“Oh, if only I died too”, staring at the television, brooding, the grandmother sighed almost soundlessly. She was sitting on the couch in older son’s living room, with her hands crossed in her lap, wearing the same black scarf she wore when the grandfather died, on his funeral. The grandfather was a difficult man, that’s how he was, the grandmother had to listen to him all of his life yelling for this and that. Every now and then, he’d lose his temper: “It’s your fault, it’s all your fault.” After sixty years together, after wars and hungers, children alive and dead, the grandmother didn’t take him very seriously. She’d make a face behind his back and the grandchildren giggled, because they saw the grandmother wasn’t afraid of him, so they weren’t scared either. (The grandfather grew up without a father when he was a child, because his father had died young, as people died in those years of nothing, tuberculosis, hepatitis, appendicitis. His mother and his sister worked at other people’s fields, laboring for bread, the corn one that turned hard as stone in a day, so they’d soak it in water and eat it with a bit of salt afterwards).
On the table in front of the grandmother, there was coffee, warm, fresh, sweet smell rose from the cup. The son made it and put it in front of her just a minute ago. Then he brought some Turkish delight from the kitchen on a dish for everybody to try. “Go on, take some, don’t just look at me, are you shy?’, he raised his voice a bit and entered the kitchen again, to make the second round of coffee, for those who took it with less sugar. (The son traveled the world for years, from one city to another. Postcards from Indonesia, America, Russia. One year he brought a radio that they always listed to on Saturdays and Sundays, the grandfather when there was football on, and the grandmother when Vaska sang. After fifteen years around the world, the son returned home and found a wife from the neighboring street).
The daughter-in-law leafed through some papers, documents, bills, at the other table. She worked on her calculator and wrote down some numbers. She raised her head and looked at her still sitting calm and quiet. “Take some coffee! Are you hungry?” “Bless your heart, I’m not. I ate.” Said the grandmother and reached for the coffee. Her hand shook a bit, and she reached the other one as well to get a good grip of the saucer under the cup. She slurped the first sip aloud and sighed after the coffee slid down her throat. The daughter-in-law smiled. (Couple of months later, the daughter-in-law lost ten kilos, because of sorrow, as she said herself, while she went to the hospital every day to take care of the grandmother, to feed her, wash her and change her as a baby. She forgot that they ever argued or got angry with each other. She took care of the grandmother for a moth and cried in the evenings, again from grief, as she was watching her suffer).
For a while now, the grandmother felt some pan in her stomach. Now again, when she wanted to take the second sip of coffee, she felt something kicking her and tearing her from inside. She closed her eyes and stiffened her jaw. Be still my heart, be still, everything will pass, she thought, and indeed, the pain was short. It hit her and then it was gone. The granddaughter, sitting next to her, noticed that her grandmother’s face changed for a moment, but she didn’t say anything. She thought that the grandmother had probably recalled something, and that she felt sad about something, the grandfather, the son, anything, as she was compassionate. (The granddaughter, as a matter of fact, quickly forgot the pain on her grandmother’s face. She thought of the man who was going to leave her those days and return to his wife. The granddaughter loved the man, but she didn’t know how to make him stay with her, and her days passed almost in despair because of the inevitability of the separation).
When she brought the cup to her lips again, the grandmother remembered the first daughter-in-law, her ugly habit of wiping off her nose from the sleeve of her robe. She remembered how she watched her gather her stuff after the nine months passed under her roof. “These are our things, you’ll leave as you came.” The grandmother told her then and pulled out the negligees, panties, stockings from her hands, all brand new, unpacked. The first daughter-in-law bowed her head and started crying. The grandmother never saw her again, and now she remembered her. “Bad word,” thought the grandmother, “I said a bad word, she was a poor thing.” Guilt stabbed her stronger than the pain, her heart filled in with sorrow, because that’s how she was, compassionate.
When the son, daughter-in-law and the granddaughter stood next to each other by grandmother’s coffin, they watched without a word how the priest sang and poured a glass of wine on grandfather’s bones, gathered in a white plastic bag. (The son remembered how the grandmother split the matches in two to light the fire made of ceiling boards in the winter of the year forty-something and how she put his hand, burnt on the hot beans in the sour cabbage barrel. The daughter-in-law remembered how the grandmother turned the handle of the Italian machine for pasta making the previous summer and how afterwards she cut the dried dough with surgical precision and spread it on the sheets covering the beds. The granddaughter remembered how the grandmother sang Cry Girl for We Shall Part in the kitchen of the old house, while she took the old-fashioned iron off the stove and pressed it on the clothes, and the granddaughter cried because the song was sad, and her heart was soft, just like the grandmother’s).
“God rest her soul”, said some woman later in the room where everybody ate and drank after the funeral. “She could never say a bad word to anybody.”
Translated by the author