Tenzin is a tall, lanky guy, whose goals in life right now are to get better at volleyball and study more Japanese. Online school has been brutal, and his 50-year old dad recently beat him running a half-mile around their local park. He hopes to submit another story to this contest next year if he can ever figure out what to write about that will be as important to him as this story, and he looks forward to reading everyone's stories when they become available to the public.
I had just met my grandfather for what was probably going to be the last time, and I thought spending the time I did with him was something I always wanted to keep in my memory. The beginnings of this story were just a splurge of thoughts onto a google doc. I remember just trying to write down everything I could think of, about my last encounter with him and about what I needed to take away from our weird relationship together. I later revisited this document as part of Gunn's Creative Writing class, where I then polished it up to turn in as a homework submission, which is the version you see now.
We took a taxi.
As a matter of fact, no; I could not speak Chinese, and so my dad and the taxi driver spent the rest of the ride talking about something that was lost on me. We drove on. My Dad might not have found that conversation to be particularly memorable, but to myself, who was embarking on this sort of quiet pilgrimage, it was an important reminder of why I had come here. Listening to the taxi driver was practice for me in a way, to act amicably in front of someone who I could never hope to converse with.
We got out of the taxi at the side of a curb next to an elementary school’s lawn. School was probably still in session. With a brisk pace, we crossed the road and entered the driveway. Between the rows of houses that greeted us from both sides, there laid the grey sky above, and we turned to the gated encove, asked the security guard for the address, and he let us through the gate.
It was a portal leading to a tiny square plaza, with grass creeping its way around the stone tiles. The apartments, a collective dirty pink and adorned with old air conditioning fans, seemed to stack beyond the sky and past my small world.
I could smell the home without even stepping into it, as if my long-lost grandmother was about to meet us at the entryway.
We knocked on the door and a woman I had never seen before greeted us. Her voice was flat at first, but she knew who my dad was and he told her who I was, and at that point she was smiling so widely that I knew she was an important part of this household picture-vista.
I am here to see a certain man. My Dad’s Dad, not my Mom’s Dad, as the latter had passed away a couple years ago. My time with my Mom’s Dad had been fleeting, as I never really bothered to examine his life when he lived only five minutes away from me. It was only when I realized that I could never have the chance to see him anymore that I started to cry, bearing a silent agony in front of the casket. I made it clear to myself then that I would know the rest of this family’s picture, that I would not lose the precious time I had with my family in the same way I had just lost it with my Mom’s Dad.
And yet, the man I was about to see was a special case.
Upon entering the dim, white Taiwanese apartment, I met eyes with the man sitting on the couch. The person I saw before me seemed unlike the short-tempered bastard I had heard about from my Dad’s stories; he did not know who I was, but that didn’t matter, because he knew who my Dad was, and the lady filled him in. He just looked at my Dad, rasping, "他是你的兒子?" I tried saying yes, that I was my Dad’s son, that you and I were grandfather and grandson, but not much came out of my mouth besides a meek voice crack. My Dad helped me out, maintaining a small smile as he hmmed in affirmation and gave a single nod.
"Ohh." it was a half-moan and half-revelation.
Sit down, the lady said warmly. My dad sat in a chair she pulled over, and I sat on the couch next to my Grandfather. We talked plenty, and at first I tried to catch the glimpses of the language I had never bothered to learn, but in a short time I gave up and stared around the room. A part of me wished I had been able to understand, but I also don’t wish for that; if I did understand, there would always be the chance of being greeted by personalities I didn’t want to see.
Immediately after we sat down, the lady asked if we wanted some pears. We tried to refuse them, saying we had eaten a lot before coming here, but she subdued our protests by bringing out the pears anyway. Grandfather nudged my shoulder and told me to eat one, so I did. It was an Asian pear, sour and sweet in taste; it had a dry texture and an unpleasantly watery surface, but I swallowed the fruit for my Grandfather. While I was eating, I think he told me about that time he met me ten years ago, when I was a little kid, though I don’t remember anything from that trip.
We talked some more. There was nothing for me to do besides taking more fruits from the container. After some time, the container was empty and the lady, again ignoring our protests, came back with more pears. In a way, this was for the best; I guess this was how I would acknowledge my Grandfather, with the wall of uncommon languages dividing us, bridged only by him gesturing at me to eat the pears. At a certain point, the topic turned to his health. He was slower now mentally, and I later learned that one of his ears didn’t work anymore. There was a yellow tube connecting his body to a sickly-looking pouch. It also seemed as though he would drift off at any moment, as though he and I both shared a common boredom for the conversation I couldn’t understand.
Then, we ran out of words. Both my Dad and the lady had flaccidly normal smiles on their faces, and the lady started, leaving to another room to fetch an envelope, which she gave to me saying it was my New Years money. I knew I would never spend it, and it felt wrong to take money from people I had never known before, but I held the envelope in my hand and chose to appreciate it as a souvenir, a memory made with my Grandfather.
As we turned to go, I asked my dad to help me translate a message I had been molding in my head while my Dad and the Lady had caught up about everything they wanted to know. I told my Dad, indirectly telling Grandfather, I’m really glad I got to meet you. I know I can’t speak your language, but I tried to acknowledge you by eating the pears that you wanted me to have. I think I had more to say, but I lost those words in the heat of the moment. Grandfather just kept looking at me. As expected—he didn’t understand English after all. My Dad, after a short delay, conveyed it to him, but Grandfather still didn’t seem like he understood. He just nodded placidly, and I think we were all confused except for the lady, who read my Grandfather’s feigning understanding and said to her boyfriend, in a tone that was read as aggressive to my non-native self, Ai ya, he said he is glad to meet you, and he tried to show kindness to you by eating the pears you tell him to eat!
I then showed the envelope saying I will keep this, but my Dad didn’t bother to translate and I don’t think they understood.
Grandfather just sat there, as normal, and let out an old, "Ohhh," which I didn’t know what to make of, but that he helped me make of, as he put his wrinkly hands over his face and cried. I thought about crying here, in this home, but it just didn’t feel right. It was time to go. I went there slowly, around the table with the pears to the couch, and I hugged Grandfather.
Before leaving, with Dad already in the doorway, I turned around to drink in what I knew would probably be the last time I would see Grandpa, and told him, "Xie, Xie," then my Dad and I left the home. I still felt like crying just a bit, and I suppressed those emotions. Walking back down the driveway, Dad asked me, "So, what did you think?"
"Well, I kind of made him out to be a bad person given all that you’ve said’s happened before, but now I realize, he’s human too, right?"
"Yeah," my Dad said. He didn’t offer anything else. I continued.
"I think I was going to cry there," I admitted.
"Yeah, well, you’re human too, right?" he offered.
Left with only that singular conversation for me to ever truly remember my 爺爺 by, our relationship finalized as my Dad and I walked out of the driveway, we then waved a taxi and went to visit my Dad’s childhood best friend.