My grandmother, or as we call her ‘nenek ompuan’, is a rather complicated woman.
She surrounds herself with negative remarks about herself, constantly undermining her ability as a woman; to serve guests, cook, clean, to look put together. Well, that’s at least in the present day.
But back then, when I heard stories from my mother, who is her daughter, I saw resilience, strength, and confidence. Then, I have known that this woman has not been living an easy life, as those traits are the ones that protect her family, and her performing traditional Malay woman duties, is her very pride.
Inevitably, time takes a toll on her; leaving her, as she calls herself ‘unable to’, ‘sick’, ‘old’, or ‘frail’.
This once strong woman who would raise her 5 children through times of uncertainty and poverty, now hid herself behind a door when she hears familiar voices outside of her house. Time sure is a cruel substance, as it plays with human beings’ fickleness and brings them despair.
She is not always sad and lonely. Sometimes, she laughs when I comically scream when running into a table corner. Sometimes, she looks at me and nags. Sometimes, she would ask me to add more salt to her dish, quietly (as my mom opposed her eating too many salty things). But my nenek will never silently accept this unruly judgement.
“I can’t taste my food,” she would tell my mom. When one of her children argues with her, they either lose, or my nenek will wear a dejected face, knowing the bitter truth in her children’s arguments.
Today though, I saw her getting excited, an expression she rarely wears. For context, my grandparents live by the river, hence we can see the river from my grandparent’s veranda. I was sitting outside, waiting for my beloved iftar, when I saw the boat my parents and I rode a while ago, passing by.
I exclaimed, “Makkkk!!! Tangga Mak bot nak kita nait ariya makkk!!!” My mom came out of the kitchen and said, “Oh, so they do pass by here.”
Unexpectedly, I heard another excited voice, “Ni bot nak dinait takorg hariya, nenek mok nangga!!” My nenek got up from her couch and headed towards the veranda.
“Nii bot ya tek?”
“Bah, kelak nya lalu agik.” My mom assured her.
I got up from the lazy chair and helped her to it.
It was near sunset, the sun reflected Swarovski crystals onto the dirty, muddy river. I asked my nenek, “Nenek, sik silo mata kitak kah?” Nenek always complained about her astigmatism. She replied “Silolah juak,” trying to undermine her eye illness despite her past cries about it. I told her I’ll grab a pair of sunglasses for her.
I went into the kitchen on a search for my nenek’s sunglasses and found them. Outside, she donned it and asked me if she looked weird. She doesn’t. She looked like an average grandma wearing sunglasses. She told me her eyes hurt no more.
We wait and wait for the boat to pass by again, this time my nenek will be there to witness it.
My nenek and my mom started a conversation about how my nenek’s laki (husband) won’t renovate the house despite having money. In the midst of the heated conversation, the boat finally made its appearance.
A small express boat repurposed into some sort of vacation boat, its green body shimmering under the sunlight. People on it were enjoying the view of the river, and we, on the banks of the river, enjoyed the sight of human leisure.
We explained to nenek, that people sold BBQs and snacks on the boat. I glanced at her expression, she looked full of curiosity and wonder, the same sparkle that a child would have in their eyes.