When her last friend, Rina, was admitted to hospital, father drove all night to bring grandma home. She arrived carrying a checkered quilt under one arm and two plastic bags in the other hand. Her plastic slippers also served as shoes. "He told me to leave the wellies behind," she confided in Eileen. "She doesn't own a suit case," father whispered to mom.
She stood in the living room, taking in the surroundings. "You'll have your own room," father coaxed her, "you'll make friends and there is a park across the street." She ignored him moving briskly from room to room, until she found the bathroom. A whoop was heard and then the tap running. "Is the water always warm?" she asked. "But, of course," said father. "I'll stay," she decided, closing the door in his face.
Mom had given us the lecture earlier. The guest room was changing name. We had to call it grandma's room. And starting the following morning, we were also changing breakfast habits. We'd all wake up half an hour earlier, sit around the table and have a meaningful talk with grandma before going our ways. Like in a cereal commercial.
So, here we were, sleep in our eyes, spreading butter on bread and sipping on our freshly squeezed orange juices looking around expectantly. But grandma didn't show up. Father, worried, went to check on her, opening the door just a crack. He didn't have to explain. The snoring sound escaping her room did all the talking.
Grandma's village being planted at the end of that devil dirt road—a dropping at 1000m height that refused to sink back into the ground, as father used to joke—was the reason we had never visited. Only father went every other summer. But he called once a month at Rina's. She'd hung up on him to go find grandma. Father would call again in thirty minutes. "How are you," he'd ask. "When I am not well, you'll hear. Did anything happen?" grandma would reply. "No." "Don't call then. Rina says they're watching us. Hearing our every word." And she'd hung up on him.
Maybe we watched too much TV, but grandma didn't look like a regular grandma in any way. She was sturdy, firm-jawed, and had a booming voice. She didn't wear black. She couldn't knit. And she overslept in the mornings. Sometimes we'd return from school, and we'd find her still in bed, remote control in hand, asking, "So, what did you learn today?" Before dinner she took a long bath, and after that, she opened the door, a map in hand, and roamed the streets. She never bothered telling us where she went.
Once, at dinner, Eileen turned to her and asked. "Can you tell me a fairytale before bed, grandma?" Mother looked up expectantly. "Fairytale?" grandma thought loudly. "I don't know no fairytales." But Eileen insisted. "What about a story then, from the village." Grandma, brow furrowed, said: "St. George was seen crossing the river in May. On his horse. And we all know what that means." Eileen's eyes widened. "A ghost?" "Finish off, now," father cut in on her. "Grandma is tired."
One afternoon, grandma saw mom ironing, and kept watching her in awe. "Am I doing it all right?" mom joked. Grandma shrugged. "I don't know. Does it serve a purpose? Or is it something you like?" Mom looked abruptly up from the ironing board, but she only saw grandma's perplexed eyes. She sighed. "How did you pass your time at home?" she asked her. Grandma tilted her head back, and smiled. "We were out all day, dirtying ourselves up with work, and when it darkened, we came back and turned on the radio. Rina fancied singing. She had a beautiful voice." Grandma's eyes watered, every time she mentioned Rina. "Is Rina your best friend?" asked Eileen climbing on her lap. "Friend," mused grandma. "John died forty years ago, and Rina's husband, the summer after. Me and Rina...we like each other's breath."
When Rina died in hospital two months later, we all went to the funeral. Packed in father's Peuzeot, we traced that devil road all the way up to the top, grandma wearing one of mother's dresses, which she had asked her to iron. Sitting in the front pew, she spent the service muttering: "St George, there are no rivers in the city, you know. Only cars and buildings. No place for horses."