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BICYCLES AGO

by SAACHI GUPTA (India)

Issue 1.3    December 2019

The first bicycle is red, with a big basket. There are blue foxes on the seat. It needs a name.

 

I learn to say “Nanu” when I’m one, seated in his lap, and the smile he gives me is blinding, brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. I wrap my arms around his neck to hug him tight. Nanu. Grandpa.

 

There’s a moment, on Grandparents’ Day in kindergarten, when I realize that the other grandparents don’t smile. Not as much as my grandparents do. The other grandparents look fragile, almost, like they’ll break if you hug them too hard. They need walking sticks and chairs to sit on as soon as they enter the room. But my grandparents—they’re everywhere. Laughing with my classmates, thanking my teachers, holding my hand as I drag them around the classroom excitedly. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Or maybe four year old me is the one with the infectious enthusiasm. That’s what they would say, anyway. 

 

Nanu treats me to ice cream on the way back home. I give him the first bite.

 

I’ve been told not to wake Nanu up, so I tiptoe into the room where he’s asleep and cautiously seat myself on the corner of the bed. His eyes open slowly, and when he sees me, they light up. He smiles.

My smile back is more hesitant. I’m puzzled, wondering how I managed to wake him up despite being so careful.

“Do you know how I woke up?” he asks, voice raspy.

An eternity passes as I wrack my brains for an answer. Finally, it strikes me.

“My weight when I climbed on the bed?” I reply, unsure, and his smile grows.

 

It’s no secret that Deeti, my little sister, is Nanu’s favourite. He dotes on her, always hugging her first and plays endless games of hide-and-seek with her. It’s not something that bothers me, either— I’ve always been Grandma’s favourite.

Nanu buys us our favourite snacks every week—there’s biscuits and crackers, jelly sweets inside plastic containers shaped like mobile phones, and candy that never seems to end.

In return, he asks for hugs.

He treasures his walks every evening, and takes us to the garden down the road, where we take turns sitting on the swing as he pushes.

 

Deeti and I save up to buy ourselves new bicycles. We decide that sharing a single bicycle is too stressful—and we’re grown up now, I’m ten, almost—we’re too old to share things.

My cycle is pink, and I name her Shimmering Peacock. My sister’s red cycle is christened Rainbow.

 

I change schools, and we’re too old to celebrate Grandparents’ Day.

 

When Nanu is admitted to the hospital, we spend the nights there with him. Deeti and I aren’t allowed to see him, and our mother sends us to school the next day, just so we can take our minds off things.

I don’t think he’s going to make it.

I break down in the middle of class, and I’m inconsolable for the rest of the day, until I go back home, and I’m told he’s gotten better.

 

My thirteenth birthday party is grand: my parents book a fancy venue, the food is delicious, there’s tons of gifts, family. and friends. The only problem is dividing my time between everyone.

When my grandparents arrive, I rush over to hug them, delighted.

I spend the rest of the party surrounded by my friends, with no chance to speak to them again.

 

We move buildings, and Rainbow and Shimmering Peacock are left behind because we don’t use them anymore.

The next bicycle comes almost a year later—it’s black, a second-hand bicycle taken from a friend because he doesn’t need it. These days, we don’t cycle enough to buy two bicycles.

 

Nanu walks slowly now, his speech slurred. He obsesses over electricity bills and savings, and gets frustrated easily. He barely smiles and looks more breakable—body thinner, legs skinnier. He has problems hearing.

 

He begins to use a walking stick. His walks down the road come to a halt.

There’s a moment, sitting in my grandparents’ room, when I realize that Nanu has become like the grandparents that I saw eons ago in my classroom on Grandparents’ Day.

And it hurts. It hurts because I never know what to say to him anymore. The visits to his house every weekend are marked by silence. It hurts because as much as I want to fix it, I don’t know how to.

What hurts the most, though, is that I can’t remember, for the life of me, what he used to be like. I try and try, but I can’t recall a time when he used to laugh and smile, play games with me and my sister, and hold our hands on long walks down the road.

Not a single vivid memory of it makes it past my childhood.

And that’s the thing with relationships, isn’t it? Things change, and then you can’t remember a time when they were different, better. You can’t remember the way a person made you feel, the way you loved them and treasured every word they uttered.

You try to write something about them, and it takes you too long because everything you knew them for is long gone.

 

I have nightmares about losing him and I wake up in the morning, determined to make everything okay again. It never happens.

He holds my face before kissing me on my cheek and sometimes when I’m next to him, he holds my hand so tight that I can’t imagine letting go.

 

On a walk to the supermarket with him one evening, I notice the little children downstairs come running up to him. He smiles and ruffles their hair, takes out candy from his pocket and hands it to them. They beam at him before racing away.

And I wonder if they’ll remember him differently. If, to them, he’s still the grandfather that I once used to have—the one with a smile that could light up the world, an endless supply of snacks and a way of making everything better.

 Saachi Gupta, 18, is an LGBTQ+ activist, mental health advocate, and the author of  With Love, or Something Like That. She writes for Gaysi Family, one of the biggest LGBTQA+ platforms in India, and has also written for platforms like Reclamation and Bloom in Doom internationally. She is a strong believer in equality amongst mankind.

 

#Family          #Memory