I visited my grandmother today. She lives in what I call the perpetual present. She has no memories that she can string together to form a past, and in all likelihood, she has no visible notion of the future. She is stuck in what China Miéville would call a “time golem”. I sometimes think of her as the luckiest person I know. She is washed of all her sins and her misdeeds and her triumphs and her strengths. She is simply who she is. She becomes the mother of my mother, only when I go see her. Still, often times, especially when she is ill, it can get hard to be the onlooker.
So, I was heading back in my auto, emptying my mind by watching the normality of life pass by – the students leaning against their bikes, trying their cool stance; the cow rummaging through a steadily increasing garbage mound; the aunty and uncle who are hauling groceries home; the fairly jobless guy sitting on the side of the road, spitting sideways; and then something yellow. I poke my head out of the auto and there, peeping over the low wall of a garden are sunflowers. A field of tall sunflowers in a small garden on a grey cloudy day. I brought that image with me all the way to work, and tried to hastily form it into words. My own attempt at creating a time golem, set to play like a loop in my head: Yellow flowers turning their earnest heads towards an absent sun.
A ride to the sea in the trunk of a van. We miss the grand show of the orange ball disappearing over the blue waves. My mother holds my hand tightly as the waves come nipping at our heels. The feeling of sinking sand as the waves abandon us. A poem about the romance of the sea – forever meeting and forever parting. As my father and I walk with temporary footprints, he tells me the story of a god who walks on the beach and carries us when we are in trouble. Another god by the seaside clad in red and white flowers. Protected by the gods of the sea and the wind, her priest drops into my hand a leaf of blessings. A few flowers, vermilion, sandalwood paste and a slug. An unexpected visitor into the dealings between goddess and woman. I gently shift the vermilion crowned mollusc back into the wilderness of a tree and make my way through a small newspaper cone of sandy hot peanuts. As we finish the day with a story of the devout elephant caught in the clutches of a stubborn crocodile, I think of all the creatures, big and small, who grace our lives for a brief red moment.
Sticky air on my skin. The green has taken over walls, doors and open grounds. My aunt who smiles exactly like my dad cuts our lunch plates from the foliage over her wall. The afternoon is ringed with stories and laughter as I try to follow the cadence of a language not quite my own. These stories of tragedies, intrigue, and disastrous haircuts are made rich with frothy embellishments as I watch my family exchange the currency of their memory. As the afternoon comes to a close, amidst hot cups of tea and crunchy tapioca, I begin to see how families can sometimes help us escape our inexplicable loneliness. And why we return to the complicated familiar like the salmon moving inevitably towards their spawning grounds.