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“I hate everything about hospitals. I hate the sounds that the ventilators make keeping an old person breathing, I hate the smell of old dying flesh, I hate the nurses who smile at you with false sympathy and understanding, I hate the chairs that stick to the back of your legs keeping you captive in their grasps. Most of all, I hate the thought of dying in a hospital. I mean who really wants their last earthy sight to be a stark white room with fluorescent lights cutting into your skin and a monitor telling you that you’re dying while you can barely spit out your last words?” I thought to myself as I sat next to the old woman who used to be my grandmother.
Now, she was just waiting for her body to deteriorate, a shell of what had died years ago with her soul. No longer can she hear, write, eat, or drink. She can barely talk. Her face is droopy, with wrinkles inhibiting every angle of her face. The bags under her eyes look like they are weighing the rest of her face down. Where her teeth used to be there are now small rotten stubs, framed by chapped, bloody lips. Her chin once delicate and smooth is now saggy and in little grey whiskers. In an attempt to save the little dignity that my grandmother once had, I combed through the few wisps of hair that remained in little tufts on the top of her head. Blue veins protruded from her withered hands like squiggly rivers on a map.
At the age of ninety-seven my grandmother had a series of heart attacks putting her in a permanent vegetable state. Sitting next to her in this dreary room I struggled to remember the way she used to be. I have always thought of my grandmother as a representation of the perfect woman living a virtually flawless life. You know, those girls who seem to have it all together. The girls that have the luscious, hazelnut hair that roll down their backs like melted honey and the eyes that pierce through you as if to see into your deepest darkest secret. My grandmother was that girl. Perfect life and perfect family. That is before I came along. Standing five foot two I was far from inheriting her good looks. Instead of melting honey my hair was more like a pile of entangled knots bunched close to my head. I wore glasses that were enormous and took over my whole face but magnified my flat brown eyes, which were too close together causing my nose to appear larger than it was.
I sat motionlessly in the bleak and barren white room, watching the monitor displaying my grandmother’s pulse like a seismograph. A ventilator pumped away in the corner, which with each breathe sent another shudder through her weak body. A harsh beeping noise rang out in the room once every minute, I started to count each beep, lulling me into a light sleep. The smell of cinnamon and disinfectant woke me from my nap, burning my nostrils with its sharp, sweet scent. My nostrils inhaled familiar perfume, reminding me of a story that my grandmother always used to tell me before bed to comfort me.
“Nurse, how is she?” I asked in a raspy voice, still groggy from my nap.
The young woman with Lisa written on her name tag, turned and looked me straight in the eyes. “Honestly?” She asked. I nodded in response. “Not well. If you have anything you would like to say to her I would say it now before,” her voice lowered to a whisper, “before she goes.”
I shuddered at the thought of my grandmother not being in my life anymore. Feeling the moistness around my eyes I briskly swept my tears aside.
“Thank you.” I murmured to Lisa’s back as she turned and with a brief glance at her patient, left me alone.
“Grandmother,” I started, hesitating trying not to cry. “I know you may not be able to hear me, but I’m going to tell you that story. You know the one that you always told me when I was afraid before I went to sleep?”
Clearing my throat, I began, “This is the story of your great great great grandfather, Teddy, who grew up in India a long time ago.” My grip on her hand tightened as her breathing grew shallower. “ Close your eyes. Let me take you back there, to India, where the summers would be so swelteringly hot they would melt into winters. It did not snow there, only rain. When it rained you felt like all the stars in the sky were falling onto the earth. Teddy, your grandfather’s brother, lived with his father and his mother on a mango plantation in the countryside. Every morning he would watch his father, who owned half of a railroad company, board a massive steel train on his way to the city where he worked. He would sit for hours watching these trains in awe, wishing that one day he too could go to a big city and do good things.”
“ One day Teddy followed his father, just like normal, and climbed a tree out by the tracks for his morning ritual of train watching. Like every other day Teddy watched his father board the train. It was then that he noticed a small boy, in torn clothing, bending over a plant scraping the bark off of it. Teddy slide down the trunk of his hiding place and went to go look at what the boy was doing. Making his way over the rusty railroad tracks he crouched down next to the boy noting his rags made out of a ruff burlap.
â€˜Excuse me, what are you doing?’ he inquired.
The boy shot up, startled by the stranger that had approached from the distance. Teddy gazed at the strangers face and was amazed to see bits of himself reflected back. This peasant boy had clear blue eyes that were fogged over to a slight grey. He was blind, but there was no mistaking the facial features of his father that were mirrored in this little boys face.
â€˜This is cinnamon. I am harvesting it to sell in my town.’ He spoke quietly, gazing at the dry ground beneath him.
â€˜May I have a stick?’ Teddy asked.
The boy did not reply. He simply felt around him for the sapling growing at the base of the track. Grabbing the small tree and peeled the bark off with one flick of his arm and handed it to your grandfather.
Teddy skipped home, excited to show his newest treasure to his father when he returned. Every few bursts he would pause sniffing the alluring sent of the spicy herb. Later that day, when his father returned Teddy showed him his prize. He held it up with pride as his father examined it.
â€˜Where did you get this Theodore?’ His father demanded.
â€˜This nice blind boy gave it to me he finds them by your railroad and then sells them for a lot of money!’ Teddy answered, eager to please his father.
â€˜By the tracks? And you are sure he was blind?’ his father repeated.
â€˜Yes, by the tracks I saw him when I watched you leave this morning! He had the bluest eyes that I have ever seen. Why? Did I do something to upset you?’ Teddy anxiously asked.
His father did not answer, dismissing Teddy with a wave of his hand leaving him confused and disappointed. It was not until the next week that Teddy saw the cinnamon boy again. He took up his usual post in his familiar tree and waited to find the boy again. Thinking he saw the boy Teddy jumped out to the tree and scrambled across the tracks. It was then that he heard the train coming. He stood paralyzed, unable to move while the train got closer and closer. Just then the boy who had given him the cinnamon stick earlier heard the train coming and Teddy’s cries as it got closer and closer. Using his hands to find his way the blind boy moved across the tracks until he reached Teddy. The last thing that your great great great grandfather remembered was the smell of cinnamon radiating from under the poor boy’s finger nails before he was pushed out of the way of the train, the boy getting crushed under the weight of the train. It was not until his father was on his deathbed that he learned that the blind boy that had come to his rescue had been his brother. Teddy’s father and mother abandoned him after they discovered his disability. When your grandfather died in his sleep at the age of ninety-seven there was a stick of cinnamon found under his pillow.”
My voice shook, looking at the line displayed on the monitor. The line flattened out like a horizon with the unknown trailing behind it. She was gone, that was it. My vision blurred as tears streamed gently down my cheeks. Taking her lax head in my hands I went to elevate her neck onto pillows to better prop her head up and shut her delicate eyelids. I stopped unexpectedly when I felt a ruff edge under the soft pillowcase. I pulled out the fragile piece of deteriorating paper and unfolded it.
It was a clipping from a newspaper article reading “Girl Arrested After Death of Brother”. I stared in amazement at the article declaring my grandmother an accomplice to the murder of her younger brother. There was a train. He was blind. Shaking I retrieved the remaining sections of the article along with the stick of cinnamon, at one time whole but now being ground into a fine powder.
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