Baby Steps 2

Now, I’m having lunch with grandpa three days a week and I don’t bring a camera or even a notebook with me. The time is still not right, and there may be a chance it will never be “right.” It takes only a day or two to become accustomed to standing over my grandmother’s stove, stir frying peas and slender green onions from her garden. Slicing navel oranges for dessert. He watches TV as I cook, and when everything is ready (it usually takes fifteen minutes or less to assemble everything), I say, “Let’s eat!” and he shuffles over to take his seat.

Lunch is a quiet affair, the only sound being the TV’s, and my occasional question. “Do you like this? Can you bite this? Do you want more?” It’s alright. Yes. No. Sometimes, I ask him questions about the past and he answers tersely, with a word or two, not angrily or sullenly, just matter-of-factly. Though sometimes he will say dismissively, “You don’t understand.” I don’t. But don’t is different from “will never.” And it’s okay. I let him dismiss me because we are on different planes. There must be much on his mind, both their past and his future, though the latter is slowly taking priority. More than ever he refers to the house as “my father’s house” or “Kwang-tien’s House.” He is wondering about place, his place. About “home” and life and living. 

But I am patient. I lean towards the positive, as, pleasantly apparent sometimes, does he. After lunch on Monday we took a walk in the park, the first time since the previous Wednesday my grandpa has left the house on a weekday. The clouds from the morning rain had parted and it was surprisingly warm outdoors. There was sun. My grandpa agreed easily to the walk and I hid my surprise, pretending that this was his usual routine. Better to fake it till he makes it so. Nearing the park’s cul-de-sac, we spied an old man in a wheelchair, using his toes to shuffle himself forward.

“That’s old man Zhang,” my grandpa said, nodding towards the diminutive figure, “he lives with his daughter. His legs are no good and he can’t hardly see, but his ears are very sharp.”

In a rare demonstration of his social abilities, grandpa nodded towards Old Man Zhang. “Let’s go say hello.”

We crossed the street and Grandpa called to him. The man slowly turned the wheelchair around with the tips of his toes, and I was surprised to see how healthy and pleasant he looked. His eyes, though cloudy with cataracts, glistened and his complexion was unmarred by liver spots. Aside from his obvious handicap, he seemed to be in good health, and in good spirits. He nodded at me and said hello.

“Taking in some sun?” Grandpa asked him.

“Yes, yes,” Zhang said, “I haven’t left the house for days.” It feels very nice out here.”

 “The rain,” grandpa said, “now it’s stopped.”

“”Yes, yes, finally,” Zhang said. “Very nice indeed.” 

The conversation was short as it usually is with two elderly men who do not know each other very well. 

 “Well, we’re just taking a walk,” grandpa said, and Zhang nodded kindly for us to continue on our way.

“They came to your grandma’s funeral,” he told me as soon as we were out of ear shot.

“That’s nice, but I don’t remember seeing anyone in a wheelchair.”

“Not him, don’t be ridiculous,” grandpa said, exasperated, “He can’t go anywhere in that state.”

“What’s wrong with his legs?”

Grandpa looked at me like I was stupid, “He’s old! That’s what happens when you get old. Your legs fail and you can’t walk. A lot of old people are rolling around in wheelchairs.”

I pointed to grandpa’s legs, “But you walk just fine.”

He scoffed, “That’s because I’m not old.”

I laughed. I really was that stupid. “Oh of course you’re not,” I said quickly, “Far from it.”

The sun was still shining and the air was oddly balmy. We had walked one lap around the entire park. Grandpa said he could walk a few more just around the playground.

Gustave Caillebotte The Park On the Caillebotte Property at Yerres, 1875 Oil on Canvas

 “Good,” I said. I eyed the changed landscape of the playground that had once been filled with a seesaw, monkey bars and a small jungle gym, but now had only a swing set with four swings. It would do. “I’ll be on the swings.”

“You do that,” he said, and for the next half hour it was just the two of us at the park, doing things we used to do all the time when we were younger. 

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