My Grandfather, My Confidant

His ‘kain pelikat’ was soaked with my tears as I clung to his knees and wept. The hour had passed with me sharing with him all my woes. I told him about the silliest, insignificant word someone had called me that felt unjust. I talked about the people I love with all of my heart, yet couldn’t connect with. I cried for all that I yearn for, all just within my grasp but which were denied. I expressed my fear at the unknown, donning the mask of an examiner, eyes never leaving, ready to pounce at every mistake.

As I finally threw out all coherency and lost all sense of language but for the sobs that burst out of my chest, he placed his hand on my shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze.

“Don’t worry, you’ll find your cat again. She isn’t lost.”

And in spite of all of my anguish and anxiety, I laughed. I looked up and saw him smiling at me, pleased to see that he made me feel better.

He was my grandfather. A nonagenarian who didn’t remember that he had ever married or had children, most of the time. A man who woke up at a different time period each day, with a slightly different view on life. A man who would delightfully share with you tales of his youth, which he remembered in great detail, if you ask the right questions. A man who would listen to you empathically whenever you have a weight you need to lift off your chest; and even though he didn’t always understand all that you shared, he would try to cheer you up and give you words of advice and encouragement.

For a few years, my father had encouraged me to write about my experience caring for my grandfather, in hopes that it would help others who also have someone dear to care for. He wanted me to share how I felt and the struggles I had to face so others won’t feel like they were alone in this. And no matter how much I tried to convince him that this wasn’t a chore for me, he would insist on thanking me for my ‘sacrifice’.

I initially didn’t want to write about this, which is why it has taken me years to finally put this together. The days I spent with my grandfather and what I shared with him was something very close and personal to me, something I feel irrationally possessive about.

Because it had never been a sacrifice — it was one of the most fulfilling years of the latter half of my life. I felt loved, cherished and richer than I had been for so many years.

I cannot honestly say that every day was a walk in the park. There were days when he insisted that he wasn’t hungry and I had to wreck my brain in trying to find something which would coax his appetite. There were nights when I found him with the wardrobe door wide opened and all of his clothes piled high on his bed. He was fit for his age but he had accidents — he once fell asleep while having tea and fell to the floor — so I always had to keep a sharp eye. We even had days when he woke up and was only able to converse in Arabic (which my very rusty elementary Arabic couldn’t keep up with) and another in German. And I remember a day when he insisted that he had to leave the house because he needed to see a friend even though it was past midnight.

But at the same time, I enjoyed whipping up crazy ideas to make his food appealing to his eye. I was entertained when he suddenly went to my brother late at night and spent an hour teaching him the correct way to march. When we left the house, I liked to show him odd and fascinating things I could see that others may find silly. I shared the funny videos I found on the internet that I thought he would enjoy and we watched them together. I even spoke Trengganuspeak with him, something that I had been too anxious to try out with anyone else.

But the thing I never told my father was that, beyond all that, my grandfather was the one person I could share all of what I hid from the rest of the world without the fear of disappointment or prejudice. He was my source of comfort when the nights felt so dark and cold. He was my confidant and my friend; never expecting more of me than what I feel I could shoulder and always offering me his strength when I feel too tired to stand. Caring for someone like him had given me such a sense of purpose, acceptance, appreciation and validation that I hadn’t found elsewhere.

At no time had the days I spent with him felt like a sacrifice more than it was a gift.

I don’t know who I was to him, he only referred to me as ‘ganda-ganda kita’ (one of us), but to me, he had a life worthy to be painted in a series of books. He was a man who had walked on the Earth before me and tried his hands at something grand and amazing and was somewhat disappointed with the response he received. He was someone who had so much love in him that it had broke him several times over. He was one of the people I had to thank for the life I have and for being the person that I am.

He was the one person I spilled all of my heart to ever since my brother was old enough to understand the weight of the words I say. He was my sanctuary from scrutinising eyes and the solace that soothes my turbulence. He was the best of my friends and he was my dear, old grandfather.


First Time On Air

From left: Ahmad Ali, Anisah, Aeshah and me.

I sighed as I pressed the hot iron over my dress for the second time but the crease marks would not disappear. During other days, I would have ignored them. I had worn clothes in worse shapes (before being called back inside by my mom and be made to change, of course). I may even argue about the ‘wastage of electricity’. But today, I simply sprayed my already damp dress with more water. I was determined to get it straight and besides, it took my mind of the radio show.

I have been invited along with my family to a late night talk show, When the Night Falls (Bila Larut Malam) on for a two hours long interview. And I was terrified. It was only less than a year ago when I finally could talk to people without getting goose bumps and sweaty palms and now I have to talk live in a radio show.

Of course, I often have little interviews in my head where I interviewed myself on- well, whatever idea that I have in my head. Sometimes I did them out of amusement or boredom but I have also noticed that it was a good way to get my raw thoughts into words. But this was no imaginary thing… this was the real deal.

Surprisingly, it took me a while to get nervous about it. Right until the moment when I had to get myself dressed, I felt indifferent and emotionless. Then all of a sudden, my stomach detected a million butterflies settling in.

And that was why I spent half an hour trying to straighten my dress – to distract myself.

We didn’t make any real preparation for the show, except for the singing because my siblings and I were going to sing the song together and we had to make sure we could cooperate harmoniously. We had no idea at all of what questions were going to be asked except that they would probably touch the topic of blogging. After all, Uncle Nizal, the DJ and a good friend of my dad’s, told my father that it would be a very relaxed interview. My mom had told me earlier in the morning (when I was still feeling emotionless) that it was perfectly okay for me to tell Uncle Nizal if I was uncomfortable with certain topics.

“No, I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to stay away from,” I had replied.
“Are you sure? Because he may ask you a question you don’t like and may upset you,” my mom cautioned.
“Well, I don’t know what I am and what I am not comfortable with until I have been questioned,” I said.
“If you say so,” mum said with a shrug.

Now minutes before we leave for the radio station, I felt panic sinking in and kicked myself for not even bothering to practice. Gulping down a mug of coffee, just in case the excitement wasn’t enough to keep me awake until one a.m. (I wasn’t taking any chances), I tried to find ways of how to calm myself down. I could think of only two ways of defeating the panic: one is to follow exactly what it was telling me to do and that was to prepare myself while the other was to switch to play pretend mode.

I didn’t think preparing makes much sense by then so I chose the alternative. To act exactly as how I would have when I was having those little interviews inside my head. I took a deep breath and altered my thoughts. I pulled out every strand of nervousness and fear from myself and became the ‘other me’ which I have often reserved from the outside world. The alter ego that had conducted so many discourse and conversations within the various hidden nooks and cranny of my mind. And surprisingly, I managed to lull the butterflies back to sleep.

The drive to the radio station didn’t take long but it didn’t go too well either. We practiced singing Alhamdulillah by Dawud Wharnsby Ali (a beautiful and insightful song which could give goosebumps even to my usually impassive mother) and Ali suddenly got his tempo all wrong and couldn’t see his fault. I could not believe it – he sang so well just a few hours before when we had our last practice. The butterflies threatened to reclaim my stomach but I wasn’t going to let them win. I clenched my teeth and strained to keep myself back in control. I have gone through this before, I told myself, and I would do it again.

Uncle Nizal greeted us at the door with his fascinatingly large smile (I have always noticed that he has such a large and amusing smile) and I suddenly found myself tongue-tied. I couldn’t say anything but put on a ‘hopefully-not-too-nervous’ grin. Somehow once I stepped into the office and saw the recording studio straight ahead, I could barely manage to hear Uncle Nizal asking us to leave our shoes outside. I guessed it was the anxiety that froze me but I could not detect it to know for sure. My body was more or less calm but my mind was blank.

Uncle Nizal introduced us to the producer who led us into the recording studio to record the song ‘Alhamdulillah’. After the recording, Uncle Nizal asked us about a bit of ourselves and our interests and so on. Somehow during the conversation, my tongue became loose and soon I was talking with ease. Even when the show began, I had felt much less nervous than I had anticipated.

And I have to admit that I actually enjoyed myself. After all, Uncle Nizal’s amiable and lively manners made the whole interview a lot more fun. I did feel the anxiety pushing on me as I glanced at the clock every now and then but I felt immensely gleeful and rather high. As if everything that happened was still a part of my imagination. My mind ran faster than my senses could catch up with. I felt as if I had no time to think before I open my mouth but to simply shoot off my answers straight away.

The next day, my mom, Aeshah and I sat around the dining table, laughing as we remembered what happened the night before.

“Only when we headed for the car, I realised that I had a rather banging headache,” I said. “At first I thought it was just the excitement but then I found out that I was actually very hungry but I was too nervous to notice it. It was probably the coffee effect as well. Wait!” I cried and clapped my hands. “Of course! It was the coffee that made me feel high.”

Aeshah rolled her eyes and laughed, “Oh I knew that. When I saw you drinking coffee yesterday, I was thinking to myself: I wonder what would happen now?” Turning to my bewildered mother, she said, “Whenever kakak drinks coffee when she feels sleepy especially late at night, she would become extremely happy and excited. With the anxiety of being interviewed on radio, I knew that something interesting would happen.”

“Well then,” my mom started with a twinkle in her eye, “Maybe you should drink coffee every time you were about to be interviewed until you get the hang of it.”

I grimaced. “Actually, had I remembered the effect coffee could have on me, I would have definitely left it out.”

Note: A big thank you to Uncle Nizal for inviting us to the show. 😀

From left: Uncle Nizal, Anisah, Aeshah, Ahmad Ali and me.

*Kakak: The Malay word for big sister and it is a nickname Aeshah uses when referring to me.