Conversation with grandmother

Among the endless thoughts and memories that flood my mind before sleep, I often think of you, my dear Azhe. It’s strange, because I never used to address you with such endearment, but now it just feels right. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to realize how much you mean to me, even though we were never very close. As a child, I always saw you as distant and unapproachable, but now I wish I could have been closer to you.

We used to see each other only once a year, maybe that’s why we were not so close.  It always seemed to be an unbridgeable gap between us. If only you knew how I hoped one day we could cut those miles and become closer. I was always too shy to approach you, and you always seemed lost in your own thoughts. I timidly gave you my small hand, you kissed me on the cheek. Every summer I imagined that this time everything would be different, I would run into your arms, but somehow it never happened.

Well, how are you doing there? Are you all right?  It’s been a while since I last visited you. I hope you’re doing well. Lately, I’ve been having dreams about you, and it’s made me realize how much I miss you. I remember how you used to sit with a bowl in one hand and a lump of sugar in the other, lost in thought. I always wondered what was going through your mind, and if there was any room in your world for me.

In my dream, you brought me delicious fruits from your garden, all tucked away in the hem of your dress. I’ve never tasted such sweet apricots and peaches before. And to top it off, you brewed your favorite green tea for me and treated me with such tenderness. It felt so real that when I woke up, I couldn’t help but wonder if you miss me too. Maybe it’s time for us to catch up and talk things through. I’m so glad that it’s never too late.

I can’t help but wonder what changed. After all these years, I never thought about you much. Well wait. I remembered something.   Once in the park on a walk with my son I saw a tiny old woman and she reminded me of you. She had the same hunched posture and crossed arms behind her back. I felt a lump in my throat, but I had to focus on my son who whimpered at that time.

That’s how I’ve been living my life. Almost like you. No time for feelings, always busy with responsibilities. What about feelings? They interfere with sound thinking. Hot tears can melt a cold mind. And this is useless. You know it yourself.

Do you remember the times we spent together? I loved waking up early to watch you milk the cow and drive her out to pasture. The milk you boiled and poured into jars was always so delicious. I loved it when you scraped the qaspaq (leftovers from boiled milk) from the bottom of the cauldron with your index finger and gave it to me to eat. You used to say that whoever ate it would have rain at their wedding. I remember feeling a bit uneasy about the prospect of getting married in a wet dress.  You tried to cheer me up and told me that even if it rained, my wedding would be in a restaurant. On my wedding day, I remembered your prophecy as it rained, and we had a reception in a restaurant. But you weren’t there.

I was so fascinated watching you skillfully bake bread in the tandoor. You kneaded the dough in a huge bowl, tore off pieces, and sculpted them into perfect circles, leaving marks in the middle with your fingertips. That’s where those beautiful patterns in the center of the bread came from. Then, with your bare hands, you quickly threw these circles into the red-hot tandoor.

Thanks to you, I can now grab the handle of a hot kettle and quickly pour it into cups without feeling any pain. My children are always surprised and ask, “Isn’t it hot?” and I proudly answer, «It’s from my grandmother — not to feel pain.»

Recently, while going through a family album, I came across a photo of you when you were young and I was surprised to see how gentle and timid you looked. I know that a difficult fate has turned you into a closed and callous person, but I didn’t understand why until I heard your story.

You married for love, which was rare back then. More precisely, according to the tradition of those days, a handsome young teacher who came from the city to your village “stole” you. But at the behest of a stern mother, who thought that you would live too far from her, you were returned back and forced to marry my grandfather. And you meekly obeyed your fate. To declare one’s desires meant to go against the will of the parents. You could not and silently swam with the flow …

Sometimes I think that I swim like you, silently lamenting on the fallen share. But I don’t want that. After all, sometimes you can try to swim against the current. Say a firm «no» and get out of your usual circle. Go your own way. At least try.

Now I realize that there was no such abyss between us. We were as close as possible at that time. You loved in our own way, as we could. I’ll never forget delicious qaspaq at the bottom of a cauldron, hot tandoor bread, apricots and peaches —  that was your way to show your care and love. Even now, when I need to change something in my life, I feel your support. Thank you, my dear. 

Author: Kalamkas Tolymbekkyzy

Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis