I always used to wonder what lay behind those sunken eyes and about the kind of experiences that those wizened hands had to go through.
She was a small woman. She looked so fragile, that it seemed like even the slightest force would hurt her. Her hair – as white as snow and as soft as silk – flowed over her pillow as she slept. From time to time, I would message her thin hands and legs slowly. I was afraid I would hurt her if I rushed. While I would be at it, she would look at me with those eyes that never failed to shine and mutter something incomprehensible in her raspy and shaky but extremely soft voice. I would listen hard trying to understand her but I could never make out what she was saying.
During those moments when I sat next to her on her bed, I felt like asking her so many questions. I wanted to know what her childhood was like – what it felt like to be married at the age of twelve and have kids by the age of seventeen. I knew that those were very personal questions that I would never be able to bring myself to ask. But, I wanted to know about all the experiences she had been through, all the hardships she had faced and how she overcame them. But I could never make out just by looking at her, for her face was a mask that hid her life experiences and the white sari that she wore ever since her husband’s death covered her past life.
When I think of my great-grandmother, I can smell the body oil that she applied to her hands and legs – the pleasant fragrance that filled the room when the bottle was opened and that grew stronger the moment she poured it onto her palm. I remember her white and flowing hair and her long and graceful but wrinkled hands. I can still feel those hands on mine as the memory of that one massage that I ever gave her comes back to me.
I wish I could go back to the time she talked to me and try even harder to listen to what she had to say. During those times I spent with her, I wanted to tell her about my life – about my school, my friends and how life in Tanzania was different from that in India. Most of all, I wanted to tell her that I loved her, but I never could. And now, I never can.