I was half sedated by the expectorant, on the bed, when my daughter Fazira rushed into the room.
“Auntie’s grandmother’s passed away.”
My eyes opened wide. Then Yummy Baby came into the room and sat next to me.
“Mak Tok passed away just now.”
Her voice was calm. She was in the kitchen teaching Fazira how to make a Spaghetti dish. On top of that, she was making some potato salad for her brother in conjunction with his birthday today. We had just returned from a night’s stay away from home so she could rest and recuperate after falling ill towards the end of the week.
“I’ll go back with my brother and come back tomorrow. But he is only going to come back the day after.”
I disagreed. She is not really in the shape to do long distance driving, what more driving back alone. I packed my clothes, as did she, and soon after a quick tea, made our way to send Fazira home before hitting the road for Batu Pahat. I may not be too well myself, but I thought it would be best for me to tag along and drive them back.
I first met her grandmother early in June, when I was on my Spanish Acquisition trip. We visited her twice on the day we arrived. She was all smiles when I first met her, sitting on her bed having been transferred to a normal ward from the ICU ward two days before. That night, we visited her again. She was suffering from various illnesses including diabetes, pneumonia – she was a septuagenarian, almost the age of my maternal grandmother when the latter passed on from complications due to colon cancer. My maternal grandmother was all skin and bones when she died. The night before she left us for good, in her weak voice she asked me to recite the Yaa-sin for her.
“I want to hear you read it to me. I don’t want anyone else to read it when you do.”
I held her hand. I could feel the sinews that were holding her joints together. Then I commenced the reading of the verse, part-recitation depending on which parts I could remember by heart. When I completed the reading, she pleaded for me to recite the ayyah again. It was during this recitation that she stopped me for a while, looked to her front, towards her toes saying,
“Your grandfather is here. He looks as handsome as he was when he was younger. He is waiting for me.”
I squeezed her hand gently and carried on with the recitation, my heart was breaking. I had lost my maternal grandfather just 6 months before. When things at home were bad between my elder sister and I, he was the one who would always protect me. After my first divorce, my maternal grandparents were the only ones lending me their emotional support, being the only understanding ones.
“Now I no longer have a ‘mother‘.”
I was brought back to reality. Yummy Baby was in tears as the car travelled further south. She was brought up by her paternal grandparents until the age of 12, and losing her grandmother meant she no longer had anyone who could lend her emotional support. Her grandmother had been a matriarchal figure in the family, and everyone listened to her. After Yummy Baby‘s divorce last year, it was her grandmother who said it was okay to be divorced; better than to be in a bad marriage, much like mine until I lost them both 10 years ago.
I remember the day my grandmother passed away. I was travelling south on that very highway towards Muar, not too far away from here, all because my ex-wife was (and probably still is) a big eater. She is the type who would have a plethora of food that her pigging out methods would put pigs to shame. After reciting the Yaa-sin to my grandmother the previous night, my ex-wife told my mother that she had a relative’s wedding to attend in Muar. I protested, saying my grandmother was going to die, but she pleaded to my mother to excuse us for the journey. My mother somehow relented and told me to take my ex to that wedding. While on the highway, I asked her about the relative who was getting married, and it seemed that she did not even know who they were; but just because her grand-aunt was cooking Bariyani Gam, she wanted to eat that. I was so angry that she could drag me away just to be able to eat. And because both of us were then using the same mobile network whose guy in the Yellow Suit was still swimming in his father’s balls then, we did not have any reception south of Ayer Keroh. And that was when my relatives tried to get hold of us to inform us of my grandmother’s demise. And I did not get to learn of her passing until 3 days later when we returned to KL. Everyone was so busy with the funeral preparations that everyone had forgotten to keep trying to get hold of me.
Back to the present day minus 28 days. It was exactly 4 weeks ago that Yummy Baby and I went to see her grandmother, who was again just out from the ICU due to some breathing difficulties. She looked weaker than the time we saw her last. She was mostly sleeping. Her right hand was so swollen from the incessant IV drips over the months of treatments that even the slightest touch would result on her crying in pain. This different scene somehow reminded me of Heraclitus’ Panta rei. I knew that she would only grow weaker, but did not have the heart to tell Yummy Baby then. Before leaving, I kissed her grandmother’s left hand and held it briefly. She opened her eyes and smiled weakly at me.
“Terima kasihlah datang tengok kita (Thank you for visiting me).”
Just a few days ago, I mentioned to Yummy Baby subtly, that I didn’t think her grandmother would last that long, and that we should visit her on the way down when we finally move down south.
In retrospect, I should have mentioned this to her earlier.
I am sorry that your grandmother has passed away, Sayang. I will always be here for you.