Readers Write In #555: Call

Posted on February 23, 2023


By Severus Snape

I’m in a cab. I’ve heard people talk about how college teaches us how to live and discover ourselves. I’m unsure about the “discover ourselves” part, but I’m travelling alone for the first time. I leaned onto the window with my bag in my lap. I clutched it hard as we left the college campus. I keep checking if my phone didn’t slip off my pocket. Of course, it didn’t. I peek into the cab driver’s phone, which says we’re an hour away from home. And then, it’s 59 minutes.

My dad calls me, interrupting my abyss of antsiness. It’s a video call. I tell him I’m in the cab and have enough money. He tells me to be careful. I nod. Of course, he thinks I’m a kid. I was raised like that. I was told not to worry about anything else except my studies. And I liked staying in my room. I studied hard, and when I was bored, I listened to music. Relatives would spitefully point out that despite academic excellence, I’d struggle in future, and they’d tell my parents to let me go out and explore the “big, bad” world.

I wish I’d told them I’m not “scared” to go out, I can talk to people I like and respect, and there’s no need to push me to “explore” the world. But I can’t. I swear at them in my head and forget them the next day. But my maternal grandmother always basked in the glory of my achievements and had more faith in me than I ever had in myself. I’d call her every summer vacation and tell her I wouldn’t come to her house. And I’d surprise her the next day by sneaking into the house from the back door. I’d call, “Grandma, I’m here! I’ve come home!” She’d laugh and hug me as her cat jumped in excitement. Then she’d bake a cake with eggs she never ate because she was a vegetarian.

It’s been five years since she baked a cake. She defeated ovarian cancer the same way she defeated the problems of young widowhood, but she wasn’t left unscathed. After multiple health issues and a few surgeries, my mom brought her to our home to care for her. Year by year, she was confined to a smaller space than before. The last time I saw her, it pained me to see a sprightly woman watering plants and plucking flowers get bedridden. She blessed me and said I’d do well in my chosen field.

I wish I could tell her I was doing well, but I can’t. I’m flunking exams left and right. I’m scared of responsibilities. I think of the lab, and I feel like running back home. And I realise that’s impossible. I decided to set things right. I woke up at 7 today and took a bath. I was leaving for the classes when my dad called me. It was a video call. He told me that my grandmother was severely ill. Is she fine? Was there surgery to be done? Did she want to see me in her last moments? Or is she already… nope, she isn’t. She can’t be. Dad said she was ill. He didn’t say she passed away. I don’t know.

We reach the destination. I pay the driver. I board the lift. The lift doors open. I find my dad pacing in front of an ajar door. I cross my dad’s friends on my way. I see my grandmother unconscious, with cotton stuffed in her nose, her big toes tied together with a string, and a few agarbattis lit beside her. I took a minute to process what had happened. I was overwhelmed by several memories, and a solitary tear ran down my cheek. Nope, I shouldn’t break down; I must console my mum. My mother sees me and rushes towards me. I let her cry into my shoulder and gently pat her head. After some time, the elders decide to cremate the body. They perform various rituals, but I can’t register them entirely. We then take her to the graveyard. The body is placed on the ground.

Someone asks us individually to call my grandmother in her ear, assuming she’s alive. My mom goes first, and then my dad. My cousin went next, and my uncle slightly pushed me towards the body. A chill ran down my spine. I shiver as I bow and call, “Grandma, wake up. I’m here! I’ve come home!” And all the tears I’d tried to suppress were out. My mom and I hug each other and sob as my dad tries to console us.

It’s been three months and three return trips from college to home since my grandmother passed away. I still think a lot about my grandmother and the moment I bowed. Was I scared because she was a corpse? Was I hoping she’d wake up? I see death everywhere, and it’s horrifying. A classmate uploaded someone’s passport photo as her DP on WhatsApp – is she mourning him? A professor is interrupted by someone outside the class – did something happen to someone close? I try to wave these thoughts away and focus on my studies, but they haunt me like ghosts.

It’s 7 am. My phone rings, awakening my roommate and me. My dad’s calling me. It’s a video call. I gulp nervously and answer the call. I see my dad’s bloodshot eyes as his throat quivers while saying, ”Your granddad passed away. We have to travel to our village.”