calliope, calliope 2016

Remembrance

photo credits here

by loh pei yi

The fine, golden sand envelopes my toes as I sit on the beach hugging my knees, staring up at the pristine, cerulean sky. A gentle breeze caresses my cheeks with its cool, gentle hands, like a mother stroking her baby.; the sky-scraping palm trees are dancing to her rhythm and bowing respectfully. The sea is a calming, serene navy, all the more tranquil as waves languidly roll toward the shore. I close my eyes and take in the steady beats pounding in my ears. At the sight of the picturesque view, I cannot help but smile as numerous fond memories flood my mind. After all, I was here on this very spot fifteen years ago, the image still vivid in my mind.

I can remember being a toddler squealing in ebullience, teetering awkwardly as I took my first steps. I remember clearly the string of puny, shallow footprints on the gleaming sand as I stooped down in curiosity to touch them with my tiny fingers. And yet, the most vivid part was the pair of rough but strong hands that held me, supported me, to take my first steps. The baritone laugh in vicarious joy at my ability to walk, full of affection, rich as a bassoon. The trailblazer of my life.

My dear grandfather.

He was a gaily old man with tanned, wrinkled up skin and silvery-white hair. Despite his age, he was still fit and agile as a monkey, his brilliant blue eyes reflecting a sense of vitality and zest. When he smiled, the corners of his eyes formed deep creases like the folds of a fan and those mischievous limpid sapphires would twinkle in delight.

Grandfather was the sort of person who was willing to do anything just to have fun with his grandchildren. He would run into the sea with me at the beach, even if he had his smartest attire on. He would let me pat a rhythm on his stomach and did not mind role-playing as fairy tale characters with me. He would treat me to ice-cream although we were about to eat lunch. As my parents had to work overseas frequently, my grandfather was my constant childhood companion.

Once when I was seven, I came back from school pouting sullenly, as it was my birthday but my parents were unable to celebrate with me. My peers, on the other hand, always had grand birthday parties that their parents helped to organise. Filled with envy and indignity, I tried as much as possible to contain the rising lava of hurt and fury that threatened to spew out of the volcano in me. My overwhelming emotion undid me completely when I stormed home to realise that only the same old lone figure was waiting for me.

“The world is so unfair!” I yelled, my little chest heaving up and down like tumultuous billows. “Why can’t Mum and Dad come to celebrate my birthday? Why aren’t they like everyone else’s parents?” A giant lump formed in my throat as bitter resentment engulfed me.

“Meg, dear, follow me,” intoned Grandfather gently. Intrigued at where he wanted to take me, I tagged along meekly. We plodded on until he reached the beach opposite our house.

“Look at the sea,” he pointed his long, bony finger and said, “Your parents are working very hard across the sea because they love you. They want you to enjoy a better life and education by earning more for our family. Life out there is tough for them, you know. You’ve got to understand.”

It was then that I first began to understand and sympathize with my parents. Thinking back, it was one of the vital life lessons my wise grandfather had taught me.              

With Grandfather, every new day was fresh, full of fun and knowledge. My childhood, albeit hardly with my parents, was just as enriching and memorable as anyone else’s.

Unfortunately, good times do not last long. When I was twelve, disaster struck. My dear old grandfather, who had always been healthy, was diagnosed with a stroke, leaving him paralysed in his lower body. What used to be his athletic body was now wheelchair-bound. I was dumbfounded. Grandfather? Having a chronic illness? What had happened to him? Why did he fall sick? I can still recall the appalled looks of my parents, their blanched faces and horrified gasps.

For many days I found myself pacing up and down in anxiety, or chewing on the end of my pen aimlessly while doing my homework. I often tossed and turned in bed without a wink of sleep, with the nightmares of Grandfather’s illness haunting and tormenting me. I never shared this with anyone; I did not want to place an extra burden on my parents’ or Grandfather’s shoulders. Neither did I, being introverted, have any friends to share with.

But Grandfather was somehow able to read my thoughts. In spite of not mentioning anything, he seemed to put in effort to spend as much time with me as possible. He would often slowly wheel himself out of the room and I would help push his wheelchair as we chatted animatedly while strolling outside. Our days were filled with laughter and warmth as we never failed to have fun together.

What was even more touching was the fact that he always persisted cooking my meals although I was physically more able than him. When I tried to offer help to him, his response would be, “It’s alright, Meg dear. I like cooking.” And every time I see Grandfather struggling with stir-frying on a wheelchair, his face splattered with oil, my heart ached, yet I would admire the indefatigable spirit that he possessed. Although he was down with a chronic illness, he fought it valiantly and worked hard to lead a fruitful life. This triggered another quote from him, “If you are in difficulty, don’t panic. Try to get out of it.” Numerous times in bed, he had to swallow a handful of pills that brought about nasty side effects, such as pains in his joints and coughing. Throughout the whole process, he endured the pain silently and continued his routines, trying to live meaningfully.

It is strange how one day, a person can be on this Earth, but gone the next, his or her life extinguished like a whiff from a candle flame.

On that fateful day, my dear Grandfather died.

The moment I came back from school, I found the house abnormally silent. Opening the door, there was the rare sight of my parents, but the atmosphere was tense. Taking a closer look, my mother was sobbing uncontrollably, cascades of tears staining her cheeks. My father appeared pale and expressionless, but his mask had a crack at the sorrow-filled eyes.

“Meg……I’m so sorry……” my mother choked through her tears, her voice quavering unstably, “Grandfather…has…has…died……” She crumpled to the floor in slow, heaving sobs as if she had been punched in the stomach.

Grandfather.

Dear old, kind, benevolent Grandfather.

Dead.

What?

My mind instantly went blank.

How could that be possible?

No, no……

I suddenly felt the whole world slowly spiralling downwards into a deep, dark abyss. My thoughts were as mangled as the gnarled roots of an old tree. The world spun around me like a top and I felt momentarily light-headed. I collapsed onto a chair, waiting for reality to sink in.

The news struck like a hundred-pound sledgehammer slamming me in the face. Tears welled up in my eyes as memories of Grandfather flooded my mind. Those experiences, my childhood, the life-inspiring lessons……they could never be accomplished without Grandfather. Grief almost wrenched me apart when I finally understood that Grandfather would not come back again. That day, tears spewed from my eyes and stung my cheeks in an endless stream, until my eyes became puffy and I felt nauseous.

It is now sunset at the beach as the past events replay in my head, four years since Grandfather’s passing. The softly glowing orange sun stands out in the kaleidoscope of colours in the sky—cherry pink, vivid violet, zesty yellow, serene blue and more, tinting the few clouds in a rainbow-coloured dye. The indigo sea sparkles like diamond-studded silk. Grandfather and I had always engaged in endless banter here. The images bur slightly as I feel the strong absence of the leader, the trailblazer, the companion. Nevertheless, I can feel him safe in Heaven, gazing down and smiling affectionately. The sea breeze ruffles my hair as Grandfather would have done. I am certain that in my heart, Grandfather will always be the energetic, wise and loving old man. He will stay as the most important figure within me for the rest of my life.

I shall always remember him.

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