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My Grandpa's Promise
I shouted, simultaneously gasping for air as I tried to catch up to my grandpa, who briskly paced 20 yards ahead.
Fondly smiling, grandpa turned around and sauntered downhill. His smile did not efface as he swiped the sweats tickling down his 6-year-old granddaughter’s forehead. With his back facing towards me, Grandpa gestured for a piggy-back ride. A smile surfaced on my face as I happily hopped on to his back.
If a photographer had captured this moment, I would envision a giant sea turtle carrying her baby on her carapace: bulwark, sturdy, and protective.
As I comfortably molded into his back, grandpa vigorously trudged uphill. His sweat-drenched clothes and empty water bottle were modicum prices to pay to watch his granddaughter exuberantly shout, “Yahoo!” at the summit. A mere 10 feet later, however, he let out a heavy gasp.
“I’ll carry you all the way to the top next time. Yaksokhae*.”
A mere 10 years later, my once-robust Grandpa lay stiffly on the floor, resembling a cadaver.
I knelt down and neared Grandpa. My hand gingerly reached for his emaciated back: protruding shoulder blades, jutting spines, and gaunt ribs, all of which weren’t so conspicuously visible a few years prior.
An air-purifier filtered out musty air, yet, the room smelled as though peeled onions were hoarded in every corner of the room. Grandpa, once independent, struggled to sit up. I resisted my urge to help him to respect his self-pride, until Grandpa, himself, reached out for me, signaling surrender to the inevitable withering.
His hands were surprisingly soft like a baby’s skin, but swollen.
And it wasn’t just his hands, but his feet, and most strikingly, his whole face.
My dear Grandpa resembled a swollen puffer fish. In fact, his whole left eye was engulfed beneath a blanket of eyelid.
Buried under his contorted composure, however, I saw a passionate hiker, a caring father, and my beloved Halahbuhji.
Days, I couldn’t bear my eyes to witness Grandpa’s struggle. Nights, I couldn’t coax my eyes to rest. Ironically, the constant cadence of moaning and gagging sounding from the room served as an assurance. The anticipated silence terrified me.
A month later, Mom handed me wallet-size pictures my brother and me.
“I brought some of his stuff, and these pictures were in his wallet. You know, the one he carried with him everywhere he went.”
Indeed, my Halahbuhji had kept his yaksok to carry me to the apex of the mountain.
Halahbuhji – Grandfather
Yaksok – Promise
Yaksokhae – “I promise”
Kidalyaw – “Wait for me”