There is little satisfaction in communicating without speech. Some things just need to be said.
In her last days, my grandmother ceased to speak. She would nod, look around some times, pass on a smile too. But not utter a word. I wondered whether she chose not to speak. Whether she was content with expression. Or that she indeed, could not speak. For weeks, I observed her. I did not see her make an effort to articulate, or to struggle at it either. I slowly, unknowingly presumed that she was devoid of things to say to us. And that was hard to come to terms with. Illness had crept into her body over a long time, and it clung on, like a parasitic being, refusing to loosen its grip.
One day, I woke her up, out of a deep sleep. She took a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. Then she looked up at me. It felt like her glare pierced through me, making me feel unreal; nonexistent. I wondered if she recognised me. If she knew how much I wanted her to. There was silence. A moment passed where my insides were tight, stricken with grief that filled my heart and lungs. The heaviness in my throat seemed to weigh me down. A streak of anger, mingled with disappointment at my hopefulness, led me to turn around and leave.
And then she smiled. A most glorious smile. It radiated to her eyes. Her deep, thoughtful eyes, that lit up like a lamp in a dark alley. My presumptions seemed almost childish… Laughable. She did know who I was. Of course she did.
I took birth into her hands. She knew me then and she knew me now. Perhaps more than I knew myself. Her mouth twitched in some movement, and my ears shut out all sound, aching to hear the one that ought to come out of her. I heard a slight murmur through the mouthed words. It was a casual greeting that she always welcomed me with when we met during the day. There was an endearing look on her face. I stared, not knowing if I should scream of happiness or cry of relief. With a gulp, I smiled and gave her my usual response to her greeting. She shifted her gaze and fell asleep soon after, reassured that all was well in the world.
I always took those words for granted. I had heard them hundreds of times through these years in mundane settings, to a point where they did not hold much meaning in themselves. They were just there, probably to open up more purposeful conversations.
But in that moment, those words meant everything to me. I recited them like poetry and let them flow into the river of emotion I did not know I held in me. I was elated beyond measure, running around the house from person to person, unraveling a tale that held at its helm, a two-word greeting.
Little did I know then, that those would be the last words my grandmother ever said to me. She left us soon after.
Just like her words, I had taken her presence for granted too. In my childish ignorance, I believed in her invulnerability. In the days that followed, I went back to that face over and over until that look, that smile, those words carved a memory for me to hold on to, for a lifetime. She seemed to know what I was thinking then, and in that moment her words became mine, and mine hers.
Today, her smile emerges out of an uncontrollable stream of tears; loving, noble and dignified as ever, and through clenched teeth, I write on, in memoriam.