03 Aug, 2015

There is Always Something Left to Love

When you drink water, remember its source.”

— Chinese proverb

Mama

Yesterday, the most wonderful person in my world became no more.

We were thick as thieves. Two peas in a pod.

I saw God in her. She was the definition of the superlatives: kindest, most compassionate, most generous, most warm. She loved my grandfather, her childhood neighbour, passionately and all-consumingly. They made a pact that she would go first, which he broke. She loved us entirely and with great ferocity; without expectation or judgement. She was a mother to my motherless father. She was my greatest fan.

She lived life with such joie de vivre. She could tango and foxtrot. She secretly kept a stash of Danish butter cookies by her bed (something my brother laughed at as he found them last week. I immediately thought of the packet of Mint Milanos on my nightstand). She obsessively documented every time we visited her; dates and our names, birthdays, written over and over like some Gabriel Garcia Marquez character, everywhere – milk bottles, scraps of paper by her head as if they had some magical powers to tether us to her.

She expertly drew her eyebrows every day, even when she was ill. She was a killer Nyonya chef who never felt hungry enough to eat her own cooking. I think she was more satisfied watching us eat. One time she taught me how to make ondeh ondeh. I remember her always waving to us from her wet kitchen as we’d pull up to the house. Most times, she never let me wash up. “You don’t know how!” She wore perfume to bed and sniffed our cheeks instead of kissing us; these are tell-tale clues to how I became this way. At night, we’d sit together in front of the TV. Me, massaging her feet. And until I was a young adult, I would sleep in her bedroom, next to her whenever I visited. For the nearness of her. I stopped the year they industrialised her neighbourhood which encouraged giant lorries to speed past the rickety house at 200km/h. In my sleep, I imagined being run over by trucks. Being deaf in one ear, she slept like a baby.

And for all her inner and most certainly outer beauty, she laughed with an un-ladylike hur hur hur, sometimes until tears rolled out her eyes. When recounting stories of her romance with my Ahkong, she’d sometimes slip in a racy detail. Again, we’d laugh at her double entendres till tears wet our cheeks.

She was so proud of us till it became embarrassing. “This is my granddaughter from Australia,” she’d repeat to anyone – whether they were relatives or complete strangers. She’d repeat it over the years, every year, every visit.

She made hot milo with runny eggs and toast for breakfast when I visited on school holidays. I never liked it growing up but didn’t have the heart to tell her, so I ate it anyway. Now I go to Toastbox to remember her.

She took in stray dogs. She was amused when the 10-year-old me was so annoyed she had one tied up, I wrote on placards and picketed her front yard. “Free the dogs! Free the dogs!”

When it was time to leave after our long summer holidays, I’d cry. She’d cry. My mother would cry. My aunt would cry. She’d always take the base of her palm to wipe away my tears. Her entire hand would disperse tears on my face. “Don’t cry! Your dad will be angry.”

We sung for her in her final days. And, because there was no more that could be done, I took out my oils – frankincense, lavender (which she loved), myrrh and would massage it into her feet. We would gently brush her hair back with our palms. We repeated our I love yous over and over. I whispered in her ear I would see her again, knowing it would not be in this body, this lifetime.

I remember the warmth of her skin and her baby scent. I am pausing as I type, to wipe away the hears and play with the ring she left me. She did so, wordlessly and with one simple gesture: her right thumb tapping on her ring finger, motioning towards me.

I used to hold my grandma’s hand a lot. We all did. Helping her walk at restaurants, at the dinner table, watching tv. Once, many years ago, she and I both discovered while comparing palm sizes (they turned out exactly the same) that we also had the same identical beauty spots, mirrored on both hands. We both loved this cheeky wink by Mother Nature and had many little charming secrets like this which are all rushing back to me now.

We didn’t need magic; she was magic.

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