It’s 2.49am and for some reason I can’t fall asleep (happens every now and then). Hopefully, the writing will help with some of the thoughts that have been swimming through my mind tonight.
Grandma’s on my mind a lot tonight. Memories of her were triggered by stumbling upon some old parking tickets I’d kept in a document holder from two years ago. I accumulated those parking tickets because we stayed such long hours at the void deck where her wake was held. The tickets were attached to a photocopy of her death certificate, which was helpful for recalling that were trying to write in to the Land Transport Authority for a waiver, if possible. I guess we waited too long, which explains why I kept the documents in case I needed proof, and I guess too that we forgot about the outcome. It took me a while to throw out the tickets and the death certificate. It’s just paper, but they felt so heavy in my hands.
Funny how memories are, which ones last and which ones don’t, and how stumbling upon cached objects can bring back the ones you’d otherwise never recall.
I remember the smell of the mothballs that were always in her wardrobe, and how she’d direct me to the specific location in her room to retrieve some knick-knack for her. She had a precise memory of where everything was kept in her room. I remember one Christmas I made a scrapbook page, framed, with photos of her and I, and she had the frame hung up in her room. When they went to retrieve her things after the funeral, somebody returned the frame to me. I don’t remember where I’ve kept it in my room currently.
I remember noticing one day that all her hair had turned an even shade of white, but I don’t remember when she stopped going on holidays with us because mobility became too much of an issue. I remember that she loved to eat cai tao kway, and would often ask me to buy that from Ghim Moh market when I visited, but I cannot remember which one of the two there was her favourite stall.
I have a fondness for Lobo and Bread because of her. When I was in my teens, Grandma lived with us for a while so that mum could care for her post-op. Her radio was tuned to the oldies channel all day, playing songs into my teenage consciousness. Years later, when I was in university, she moved back to her home at Ghim Moh. Those university years I’d been steadily gaining weight, but whenever we visited, Grandma always said to me “Ah Sam ah, gain weight already. You look better with more weight.” She said it so factually that I threw my skepticism aside and hence, snacking was never a problem at Grandma’s for me. She was my number one fashion fan. Every time I walked through that gate, she would compliment me on my dressing, so sincerely, so enthusiastically, that even I believed there that the plainest outfit I wore was vogue.
I remember afternoons spent at her house on days where lectures ended early. School was near her place, so I visited often because it was easier to wait at her place than at school for dad to come give me lift home after he knocked off work. Most of those afternoons had a steady rhythm that went like this: Mama, school is over, I’m coming now. You want me to buy any food? We’d have lunch together, then watch whatever she’s watching on tv. I’d stretch out on the couch and pretty soon, I’m afternoon napping. When I’d stir and peek out from my sleepy eyes, Grandma was either reading the papers or asleep herself, even while sitting up. Something like four o’clock arrives and we’d share some light snack for tea break. My favourites were the egg tarts from the shophouse near her place. After tea break, I’d do my schoolwork while she watched tv until dad arrived to pick me up.
After I graduated, those afternoons grew rare. New life as a working adult was a monster of a transition. My station in life changed, but grandma’s favourite chair in her house remained the same. She’d sit at the same place, do the same thing daily, read her papers, take her tea break at the same time.
I remember being in Nepal when mum texted that grandma was in hospital. We’d gotten used to her being in and out of hospital by then, but this time it’s not so simple, mum said. It’s cancer, the doctors said. My missions team prayed with me, and I cried that night away.
I remember all these things, but I don’t remember the name of her cancer. I remember she lived on the third floor of Block 3, but I don’t remember the door number anymore. I’m afraid that I’ll forget her name was Ng Boon Choo and she gave herself the name Doris. I’m afraid that I’ll forget she never missed an episode of the Channel 8 7pm and 9pm dramas and I’m not confident I remembered correctly that she liked to eat cai tao kway. I’m afraid that I’ll forget what her house looked like and maybe someday I’ll even forget what she looked like.
Tonight, more than most other nights, I miss her, but I’m thankful I remember her. Because to remember is to un-forget. I thank God that I pulled out those old tickets when I spring-cleaned my workstation today, if not these memories would have remained forgotten.
Writing helps us remember, and so I must remember this is one more reason to (continue to) write. And for Grandma, I really want to remember.