I experienced human death when I was 12 years old. It was my grandmother, a noisy, smelly, irritating (and -table) dame who despite her nuisances loved my brother and I, and spoilt us constantly, as, I suppose, any grandparent would. When she was still a little healthier and more active, she would give my brother and I 20 cents each, to go get what she called chippees from the minimart downstairs. That's probably how I got acquainted with the Mamee noodle snack.
I won't blame my parents for it, but subconsciously through their actions, their show of constant irritation with my gran, cursing half the time they walk out of the room, snapping mie siiiiiii?!! everytime my gran called, it rubbed onto us, and we grew to be terrible in our attitude towards our gran, only being nice when she gave us little treats, which by then were not all that great... one single Mentos wrapped in chinese calendar paper... what the heck. Once I stuck a needle deep in my gran's sofa, thereby concealing it but yet high up enough to prick whoever sat on it, thinking the reaction worthy of America's Funniest Home Videos. Luckily my mother noticed and removed the needle.
I just watched Final Destination 3. I thought I was totally wimpy by sizing the movie down to the WMP bar, but I'm glad I did that because you so do not want to see a head being flattened by two weights on full screen. Or a head stapled with nails. Take your pick.
My grandmother died a painful death, quite worthy of Final Destination. The cemented floor outside our house, which at that time was recently recemented, turned out to be slightly sloped. My mother and maid were bringing her for a haircut. My maid turned to help my mother relock the gate, which had to be opened both sides to let my gran's wheelchair pass. My gran's wheelchair wasn't locked, and it moved on the slope, straight down the flight of stairs.
In my room I heard my maid scream, and I actually strolled out to see what had happened.
My mom had by then rushed down the stairs, untangled the wheelchair from my gran, and heaved her up. My gran vomited a huge pool of blood, covering half the landing. She screamed 'AIYOH!' and heaved my gran further up into a sitting position, where she stayed till my father took over.
Traumatic? All this while, I was actually watching from the gate everything unfold with mere scientific curiousity, probably like the way you'd react when you see aqueous phosphorus react with air and ignite for the first time. Just slightly raised eyebrows and a slight O on your mouth.
My gran was a strong woman. She had been through alot of hardship raising my father's family up, and this could not show more than when she survived accident after accident, always coming back to her room eventually to make more trouble for us. This time was no different as far as the initial story was concerned. She was still alive, probably shocked speechless for awhile, but soon she was moaning 'Pain, very pain...' in Cantonese, and my father, whom I knew all my life to hate her like his worst enemy, cradling her in his arms, replying in assurance, unassured himself, 'It's ok, it's alright.' That taught me true love and filial piety all at once, and recounting the incident now this particular picture surfaces, clear as day, as if it happened just now.
Soon the nurse arrived, and helped my gran onto a stretcher-chair... you know that cross with a stretcher that can fold like a recliner to become a sort of wheelchair... and she started pressing around my gran's body, probably doing an initial diagnosis to aid swift treatment later. And it was amusing to see my gran yelp and yell at the woman for pressing at a painful spot.
That was the last I saw of my gran. Alive.
I was woken, along with my mother, with the phone ringing at about 3+am... She had been summoned to the hospital for some reason (I didn't realise at that time but now it's so obvious). I wanted to follow her, and she agreed, but then later changed her mind after promising she'll keep me updated. And so I missed my chance to bid my gran goodbye.
When I woke up next morning, my parents were back home. The first one I met was my dad, and I immediately enquired about granny. And typical he looked away for a moment and said, 'Ah mah ah.... well... let mummy tell you about ah mah's condition la.' And shit, I just woke up I had no mind nor energy to push him for the answer. Besides my mom was just outside.
Deep down, past the walls of hate and resentment, my father must have been shattered by the death my gran suffered. My father was born in the year of the tiger, 1950, and his character aptly matched his sign. Hardened, fierce, and strong. The funeral and my subsequent talks with him about this subject were just about the only times I remembered seeing him tear. His retrenchment, his initial failure to get a job, and all our wrongdoings he took with stone-faced disappointment.
When I met my mom outside I repeated my question to my dad. And my mom did something did never did often, not from my cognitive stages onwards. She said, 'Ah mah ah...' and embraced me, 'ah mah passed away already la.'
What she did not expect however was that I felt no sadness at all about this otherwise traumatic development. As with observing the aftermath of the fall, I accepted the news with no emotion, or perhaps just a tiny bit of a sinking heart. My mother probably expected me to go wild or something, having corrupted my fragile little mind with such devastating news. Scream, shout, cry, yell, give God the finger, moon Him, curse Him, I dunno. I just said, 'Oh... ok.' and returned my mother's hug, cueing her in turn to release me from her embrace. My maid, on the other hand, was sitting there looking, and aptly so, like she'd killed someone.
When I next saw my gran, it was her body, fresh from the mortuary. I was looking down from the 14th floor as the van unloaded her. And when I next saw her up close, she was coated with literally an inch of make up, sleeping peacefully in the beautiful coffin.
What happened was the doctors gave my gran something, which made her better. It wasn't too soon before, as usual, my gran was yelling at doctors and nurses.
Couple of hours later, she was silent. The doctors reported hemorrage. My dad was saying though, from where? If it had been from her injuries surely she wouldn't have time to snap and yell before the internal bleeding shut her up. Maybe the doctors...
Point is, her face bloated. Bloated to become an egg shape because of the hemorrage. And that was how her physical body left the world. With an egg head. How sadly funny.
I'm still not done yet maybe you want to continue tomorrow?...
So back to the make up on my gran's body. When I asked why she was painted so (hideously), Mom explained simply, 'Chinese believe must leave the world beautiful.'
In that case I'd rather you don't touch my face when I die or I'll bloody well haunt you. My gran's face was caked with a horribly thick layer of beige paint, and on top, crude colors for eyes, blush, and lipstick. If it wasn't my own gran, I would so not be amused to see such a face at night.
Interestingly, those couple of days did show one or two suspectedly supernatural occurences. What occured more was the totally weird things my cousins and naive me did.
The next day, after my gran's body arrived back from the morgue, my three cousins (not Sandra) and myself went to Prime Supermarket, a distance but not too far off, to buy things that our gran liked, to offer to her later that night. On our way back, if I remember, my cousin asked me, what was the thing you most regret from gran's death?
It didn't take too long for me. I meant it when I said I took granny for granted, that she'd alwyas be back to make more noise, that I didn't appreciate her love, that I merely thought of her as a smelly hinderance to our family. I felt myself choking when I had finished my reply.
Among the things I remember being bought, I'm sure there's more than three, were Pringles Sour Cream and Onion, which she bought and kept for absurdly long periods of time, some sort of facial powder, those in a light beige solid cake in a small square red box, which she put on for the maid to see, and me if I'm lucky. And of course, clear as day again, the item which I bought for her. The item which brought me solace from my regret.
A single shrink wrapped styrofoam box of durian.
Later when I'd offered the box to her, I put it down and walked to the side. I burst into tears. That was when I gratefully accepted...... whoever hugged me's hug. Yep that's me. Waved my old maid goodbye at the airport, and when she had disappeared from view into Transit, I looked at those weird low bars alot of kids like to stand on to mash their own faces into the glass looking for their auntie or daddy or something... and the BAHHHH started crying from nowhere. I start when everyone's almost stopped and wiping their tears.
So you know other than at those times (funeral, not the maid's goodbye), I can't remember being really that sad. Do you know, when we were pushing the van later, I looked back and saw my mom and brother crying, I felt like crying too, then I willed myself not to, and when I looked away the feeling was gone. I felt really quite dumb then. But on the bus I cried in the end.
So anyway, that morning when we went to pick our stuff up, we were passing some ground floor houses, and from nowhere we saw this rabbit sitting on the concrete. The following conversation ensued...
I am not making this up:
P,L,M: Oh yeah rabbit... oh yar hor... ooo...
M : What's it doing out here like lost like that?
P : *brainwave* Eh...
P : Ah-por was born in the year of the rabbit you know...
Me: *look at rabbit* *look disbelievingly at P*
L : You think...?
P : Ah Hao, call ah-por...
P : Call la... see whether it respond or not, maybe ah-mah is trying to tell us something...
Me: I... er...
P : Whatever you call her.
Me: ... *look at rabbit for awhile* ... Ah mah?
P : ... Ah por?
Me: I don't think...
M : It's not la Ping, don't be silly.
L : Yeah...
P : ... hmm...
And thus we continued our journey to Prime.
Later I overheard my father retelling the following conversation.
Second Aunt: *in grief* *faces registers slight confusion and awe* *nudges my dad* Look...
Dad: ... ?
SA : Look... Mother's picture...
SA : On her forehead... look, there's a light on her forehead...
Dad: ... you...
SA : Can you see... wow......
Dad: Reflection la... zzz.
SA : *despondent silence*
On the morning after we went to Prime (that means that the next morning after this would be the day of cremation), we were sitting around just either talking or enjoying some silence. All of a sudden, one of the monk's chanting instruments, a sort of small 'Singing Bowl' on a handle, and a thin short metal rod tied to the handle, so that the monk could flick the rod against the small bell-bowl making a light and lovely chime... all of a sudden it started sounding.
And consistently too, as if keeping beat to an invisible orchestra.
My cousin M suggested uncertainly, 'Maybe she wants us to see her.'
We all got up and I peered once more into her made up face. It was daytime, so I stared into her face without fear, and as I did, I became absorbed in my own thoughts, thoughts that were quite beyond even mental tangibility, just stuff running, running, running endlessly through my head, communicating concepts of another dimension, principles of another universe. Present, yet unreadable. I was content to be just standing there, watching my grandmother's peaceful eternal slumber until I had my questions answered. But somehow my father interpreted this negatively, and drew me away before I could sink any further, saying 'Come, don't look so long Renhao, come.' To which I reluctantly complied after some time.
Where I should be grieving, I was instead filled once more with scientific curiousity. I remembered being impressed when with all of our pushing, the van went along as if there was no resistance at all. I remembered hoping so much to catch a glimpse of the scorching flames that would destroy the beautiful coffin and my gran's body within. I remembered being disappointed when the metal door closed before any burning started.
Too young to appreciate death? Perhaps. But if I could still break down at the funeral of someone whom I barely knew, what then of my mother's funeral? My dad's funeral? Would I be glad to have a burden off my back? Or would I a grown man scream and cry like a spoilt child for them to come back, please, come back?
Would I be glad that they were saved before they died? Or would I be blaming God in a fit of denial? Or would I, a failed servant of the Lord, weep for my parents' eternal damnation, and ask for the forgiveness I'll think I'd never receive?
orchestrated by Renhao at 5:53:00 pm
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