Phone calls to India used to necessitate a crackling pause after you finished speaking, over which you could hear the faint echo of your own voice before any response came from the other end.
I'd imagine my words travelling along the phone line like a blip of light racing across wires, in a direct path from here to there, from day to night or the reverse, dipping under inky waves to zip across crags of the ocean floor, breaking the surface on the some far shore to scale the heights of airless mountains, carrying whatever sentiment within a incandesent bubble of breath, travelling across all those miles to end against the ear of the listener. The distance could have been the width of the universe.
Late last month, my maternal grandfather passed away. He was 99 years old, and lived just outside Dehradun in Uttarakhand, India. Within 24 hours of receiving the news, I was on my way there.
His house is called Halcyon.
When we arrived, the last of the pomelos still clung heavily to branches, and the mango blossoms were spent.
We ate meals at the same table from my childhood, cooked by the same cook. Her chapatis were as perfect as ever. The pink gingham curtains my grandmother made hung from the windows. My grandfather's chair was still beside the toaster, his marmalade still on the table.
I spent days reconciling memory with fact, and filling in the greyed out details in technicolour.
I remember his big green car; it was the perfect shade of green, a refined deep-toned emerald with the gloss of a wet leaf. I remember the warmth of his chest through the scratch of a wool sweater. His love of golf, and dogs, and how he'd shade his eyes from the sun with an unfolded newspaper for a nap.
Those memories butted up against the tree from which the swing once hung. The water pump halfway down the slope behind the house. Straight pins in a tiny jam jar on his desk. The box of photographs that chronicled lifetimes. The fine-toothed comb on his dresser. His red jacket on a hook on his dressing room door.
Mum and I would wake in the early hours of morning. If we'd left the window between the two beds open, the room was cold in the indigo light, and the breeze so heavily perfumed with flowers it was as if you could taste their scent.
She'd go to the kitchen and make tea with milk and cardamom, and then we'd lay in our respective beds, with covers pulled high and hands around hot cups, listening to the end of the night birds' song and the beginning of those from the day. When the first hint of dawn pierced the horizon, we'd hear a call to prayer.
I missed my grandfather before we got there—such as it is when you live at a distance from others. At Halcyon I looked for him, expecting him in his favourite seat on the verandah or to hear him one room over. I expected to find him in the midst of the routines of his years. Instead he reverberated in all corners of the house, all the way up to where the wall and ceiling met and past that still.