Grandpa stood next to my brothers, relaying instructions on how to assemble the fan back together. With one hand he pointed at pieces of metal lying on the table, and with the other, he hung on tightly to his walking aid. Barely minutes later, he let out a wheeze, and hobbled to the nearest seat. There he sat, silent and still, looking at nothing but yet his eyes showing everything — as if a reel of thoughts was playing in his mind.
I watched him as I went about cleaning the house. He’s still handsome despite his old age and the multitude of ailments that were fast catching up to him. Full head of hair, a presence that still felt strong despite his decreasing size, a face that was gentle but firm, and eyes that seem to bore through you when you looked a them.
Grandpa was never one to speak much. When we used to live under the same roof, he would silently sit next to me, sometimes watching the television, other times watching what I was up to. My fondest memories with him were the times when I had art homework. He had a love for arts and crafts, grandpa, and constantly had amazing ideas on how to incorporate recyclable materials into my work.
Once, I told him I had to build a model of a traditional Malay house, a kampung. I reached home the next day greeted by pieces of cardboard in the living room. We sat together the rest of the day, him cutting and using the cardboard in ways I could have never thought about, and me just being constantly blown away by the creativity and intelligence of this man called Grandpa.
These days, Grandpa talked even lesser than he used to.
During family events, he would keep to himself and watch us silently, letting Grandma do all the talking. But when we were alone — just him and I — he would make great effort to talk, even more than I remember him talking when I was younger. His speech was slurred, and sometimes I didn’t understand him no matter how much I tried. His hearing had deteriorated; often I find myself having to repeat over and over what I said.
But yet we talked — him nodding even when he couldn’t hear, me laughing even when I couldn’t understand. I knew deep down that both of us knew we were not really making much sense to each other, but we pretended to understand for the other. I held on to capture his rare smiles and the even more elusive laughter. I don’t know why he held on; perhaps it was the opportunity to talk to me like we did when I was younger, before all the teenage angst and attitude came into the picture.
Grandma’s voice disrupted my thoughts. She was walking slowly over to Grandpa, despite our advise that she stay seated due to the freshly mopped and slippery floor. She is a honeybee, Grandma, always buzzing around looking for things to do despite her swollen legs and our constant protests.
Grandma was as cheeky as Grandpa was serious. She would sneak out to the market (“It’s boring at home”), quote funny stories and one-liners she saw on television, attempt to speak English and laugh boisterously when we corrected her, and was constantly smothering us grandchildren in kisses — even more so than in the past. First it was one cheek, then both, then twice on both cheeks, on to the forehead, and now the kisses were over only when she decides to let us go from her hug. It makes my female cousins giggle and my male cousins squirm, but Grandma, sweet little Grandma, she loved every single second of it.
Grandma sat next to Grandpa, telling him something she had repeated at least thrice the past twenty minutes. Grandpa didn’t respond much in words. Instead, he nodded silently, listening to all the she had to say without so much of a snark comment or remark. His mind was still sharp; I knew he noticed her increased repetition of narrations, and yet he did not deride her, nor did her even show the slightest tinge of annoyance.
I don’t think they could imagine a life without having the other — not before, not today, not tomorrow. He needed her, as much as she needed him. And perhaps, even if I don’t fully comprehend or understand it yet, perhaps even I needed them more than they needed me…