Saturday, September 09, 2006

Living With Amah.

At about 8a.m. in the morning, the sound of pills rattling in her daily-organized-pills-box clutched in her hand could be easily heard from my room, as she opens the door clumsily and slowly makes her way out to the dining table for her usual kopi-o (black coffee). She greets akak, who's busy in the kitchen, and sits down comfortably on one of the six chairs hidden under the round marble table, lays her box of pre-arranged pills on the shiny gleaming surface and sips a little bit of coffee with a loud, "Slrrrppp...". Back in the days (when black and white photographs were famous) she loved eu char kuey dipped in her morning coffee, until the doctor told her that she had to lay off those oily food. Now, she prefers kiam pia (biscuits) dipped into her coffee. At times, when she's in the mood for it, she requests dad to get her some heavier food like char koay teow or wan tan mee. Bu most of the time, the coffee is enough for her.

She repeatingly sips her coffee for another couple of times before placing the mug down on the table again. She looks around the empty living room, for everyone has either left for work and school or that no one had woken up yet, exchange a few words with akak and dips her biscuit into the black liquid. Jittering (I guess it's normal for her age),she holds up the soften biscuit and uses her lips to 'lip' the biscuit into her mouth for she has not enough teeth to bite. Three pieces would usually make it for her morning breakfast. A few minutes later, she finishes her morning coffee with the final slurp of satisfaction and slowly brings the cup to the basin to rinse it.

She checks on akak's cookings and sometimes offers a hand but will be usually refused by akak. Most of the time, she picks up the chopping board by herself an settles with slicing meat or chopping vegetables. Despite the fact that she has not been the one behind the kitchen since akak mastered most of her dishes, she still had skills in meat-slicing (yea, I watched her the other day with awe and inspiration). After doing all that she could manage, she'll politely ask akak to bring her a cup of water as she rests with her elbow on the table. She'll shakingly open her pill box and carefully take out her multi-colored pills, count them on her palm before she puts them all in into her mouth at once. She does all these before settling down on the couch for some good chinese soaps.

With amah around, the TV's usually switched on the entire day - whether if she's watching the TV or the TV's watching her. It's easy to hear her snore occasionally during the hot afternoons while she's "watching" TV. She claims she's not tired or that she's not sleepy, but twenty minutes through the show, you can see her head pointed to the ceiling and her 4 yellow teeth jutting out from her opened mouth with her eyes closed. Sometimes, akak comes running to me to tell me to convince her to go to bed cause the look of her sleeping isn't really pretty and it gives akak quite the scare. It creeps me out at times too.

Amah's not the type of grandmother who's an old smelly witch who wrestles with you for the remote control and she definitely ain't the type who makes every single day a living hell with the frequent exchange if yells and so called "advices". Though, the ointment that she rubs on her knees every night before bed does emit an unbearable smell which nerver fails to send us rushing into our bedrooms shutting our doors and closing all the windows whenever we hear her rummaging through her bag for the oil. Kinda makes us sleep early too. The shows she watches ranges from chinese soap dramas to chinese reality modelling shows. We never storm right in front of her and snatch the remote control from her hands and turn the channel to watch Beyonce doing her crazy Deja Vu dance on MTV. We always ask for her permission before changing the channel and she'll happily try her best to understand all those ang mo kaus shaking their bootties with only bras and panties. Sometimes, it even amuses her that I scream and yell to the voice of Christina Aguilera performing Ain't No Other Man on stage.

Amah has been living with us since tua pek's passing. It's her fourth week here and I'm quite happy that she made the right choice to stay with us for the time being. Strangely enough too, (numbered as it is) all her requests of returning home were easily brushed off with a little pestering and sweet talk. She doesn't really favour leaving her home to come live with us, unless there was an occasion. During normal times, it only takes her less than 2 weeks to insist on returning home. I'm guessing that she's probably still emotionally unstable to be left alone in her home. Her home's practically vacant except for her and imagine all the thinking she'll be doing with thje fuzzy cable TV she has got at her place. We're all afraid that she might go crazy. I mean, last week, when I took the courage to play tua pek's funeral photographs on the DVD player outside, she did a great deal of crying before muttering something like, "I hope he's in a happy place. I don't get to see him anymore, " in Hokkien. But I did allow her to pour her sorrows out without the usual phrases of "concerned" relatives that goes something like, "Haiya, don't cry any anymore lah. It's no point. You'll only ruin your health!". Yea right. I say, let the woman do what she needs to do!

The usage of Hokkien has also increased in this household. We accomodate her with speaking Hokkien so that she could feel part of the family. Other than that, our politeness and good characters are under careful observation, with amah being here for the past 3 weeks. There's been barely any fight in the house or the common stamping of feet and expressions of dissatisfaction on certain matters which may lead to an endless argument. It's either that we're all determined to keep a good impression towards the grand old lady or that everyone's been in a pretty good mood lately. Now that I've said it, I hope things stay the way they are.

Amah also doesn't create alot of mess for us to pick up after. She doesn't leave stains in the toilet bowl or drops food all over the floorboard under the dining table. The only thing she leaves behind is her trail of used tissue paper. I think she just forgets that she has a used one stuck in between her buttocks and the couch or deep down in the depth of the couch. Disgusted as I may be, I don't complain and I just pick them up if I see one. By the looks of it, I daresay that she's pretty happy spending time with us for the past 3 weeks also. Watching her laugh, cringing up her entire heavily wrinkled face until her eyes disappear in between them, everytime she sees Edmund's antics is, enough to seal my doubts.

I don't stay at home all day long to sit with her on the couch and torment myself into watching her chinese or hokkien dramas. Neither do I spend alot of time with her at home. I'm always stuck with the computer, remember? Curled in my room and clicking my mouse feverishly. However, there are times when I just get very intrigued with intense conversations with her about my childhood and stories of her life. It's normally filled with me asking endless questions and laughing cunningly about my mischieve or stupidity. Things like that just happens when you pay a little extra attention to old people. They have loads to talk about. I for one, am highly amazed by the fact that she can go on and on for hours and all I have to do is to sit and listen with great amusement. Lending my ears and attention are few of the little things that old people find comforting. Frankly, I'm not afraid of raising a conversation with amah for I've always been a fan of what she has to say. And it's fun (and sentimental) to be dwelling on fond memories during my childhood with amah!

Her day ends with a bowl of oatmeal. Her final movie finishes at 11p.m. and that's the time she decides to go to bed (after rubbing her ointment on her knees, of course!). I asked her the other day why she needed to take oatmeal before bed. "I need to take medicine before I sleep mah and I cannot take medicine with an empty stomach," she replied in Hokkien, smiling. She drinks her oatmeal and rinses the bowl. She fetches her own cup of water and takes her medicines just like the way she does in the morning, goes to the loo and retires to bed. Of course, we always help if we see her doing something. She always calls me, 'ah boy' (the chinese really favors this nickname for first sons in the family) to switch on the mosquito repellant for her when she's sitting on the bed preparing to rub her knees with the awful ointment. "Leave the lights in the hallway on so that's easy for me to go to the loo in the night," she'll say while rubbing her knees. I hurry off into my own room after checking that everything's good.

See, amah's not a pain in the ass. She doesn't require a fan during the night (in fact, she complains that it's too cold while I'm sweating and toiling in my bed). She doesn't complain alot. She doesn't eat alot. All she needs is the TV, bed and the loo. She doesn't cause alot of trouble. She's still pretty much aware of her surroundings. She doesn't get in the way. She could still see, hear and feel. Although, sometimes, I think that she's a little bit deaf when she doesn't answer or show any signs of recognition. Thankfully, only sometimes. Clearly, I don't see any reasons why she shouldn't stay longer. We do have our eyes on her and if anything happens (her heart attack) there'll be people around her to help her (resuscitation?). Akak is her main companion while she gets to see all our antics everynight. I don't see any reason why she should even think of going back to her deserted house! Whatever it's worth, I love having amah around!

She'll wake up tomorrow and the whole cycle starts again. Routines of a grandmother, I suppose? And if she gets the chance, she'll say that I had my songs playing throughout the night, speaking in a way that I've forgotten to switch them off, not knowing that I need music to make me sleep. Now, I keep them as soft as possible!

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