It was cold that morning. I dared to venture into the bathroom barefoot and regretted it instantly. The power was out and unable to switch on the geyser, I was forced to brush my teeth without any hot water.
My grandmother was already settled at the dining table when I reached there. Small beads of sweat lined her temples. Each day, she trotted two floors up to our home for breakfast and lunch, nursing her aching knees and backbone every two steps. She lived with my uncle and aunt next door; our compounds were separate.
Grandmother chose to stay with Nirab Uncle after we moved to the new house four years ago. In a half-decided compromise, she decided to live out of that house, but have breakfast and dinner at my mother’s. Grandmother was afraid that Nirab Uncle might feel bad if she preferred to live with my mother.
I sat down beside her. She looked at me with soft eyes and complained about her back pain again. Every time, all I could do was comfort her and offer to take her breakfast to her place. She refused. She liked coming here, especially the days I was home. My holidays were getting shorter as I grew older.
She wanted to get her blood-sugar levels checked that afternoon. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with minor diabetes. My mother did not want to take any chances and kept a strict watch over Grandmother’s diet. That morning, she was allowed to eat only one rice cake and tea without sugar, which she gulped down quickly. Years of grinding betel nuts had corroded the enamel of her teeth, making it challenging to chew. Grandmother always declined dentures. Something about them always seemed very funny to her.
I finished breakfast as well and went into my mother’s room to watch highlights of last evening’s football match. Grandmother got up to leave but paused in front of the room, glancing at the TV for a short while.
‘What is on?’
‘Nothing, just last night’s match I forgot to watch,’ I answered without looking at her. Manchester United had won 1-0.
‘Is this ball-khela?’ she asked again. I looked at her and replied it was football.
‘I am such a cow, I didn’t even try to follow sports while growing up,’ she said grinning. ‘Your grandfather was not like that. He was a big football enthusiast.’
She sat down on the sofa. I was still looking at the screen. ‘Your grandfather used to be called to referee football matches in other districts, in far off places like Lumding and Diphu. He used to leave everything behind and run to those matches. Nothing could stop him.’
I looked at her. ‘He used to love football that much?’
‘Yes, he was completely mad for it.’ She got up to leave. ‘Pity no one turned out to be like him.’
Grandfather had passed away at the turn of the century. It happened very suddenly one balmy morning in June after he had brushed his teeth and decided to sleep a little more. My father passed away 13 years ago, after a long drawn struggle with liver illness. My other uncle, Bipul, departed four years later. Nirab Uncle was the only one she had.
I heard the faint chime of her bangles clattering against the railing of our staircase. She still makes the climb every day, ungrudgingly. It doesn’t hurt her as much as some recollections in her life.