The face is the illiterate’s notebook.
When my grandmother goes to the optometrist, she uses the chart which, instead of carrying letters our whitewashed tongues have been taught to read, displays only the letter E facing four different directions. She needs only to tell the doctor which way it is pointing – if need be she can skip the speech and point along with it, silent.
But in that room, it can never be silent because her pacemaker heart is ticking. My grandmother is no crocodile from a Disney movie but from her Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock I know when she is near me. My grandmother’s heart is a clock, counting up the seconds she spends on this island, counting down the nervous moments she has left in the optometrist’s room.
When my grandfather died she joked, “At least when I die, with my heart it will be fast. No more”. My mother did not think her joke was funny.
The fortune teller reads wealth, health and happiness from the lines on our palms. But in my grandmother’s fingers I read the recipe for my favourite sambal kangkong, black pepper prawns, my cousin’s soon hock. In her eyes I read concern as it is scribbled on the speckled skin that scrunches up when they see the rash on my joints, the bruises on my knees. In her stiff neck my mother reads the signs of a possible heart attack as she hastens to get her to see a doctor.
Since my grandfather’s death, my grandmother has refused to move in with any of us. In her time capsule of a flat with her familiar floral covers over the sofa older than I am, a dim light hangs gently on. “Aunty -” The metal front gate rattles. There is camaraderie in the way her neighbour writes the results of the daily lottery on paper for her knowing that, alone, she has no way of sourcing them out herself.
The light in her apartment is slowly dimming but in the failing light, I ask for permission to read her story. From her laugh-lines, wrinkles, disappearing teeth, I take it all in.