Friday, December 20, 2013


I squeeze some oil into my cupped palm and massage it into her hair. It trails, still. Reaches well past her waist. But it has thinned. Her smattering of newly minted silver hair catches the light alongside the auburn streaks that were always a thing of pride for her. I plait it then twist it into a bun. She reminds me to use her hairpins. Her glossy tresses had always resisted these. I can still remember her, home from school, pins slipping out as her hair decided it had had enough of the imprisonment.

“Nani, my mummy is your mummy now,” he says, mischief making his eyes bright little buttons. She is confused.

“See, Nani used to oil and plait my hair when I was small,” I say to him. “Now it’s my turn to do it for her.”

He laughs.  

I am taken back to the days when she’d insist on two plaits for me. Despair of the kink in my hair that marked me as closer to my father’s family than her own.  She still doesn’t like seeing my hair untied. Yesterday she tried to brush it for me post shower when it took on a chaotic life of its own. The memory makes me smile.

The amity between us has shallow breaths and jerks often in its slumber. It makes me uneasy. I’m used to a near ambivalence and this tenderness that has swallowed me scares me. Like the age spots on her forearms scare me. Like her lapses in memory scare me.

They terrify her. I know this. I see this.

And then something miraculous happens. Someone gets out paper. And pencils. Crayons and pencil colours. And she is a teacher again. Teaching them how to form letters like teachers did back in her day.  Creating worksheets for them. Drawing a star that leaves the children awestruck, freehand. They take out books. He draws a forest in his childish hand. The spider has no less than twenty legs. There is a flying squirrel and a rat that looks strangely like Remy a la Ratatouille.

She says the kids in her class don’t understand why he calls her Nani. That she had to explain to them that she is his granny. I smile.  We've all forgotten how earlier in the day she didn't remember where she was. Didn't remember whose kids these were because I wasn't with them.

And for today I’m thankful for forgetfulness…

For it is forgetfulness that convinces her that she is tall, still. Convinces her that she has to get home because school still waits for her. Convinces her that I've always loved her.



Saaleha Idrees Bamjee said...

The vulnerability and honesty in this piece makes it one of the most beautiful things I've read by you.

Aasia said...

I have to agree with Sals, as you wrote, I find my throat catching and the tenderness of it.

Well done.

Saaleha said...

thanks, guys.