Across the Road

It was an enormously chilled evening and after a rather large and astronomically scrumptious dinner at my parent’s house, my mother suddenly remembered some much-required gardening needed completing.  So we all happily traipsed into the cool summer-imitation dusk as my mother, seven-year-old-niece and I set about watering the lawn.  My niece was absolutely and resolutely determined to be solely responsible for holding and directing the cascading water from the hosepipe, and after a few minutes of instruction, she was flicking between the different spray options advising us with expert knowledge This is fan, this is shower, this is soaker…when we heard crying emanating from the conservatory.

My mother and I head towards the house to find my two-year-old nephew pushing through the kitchen door, unsteadily stumbling-but-not as a child does from just waking, wiping his still dream-filled teary eyes.  Dhāhdhi-ji! he calls, Dhāhdhi-ji! (it means grandmother in Urdu).  He practically somersaults into the arms of my mum and she carries him out into the garden, We’re watering the garden she says soothingly as he gazes through his innocent eyes upon the scene before him.  Through his toddler-logic and by what must seem like a bewitching illumination of the adult-logical security light, he spots his sister hose-in-hand metamorphosing sprinkling water into a fountain of diamonds across the mini meadow.  I want to water the garden he says in his serene, clear, angelic voice.

So by starlight-starbright and the Narnia lantern attachment on the shed’s red-brick wall, we merrily dote on the thirsty blades of grass as they sip and sup upon the droplets.  Well, I say we when in fact I mean they as I was merely the photographer whilst they practiced magically green-fingered talents.  A semi-water fight between the three of them and literally a skinful of water later, my niece was drenched, my nephew was in giggling hysterics and the lawn was moisturised.

I grabbed a towel from the laundry room and enveloped my niece in a rush of pink fluffiness to dry her down as she kicked off her thoroughly soaked fuchsia canvas-pumps, For a self-confessed seven-year-old-tom-boy she was not doing terribly well with all this pinkness I thought to myself whilst half-smothering her to quieten her excited screams as she was exploding into a riot of mirth from being soaked from the hose’s soaker selection, It does what it says on the tin at least I chortled.

My mother and nephew followed us in, and as we were cleaning, tidying, drying, laughing, my aunt entered the kitchen wearing a distinctly distraught expression of agony upon her usually sunny countenance.

My father’s parents live across the way, in a black and white painted (I mention the colour as it has been repainted black-and-white for the last thirty years) three-storey terraced house directly opposite (well directly opposite bar one house to the left) on the other side of the road.  As is traditional culture for South Asian families, my aunt (wife of the youngest son) takes care of my grandparents and the family.

I am not sure how old my grandfather is, nor my grandmother.  It would seem age is all a bit mythical for elders, nobody seems to be able to enlighten me with factual certainty for ages exactement.  Our family tree, which geniusly advises my great-great-grandfathers were Persians travelling across Afghanistan and settling in Kashmir, relates the tree of life rather than death but as with trees, a cross-section of the tree is required to count the concentric rings to determine age, otherwise it is based on Pi and formulae.

Since I am not about to perform dissections on both sets of my living grandparents, the Pi and formulae that I base their birth date evaluations on for today’s context, is as continues.  I take into account that my father, and I have just realised this, is reaching his 60th birthday this August Mental note, birthday recorded, can I possibly plan anything for a father that does not believe in birthdays pray tell me.

Furthermore, my father has an older sister in Pakistan, and an even older brother who passed when my father was quite young, so we (you are in my world now Muahah!) can safely assume that the 90-age-mark is validated when we also consider that my other grandfather was definitely born in 1923 and my parent’s parents are all of the same generation.

[Their birthdays in a way, cannot have been lost as their birth days were never actually born.  Did they have a notepad and pencil in the Registry Cave of Births and Deaths in a tiny village in the mountains of Kashmir all those years ago?  I am thinking this is unlikely, of course naïvely, there would have been some form of record-keeping, I should ask my grandfather but for the purpose of my recollection to you here, age approximations will have to suffice.  If death was unrecorded in the same way, it might aid the concept that death is not finality and merely a passing for another journey but that is another subject entirely.  Moving swiftly forwards, procrastination is not assisting the plot…]

I was thinking the worst, my aunt was speaking Urdu and I was waiting for the heartbreaking words…that something had happened to my grandmother.  She has been ill for at least ten years and recounts nightmares where she passes away and strangers find her unclothed body in the middle of the road.  Ramblings of an ill old lady perhaps, but she’s in such pain and although a devout Muslim, does not understand why Allāh keeps her soul in her weak and melting body.  She is afraid of living through more pain, How much worse can it get? Probably runs through her mind (in Urdu of course).

Those ‘heartbreaking words’ I was expecting from my aunt did not verbalise.  Instead, I could hardly believe, no I could barely comprehend the syllables being uttered.  She is missing.  She’s gone, she’s not inside the house, I’ve searched everywhere. My mother and I were both at a loss for a response, although and as we have established, my grandparents are in their very senior years, they are able to walk about as easily as they can with walking-sticks in tow, but are hardly likely to win medals at track events and marathons.

Where could my ninety-year-old grandmother be?! It’s not like we can just call her via telephone, she does not have a mobile phone.  Cluedo was playing out on the hill of the spark tonight, and we only had our wits to utilise during this real-live game-but-not-game of life.  It is a three-storey house, there are no chair-lifts on any of the stairs as my grandparents live on the ground floor which, of course, is due to accessibility to the bathroom, kitchen and lounge areas.  It makes perfectly practical and common-sensical sense – these places had been checked and without exaggeration, my grandmother had actually disappeared without a trace. 

Hair standing on end, spine tingling, goose pimples and a cold numb feeling in my head, and without further thinking or another moment’s hesitation, I grasped my housekeys as my mother seized her car keys and I bundled my barefooted freshly powdered strawberry pink bonbon’d niece and my now subdued and hushed nephew who lost a shoe in the process to my grandmother’s house fifty quick steps to the pavement on the opposite side as I noted that my other Aunt was en route to my cousin’s house ten minutes down the road.  There is no way my grandmother could have walked all the way down there! I thought to myself but all avenues and possibilities needed to be thoroughly checked.  My mother scooted to the car to drive around the block hoping to use human satellite GPS navigation.

My uncle sat dejectedly at the dining table eating dinner, having just returned from prayer, I think the food was an anxiety reduction, something other to concentrate on as I could feel ferocious vibes of discontent and perhaps on the verge of rage towards my aunt for not having noticed the disappearance earlier.  My uncle mumbled that my grandfather threw a bit of light on to the mystery however, it was not actually a light more of a circumstance, he was waiting for my grandmother to return from the bathroom, but she never did.

I double-checked just to make sure my grandfather was still in the lounge and had not also apparated to another dimension, he was still there.  OK.  Good.  I investigated all the front rooms just in case, by some small chance, everyone had been short-sighted or as if by some kind of jādu or black magic (cue It’s a Kind of Magic music popped into my mental iPod), my grandmother had been returned to her bedroom.

She was definitely not in the house.  Right I thought to myself, it’s 2130HRS, and a ninety-year-old lady with walking stick, shalwar kameez and chādr (large shawl) has disappeared into the night, missing for nearly two hours, where on earth could she possibly be?  I was playing out an imaginary conversation with the Police: Missing Persons in my mind, it was really not going well at all.

I tried to keep the moods of my niece and nephew buoyant as we perched on the sofa, they instinctively knew something was happening but could not quite contemplate the situation crazy.  Whilst I was removing my nephew’s wet socks, another two uncles and another aunt appeared as if by Floo Powder, we exchanged salaams, handshakes and titbits of information and they suddenly disappeared into another vortex to continue the search.

My niece was trying to figure possible whereabouts as I was attempting to divert attention away from a somewhat irate discussion my uncle was having on the telephone, No, this is not a joke, why would I call you at this time of night to tell you that Mum is missing?!  I tried to explain to my nephew that my grandmother had not been seen for quite a while, little bit difficult to explain to a two-year-old.  Maybe we should equip my grandmother with a mobile phone after all…Hmm, Mother has not yet returned, I thought, hoping she had not also been kidnapped by jinn which at this point, was the only plausible explanation flying through my mind like a screensaver.

Ummi Ji? (Urdu for Mother)

Yes, it’s ok, we’ve found her!

What?

Yes.

Where?

Here!

Where’s here?!  Where are you?!

Outside! 

You found her, or someone else found her?

I was just driving back and saw her coming out of a neighbour’s house.

Addressing my uncle, Chāhcha, it’s ok, they’ve got her!

My uncle’s eyes nearly popped out of his sockets with relief and hung up the telephone, Where was she?

I am now having a ten-way conversation with my uncle, niece, nephew, mum and the six people in the background on the phone.

At a neighbour’s, about five houses down…!  I think…!

I jolted from the sofa and made my way to the noise as my niece and nephew running behind me (as once my brother and I would have done when we were their age), we met my three aunts and my mum in the front garden and entered a babble of relieved, overjoyed, women on the brink of happy tears and joy.  My grandmother was wondering about the kerfuffle…

What are you all doing here so late at night?  Even my lovely grand-daughter and great-grandchildren are here? As she kisses the cheeks of my niece, nephew and I.

My aunt replied, You disappeared without saying a word to anybody, we didn’t know where you were?

Where was I?  It’s not like I was on the moon!  You should have telephoned…!

We all exploded with laughter at my grandmother’s words that evening under a blessed summery star-filled April ink-blotted sky, and my Mother and I piggy-back raced my niece and nephew in a fit of tired giggles to our house across the road.

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