chickens in the backyard. I remember I was so excited when Grandma brought back a clutch of chicks from the market one day. They were colored in bright assorted colors: green, purple, pink and etc. Later, when they had grown too big to be kept in the house, Grandma had taught me the proper way of holding them so that I didn't get scratch, before we transferred them to the backyard. The backyard was another of our playground; my cousins and I. One of our most ambitious project back then was to build a pond for the ducks. Recalling what we had learned from Alam dan Manusia, we proceeded to dig a hole in the ground. Not large, but well, those ducks could relax in their little bathtub when the day was too hot so we thought. Next, the ingenious key that would make Albert Einstein stare at us in awe and turn our little hole into a sparkling little pond like those you read in fairy tales, the modeling clay! We bought 3 boxes of those cheap modeling clay and placed them all around the bottom of our little hole. Then we poured water in and voila, the "pond" was created without the water seeping into the underground! Too bad, it didn't last long. Five minutes later, our little hole dried up.

As I grew into a teenager, I started to bury my nose into books. That was when I grew distant from Grandma, like most teenagers. Despite that, I knew Grandma kept me close to her heart. I remember one day, just after I woke up, my Grandma held me by the arm and drew me next to her and then said to my Mum, "Look, Ker Wei has outgrown me!" In her eyes, I could see pride at its purest.

When I hit late teens, I would argue a lot with Grandma and Mum because they kept nagging at me. I would come back in the wee hours of the night most of the time whenever I went to hang out with my friends. Twice I was locked out. The first time, I managed to unlatch the lock and slip inside with an umbrella which was left outside. The second time, no such luck. Grandma made sure that the windows were closed properly that night and thus, I whiled the night away on a deck chair staring up at the stars till Mum opened the door the next morning.

Despite all the conflicts and harsh exchanges that we had during the last few years of my teens, I was still among Grandma's favorites. She was so reluctant to let me leave for Singapore when I was twenty. This would probably be the sole reason I feel bad about my decision; to deny my Grandma the chance to live out her final years with the person she cared for and loved.

With each passing year, Grandma became weaker. It was only during my vacation in my senior undergraduate years that I realized how much Grandma had shrunk from who she was before. She was still healthy but age was really catching up. By then, she was spending most of the time at home; all of her friends, including my great-aunt whom she was very close to, had passed on. During those vacations, especially the past two years, I would try to stay at home as much as I could. Time with family was becoming really precious, in particular with the older folks. It was really heartwarming being in the living room, chatting and watching television with Grandma. She would tell me about her life experiences which sometimes made me a bit lost since I didn't know any of the people she told me about. But still, it was worthed every single moment and I'm glad I didn't foolishly trade those away for something else.

A month ago, Grandma finally left us. If there's one thing I could wish for back then, it would be to be by her side during her final moments. Unfortunately, life seldom unfolds the manner you would wish it to and hence, I was robbed of the very last words. A consequence of my decision made five years ago? Perhaps.

"I can only pray that you're at a better place now. Thank you so much for being there for me all these while. I love you, Grandma."

An article dedicated to my Grandma, who departed peacefully in her sleep on 29 April 2009. This is to your devotion and sacrifices in sheltering the family your entire life.

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