The day after Christmas is now forever going to be, for me, the day my grandmother died. Christmas celebrations weren’t as lively this time. She had been taken to the nursing home in mid-November due to respiratory issues. The day she was brought back was the same day I came back home. She came back in the morning while I landed at night. Though it was late, she’d told my mother specifically to wake her up when I reached. Her face was swollen and she looked awful. I felt bad for stirring her and told her to go back to sleep. We could talk in the morning. This was the 23rd.
When the doctor in the nursing home released her, apparently, she was much better. On the way back, the car fell into many potholes on the road. I guess her health fell with it. At home, she was perpetually on oxygen. She was unable to eat practically anything, both because of restrictions as well as because of desire. And had an entire shop worth of meds. She had lost her will to live. And who wouldn’t when all you’re allowed to have is only one litre of liquid through the day…
I hadn’t even considered the possibility of her getting worse from when I’d last come. But she did get worse. Now she was bedridden. She couldn’t even sit up without support. She couldn’t get up without being hauled up like a sack of potatoes. She kept on needing oxygen. She needed my parent’s for almost everything. The entire night was without sleep.
On the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day, I had accompanied my mother to church. On the way back, my father called. He had decided that the best possible course of action was to have the dialysis done. We returned home and the ambulance was called. I helped the men put her on the stretcher and watched them carry her away to the nursing home.
I remember, in the start of December, my brother called me to ask me what date I’m coming home. I told him I’d be back before Christmas. It was then that I had the feeling. Was she waiting for me to come back? Was she merely holding on for just that?
The morning of the 26th my mother called me while I was still in bed. It was early by my standards. My 6:30 alarm had just rung and I’d silenced the infernal buzzing and gone back to sleep. Mummas shaking woke me immediately. I knew what she had to say even before she said it. “The hospital called. It’s not good. They’re asking us to go right now.” It didn’t take me long to pull on my jeans and the closest t-shirt I could find and get ready to leave. By the time we left, it was almost 7.
The hospital was close by, when I used to go to the school there, we would drive past it every morning on the usual bus route. Upon reaching the hospital my father went up to her room. A while later he came down and said that they had been trying to revive her and since the process was still on he should wait downstairs. And so, we waited. In silence. I put my hand in my pocket and found my crushed up boarding pass from my flight two days before. I fiddled with it. In my other pocket, I found the hair tie my roommate had gifted me. I fiddled with that too. I wondered how many people were told about the death of their of their loved ones in the same place that we were sitting. I wondered if it happened like in the movies where a doctor wearing a long white coat comes to greet the family and looks sad for them and they all burst into tears and mourn the death. I looked at my shoes and wondered about if anyone would care as much as I did that they didn’t need laces.
It wasn’t like the movies. About half an hour later my father was called and he came bearing the bad news. He may have been a doctor but he wasn’t the right doctor. He didn’t have a white coat. My father had called my uncle asking him to come to the hospital. He called him again and told him to come to our home instead.
We didn’t want him to but Baba insisted on driving back. I think it was because he didn’t know what else to do with himself at that time. We rode back in silence. I looked out the window and saw the people setting up shop. The early morning market place was doing full-fledged business, buying and selling things. I wanted to scream at them. Tell them that my grandmother is dead. I don’t know why. I just wanted to. I wanted them to tell me what to do because I didn’t know what to do myself.
We reached home without me flinging myself out of the car. Then came the job of calling everyone. All the relatives. First, family was told. Then neighbours and friends. The same thing. Almost like a record. I didn’t cry. I only sat and watched. I looked at the events unfolding around me. The cat looked at us from the sofa she slept on. Oblivious to the gravity of the situation. People running up and down all on phones. I sat. No one to call. No one to talk to. Ready to be told to do something, but not being summoned for anything. But I sat. If I got up it would be shameful. I don’t know why, but it would. I wanted to do something. I wanted to be useful. I just didn’t know how.
The hospital called for us to bring some clothes for her body. I remembered then that when my grandfather had died I hadn’t cried till they brought in the body. I wondered if I needed that physical proof that the person is gone to actually feel the death hit me.
As time went by and people got the news, the house slowly started to get filled with people. Either offering their support or coming in to mourn with the family. We were kept busy. Chairs were brought out from dusty corners. Dusted. Cats were moved from their sleeping spots and told to go and sleep elsewhere. Ideally, somewhere where a human wouldn’t be sitting. I sat away from the prying gaze of relatives. Away from the crying and wailing of men and women who had known the woman longer than I. I sat and I thought. My mind felt clear. It was a good time to think. To plan out my work. All the work that I had left for the holidays. All the work I had been postponing. I should get down to doing it. Things were going to change now.
Usually when I go back home I refrain from telling people. So, when I finally came out of the room I was asked, “Oh, did you come hearing the news?” Sometimes mum came to my rescue and answered for me. At other times, I had to say, “No. I’m on break. I came before…” But the reply to that was always the same. And I hated it. “Oh, so she waited for you to come.” Why did she wait for me to come, to die? How am I supposed to feel about that?
When I had gone with my father to the hospital to give the clothes that they had asked for, on the drive there he told me, “Grief is a very selfish emotion.” I agree with him. It is a selfish emotion. Was Dida also so selfish that she waited for me, only to die? Is that what these people meant. “Oh well at least she got to see you/ you got to see her.” I mean would she have lived longer had I not come? Is that what you’re trying to say? And I pondered on this for a while when I escaped and went into the veranda. But there were people walking about outside also. I suppose there aren’t enough chairs… The cat jumped in and stopped between the grills when she saw me. I looked at her and her green eyes widened and she jumped back out. I looked out to make sure no dogs would chase her. The inside of the house was now stuffy and hot. In the middle of winter Kolkata still wasn’t feeling the regular chill that would previously make our teeth chatter. “The earth is dying…” I thought to myself as I took out water to drink. “And we are all dying with it…”
The hospital, according to some rule, only releases the body 5 hours after the death of the patient. This meant that the release should have been at around 12 noon since the time of death was registered at around 8 A.M. When the body finally came, it was around 2 PM. My great aunt had travelled all the way over from Barrackpore and arrived as the hearse van arrived. I rushed out to bring her in. She broke down even before entering the house. After I helped her in the body was brought in and put in the centre of the living room. I had helped carry the coffee table out into the back veranda earlier to make space.
Flowers. So many flowers. So typically Bengali; to have Rajnigandha. Big green stalks with several white buds and some opened petals. The sweetness of the smell hit our noses. But the death still didn’t hit me. I stood behind everyone. Peering in from the gaps. Finally, I gave up. The cat sat perched on top of the fridge staring down from her vantage point. Then she got down and manoeuvred between the sea of legs – both human and furniture – and reached the centre where the body lay. She sniffed it and then retreated to underneath the sofa, watching. I still didn’t cry. I don’t know why I was waiting to cry. I didn’t feel any tears. I don’t show tears so easily. So why was I waiting to cry. As the body was taken out into the community hall I thought. “Maybe I feel like I need to cry because I need to show them I am in mourning. People don’t believe you’re sad until you actually have tears running down your cheeks, do they?” I put on my shoes to go out to see the body leave. The last time I’d ever see my grandmother. “Physical proof is everything to people nowadays. I need to show that I’m sad or they’ll think I’m a heartless bitch.” I walked outside. My cousin sister, whom I had grown very close to a few years ago, was there. Her family had driven over as soon as they got the news. Her eyes were red and puffy. She had glittering streaks running down her cheeks. She came over to hug me. I hugged her tightly. I was so happy to see her. I still did not cry. It funny how a time of mourning can bring together people. I hadn’t seen her in ages and here she was now, crying along with the rest of my extended family.
The hearse van comes. The white swaddle is lifted and pushed inside. People get into the cars. My brother gives me his copy of the key to the house because this time he will be going to the crematorium. When my grandfather died, it was I who had gone with my father. He stayed behind with my grandmother. My father refused to hug me before he left. I don’t know why. Did he also think that I wasn’t mourning enough? That I needed to be crying. I needed those tears to be falling down my face in order to receive a little comfort. I don’t know.
As the white van carrying the body drove out, my eyes stung. Hot droplets spilled out, instantly chilled by the air. My chest heaved and I released unattractive hiccupping sounds. I really hated 2016…