Memory #12

Last night I slept late. I heard my sister tiptoeing into my bathroom to take a shower, about an hour after that I was still tossing and turning and plumping the pillows trying to find a way to relax.

When I eventually slept, I dreamt of my (late) grandfather. I was 18 when he passed away due to heart failure. He was in his late 60s then.

One of the last memories that I have of him would be this.

My grandfather’s house is located opposite our family home in Perak. He had always been sickly, and since I was away most of the time in boarding school, whenever I was back home for the holidays I try to go and visit the old man. I would come over, kiss his bald head, and then sit at the arm of the big chair that he was sitting on, him always with just a kain pelekat (sarong). We didn’t really talk. I would ask him questions like how was his health, he’d answer something general and then we’d just sat there until it was time for me to go home for dinner.

One late afternoon I went over to his house. I was about 17, at that time I was waiting for my university applications results. I was not feeling great about myself, I had turned down a couple of offers to study in the States and Japan and although everyone else had heard from the local universities, I had not. I didn’t even get an offer to continue my studies to Form 6, which was the general diploma equivalent in the national education system.

Anyway, I went over the my grandfather’s, rubbed his bald head and sat on the arms of the armchair as usual. He was having difficulty breathing and talking – later upon his demise I found out that he had heart problems but I didn’t know it at that time. He asked me to get the Amway catalogue that was on the coffee table (my auntie, just like many other aunties that you know of, succumbed to the lure of direct selling and was voraciously marketing Amway to any living relatives that she has). I took the catalogue and brought it back to him. He opened up the make-up page and pointed out at the lipsticks. Then he said (I don’t remember the exact words) choose a lipstick, I want you to look pretty when you go off to university. Tell auntie that I will pay for it.

I laughed it off, said thank you and told him that I don’t wear make-ups. He kept pointing at this shade or that shade and said this would look nice etc but it was late and I didn’t want to be locked out of the house so I hugged him and left.

That was the last conversation I had with him and the last time I saw him alive.

A few days later he was admitted to the hospital for respiratory failure. I, on the other hand, received an offer to further my studies to University Malaya. My mom asked me if I could relieve my uncle at the hospital and looked after my grandfather for a night or two. But I was young and rash so I threw a tantrum and said no.

As is customary, my parents were preparing for a doa selamat (prayer recital) to give thanks for the unversity results. We were in the kitchen when the phone rang, the nurse asked for my mother and said we should get to the hospital as soon as we can. Although she didn’t say anything else, we knew that my grandfather had passed away.

Ina and I changed into baju kurung and we went to the hospital with my father. On the way, we passed by my grandfather’s younger brother who just came back from the palm oil plantation (my grandfather had a lot of land and the brother tended to it). We stopped him and told him the news. He sat by his motorcycle at the roadside and started crying. (He passed away a few months after my grandfather, many people told me it was because of sadness. He was very close with my grandfather).

When we got to the hospital, my uncle was in a state of shock and was burning up the phone lines calling his amway people. We could not get any response from him so my father went to see the hospital’s administrator to take care of the arrangements. But first the nurse brought us to my grandfather’s bed. My father said a prayer and then asked us to stay there while he arranged for the funeral car to take my grandfather home.

Ina and I sat on each side of the bed. We didn’t say anything at first. We both kissed my grandfather and then we started to recite the Yassin. After a few sentences we both started to cry simultaneously. We looked at each other, a bit embarassed with the tears and then laughed nervously, and then continued with the recital. When it was time to leave, I thought about how surreal it was that I was the one who carried my grandfather’s dead body into the funeral car.

I didn’t participate in the funeral arrangements because I was busy with my own preparations. For some reason I wasn’t sad either. I went to UM a couple of days later and didn’t think about it until a few months had passed.

One day I was at home and I was talking to my mother about vitamin pills. My auntie was still a voracious Amway lady and my mom had just bought a few bottles of vitamins from her. I then remembered the day when my grandfather asked me to get a lipstick, and I mentioned it casually to my mom. She said I should tell my auntie about it. Sort of his last wish. I didn’t. It was sweet of my grandfather to want me to look pretty and nice, but at 17 there were bigger things to think about than the right shade of lipstick to wear.

When I dreamt of him last night, I woke up remembering the lipstick incident all over again. And finally today, I cried. I miss him. If he could see me now, I think he’d be proud of the person that I’ve become.

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RIP: Heath Ledger (“Patrick Verona” from 10 Things I Hate About You; the inspiration to my note 10 Things I Hate About Job).

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