Kia’s BFF was her neighbour, Violet. Kia was a sprightly six to Violet’s sixty-five. Kia struggled for a while with the name Violet. Wallet, Wallet, she would squeal until she conveniently nicknamed Wallet “Grammy” after the Grammy awards show she saw her parents watching on television. Her Mamma was ecstatic over someone called Yo Yo Ma at the awards show. Kia watched in round eyed wonder because it looked like Yo Yo Ma was playing an outsized violin and by holding it upside down!
“That’s not a violin honey, that’s a C-E-L-L-O”, spelled out Kia’s Mamma taking the opportunity to teach her a new spelling.
“C-E-L-L-O……sell-O”, shouted Kia.
“Chell – O not Sell – O, my love” corrected Mamma.
Mamma had not said C-E-L-E-R-Y, chellery. But never mind Mamma, she was always saying opposite things!
“Chell-O makes me feel sad Mamma. Why do you like it? asked Kia.
“Because it makes me want to cry and be happy at the same time” replied her Mamma.
There! Mamma did it again. How can you cry and be happy at the same time? How can you like something that makes you cry? Her teacher made her cry for not doing homework, but Kia did not like her. Her Mamma was beginning to sound like Grammy’s son. Uncle Ed often pinched Kia and when she yelped in pain, he ruffled her hair and told her pain is good for little girls; it made them grow fast. Kia was perplexed because when her friend, Zain’s dog, Bruno hurt his leg, he whimpered in pain but Kia could have sworn he didn’t grow any bigger. If anything, he huddled into a small, furry little ball of agony. So, how can pain be good when it only hurt so bad? She also felt a little afraid of Uncle Ed’s bloodshot eyes. Luckily, he was not around much when Kia went over to Grammy’s. And when he was, Kia kept out of his way.
Grammy played Sequence, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Scrabble with her. She patiently taught Kia how to play and chided her when she threw a tantrum on losing a game.
“My sore little loser”, she would say and ensconce Kia in a hug and pamper her with cookies and chocolate chug.
Kia’s parents adored Grammy, too. They looked in on her when her son worked the graveyard shift in a call centre. Sometimes they even took her to the doctor or the nearby market for an outing.
One day as Kia’s hair was being braided for the day, she asked, “Mamma, does Uncle Ed pinch Grammy too? She is so big already. She doesn’t need to grow bigger like me.”
Mamma was taken aback. An hour of gentle questioning and cajoling and a lot of tears and hiccups later, she was horrified to learn that her little girl was being abused and she had been none the wiser. How careless had she been? What kind of a mother was she? How did she never notice marks on her child? Never looked. The questions were endless and the self-loathing intensified with every new question. Kia regretted telling Mamma about Uncle Ed because it resulted in a ban from going to Grammy’s house. No amount of tears and tantrums would budge Mamma. In fact, her mother became distant towards Grammy too. Poor Grammy! It upset Kia to see Grammy from the crack of their door when she knocked to ask about Kia and not be able to wrap herself around Grammy’s legs. Kia became moody and petulant, temporarily pacified by playing with other children in the playground. But Kia at home drove her Mamma to tears of frustration.
Grammy did not take the separation well, either. She was unwell often. One day, when Mamma had gone to the market and Poppa was busy reading the newspaper, Kia sneaked over to Grammy’s. Mamma returned to the sight of the two friends hugging and raining kisses on each other. Grammy was crying silently and Kia was a bundle of sobs and snot. Mamma was moved just watching them in helpless silence. She took an unsteady step towards Grammy who held both her arms out to her, her tear streaked face pleading with her silently. Mamma rushed and hugged the old woman along with Kia. Kia’s parents had a tough time tearing Kia from Grammy. Plenty of doubts and discussions later, they talked to Grammy.
“Does Ed ever…err….treat you….badly Grammy?” asked Poppa to Grammy.
“You can tell us if anything is bothering you Grammy. We are here to help you with anything!” asserted Mamma.
“Why…why are you asking me all this?” queried Grammy with surprise writ large in her eyes.
“It’s because…um…your son….Ed…Ed has been hurting Kia. Pinching her”said Poppa.
“And he’s been telling her pain helps little girls grow up soon.” pitched in Mamma.
The light died from Grammy’s eyes.
“I-I-I d-don’t know what to say! I am so s-sorry…my baby was hurt. That too in my watch. I had no clue how….when…I don’t know how this happened. My son! My Eddie…are you…sure? I am sorry, of course you are…” she sputtered.
“We are worried about you Grammy. If there is anything…anything at all that is bothering you…will you please tell us without being afraid?”
“No, no, there’s nothing to tell. Eddie is a bit of a loner but he is a nice boy really. He does not hurt me. Ever. Growing up, he has seen a lot of violence. My husband had a very bad temper. He wouldn’t hesitate to give me or Eddie a thrashing if we fell out of line. Which we very often did” said Grammy wryly.
“But Eddie is not like his father. I’d have known. He’s been a little quiet after that nice girl, Radhika left him. But he is like me. He is my boy.” muttered Grammy more to herself.
She looked up with pained eyes. “But what you are saying… turns out I am wrong!” she ended sadly.
It was with a heavy heart and some trepidation that Kia’s parents left Grammy. With time, the incident gradually lost its edge and capacity to disturb Kia’s parents. But the same could not be said for Grammy. She went into a shell and gently but unmistakably shut out everyone, Kia included. Kia went over often but Grammy was too recalcitrant for even Kia to draw out. She visited Grammy regularly but they no longer played their games or ate cookies or drank chocolate chug. Grammy slept more often than sat up these days. One day, she went into a deep sleep never to wake up. Or that is what Kia’s parents told her. That Grammy is very tired and she has gone to God to take rest and be taken care of.
A few months later, a young, demure girl moved into Grammy’s home. Her name was Akshara. Grammy’s son had married her. She was very shy and kept to herself.
Grammy still occupied premium space in Kia’s head.
“Does Grammy have Ludo to play in God’s home? Who does she play with?” she queried.
“She has Ludo and many other games Kia. She plays with God and her other friends up there.” answered Mamma.
Kia looked unconvinced. Did God really have Ludo? One statue of God she had seen in the church had his hands and legs fixed to a cross and he looked like he was in a lot of pain. And not growing any bigger like uncle Ed claimed. The picture of all the Gods in her own home showed them with money, flowers, weapons and musical instruments but never any games. She was quite sure Mamma was saying opposite things as always. She made a plan. She would go over to Grammy’s house and get all her games and keep it at Grammy’s bed near the church. And the Gods would pass the games to Grammy. How would the Gods pass the games to Grammy as with their hands preoccupied? She would worry about that later, she told herself.
Kia went over to Grammy’s to find the door ajar. She saw big brown boots at the entrance of the house and was scared that she would run into Uncle Ed. She pussyfooted into Grammy’s room to fetch her games.
A half hour later, Kia’s parents were frantically calling the ambulance and the police at the same time. The authorities came and took her away in a stretcher. Kia’s parents answered all the questions that the police asked them. They, their daughter to be precise, had found the woman, Ed’s wife, Akshara lying unconscious in the bedroom. She had purple bruises on her face.
Akshara’s wounds were being treated as was the concussion on her head. She had been hit by a blunt object. She was out of danger and the police arrested Ed for domestic violence. Akshara’s parents came over, packed her stuff, and took her away for good.
A reluctant peace prevailed on a Sunday afternoon after the traumatic events of the last month. After a hectic week of shifting to a new rental apartment, Kia’s Poppa was lying sprawled on his recliner. Kia lay on top him with her arms and legs wrapped around him.
Poppa was deep in thought. Grammy saddened him as much as she did his little one. Grammy had not let years of abuse and violence take away from her goodness and joi de vivre. She had hoped and believed her son was a chip of her solid values and upbringing. But the violent gene inherited from his father had outdone her good ones. It was this realization that sucked all the fight out of her, not old age, not a lifetime of pain. Poppa felt guilty for breaking the news on Grammy but he could not have done anything different.
“Is God taking good care of Grammy Poppa?” asked Kia suddenly as if reading his thoughts.
“Yes, my child, he is.” He answered.
“Where she is….is it a nice place? Does it have swings?”
“Yes, my little one, it has everything.”
Grammy is in a much much better place, thought Poppa to himself.