published in Yuan Yang Vol. 4, 2004)
When I went home there she was. In the
kitchen preparing an afternoon feast for my sisters and me. Sometimes
fried rice with eggs. Sometimes Chinese soup with cabbage and
mushrooms. Sometimes (but very rarely) sausages and slices of canned
pineapples. My grandma was extremely sweatly and honestly she did not
smell good. Summers were awful. Her armpits were always wet. Some white
hair stuck on her forehead. The air conditioner did not help. She could
not breathe smoothly with the air conditioner on.
That was the time when she was healthier. Later my grandma was so sick
that she had to stay in a home for the elderly. She could no longer
cook for us. The kitchen does not have her silhouette. The air
conditioner is always turned on in the house in summer. But it is too
Every Saturday I went to see her. I sat next to her on her tiny but
comfortable bed. There was not much to say. Conversations never really
set foot. But I often imagined that elsewhere the two of us were
chatting. The fact was she looked at me with a smile, and that was
almost all she could do. She was such a talkative person, but then she
did not speak at all. I embraced her before I left, too aware of her
smell. She did not smell good. What the hell, it was summertime.
One Sunday morning slightly before seven o'clock the phone in our house
rang. My parents, my sisters and I were all woken up by the ring.
Finally it was my mother who picked up the phone. Then she put down the
phone. She said the doctor asked us to go to the hospital and see
grandma one last time, talk to her one last time. My sisters and I
quietly changed our clothes. I saw their hands tremble. Nobody wanted
to say anything.
When we arrived at the hospital half an hour later there she was. Lying
on the hospital bed, already dead. The room was filled with her smell.
My father immediately ran out of the room. We heard him scold the
doctor. That fucking bastard should have called us earlier. But my
father was crying. My two sisters held their hands tightly for support
from one another. My mother sat on a chair in the corner of the room
and wept. I stood right next to grandma's corpse, oh old face, old
hair, old fingernails. Oh old neck, old lips, old wrinkles. I stroked
her face. Old nose. Oh no. Death is so dreadful.
In the afternoon we went to the home for the elderly where my grandma
had stayed. We went there to collect her belongings. A photo of grandma
and my two sisters. My sisters immediately cried. A photo of grandma
and my two cousins and their dog. My two cousins started to cry as
well. Finally there was a photo of me. I wear makeup in the photo,
smiling with all my teeth showing. On the back of the photo I had
written: 'To my dearest grandma, May health be with you always. Yours,
mingming'. I cried.
I always pretended she was still here. But now it is summer and her
smell is lacking. Summer makes me think of my grandma. This is the
first summer she is not here. Where is she now? In heaven I suppose, if
there was really such a place. But I prefer she no longer exists.
'Torture, torture,' my grandma used to say, with no particular cause. I
can imagine she says the same thing no matter where she is, with a
sense of humour, even in a bizzare place with angels and plenty of
white. I have been brainwashed. To me, heaven must have angels. Heaven
is white. Thus I know heaven does not suit me. I like black.
Sumemr has come, not romantically but anxiously. In Hong Kong it seems
that every summer is hotter than the previous one. I am wearing a tube
top. Nobody knows why Hong Kong has become such an uncomfortable place
to live in. Even laughter needs great effort.