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TWO CURVED FRONT TEETH by Cathy Tu, 1st Prize (10-12 Years)

April, 2019
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TWO CURVED FRONT TEETH

 

“I’ve already explained multiple times: the information that you saved is here. See? Isn’t this what you’re looking for?” Mother’s frustrated voice could be heard from Grandma’s bedroom. I slowly tiptoed to the bedroom door and peeked through the crack.

“No, no, no. This isn’t it. It’s the… you know… the…thing. What is it called again?” Grandma took the phone from Mother’s hands and started pressing random icons as if they were completely unfamiliar to her. Mother tried to speak up, but nothing came out of her mouth. Grandma continued to search through her phone, but she couldn’t find what she wanted. She sat down on her chair and let out a deep sigh.

“Never mind, never mind. It’s alright. It doesn’t even matter that much anyway…” Grandma’s eyes looked dull and tired. The brightness and cheer that used to appear in them was now nowhere to be found. It seemed I wasn’t the only one to notice this absence, for Mother looked devastated. She put her stiff hands on her face to mask her emotions. She pushed open the bedroom door and hurried up the stairs to her room. As she passed me, she didn’t scold me for eavesdropping as she normally would; she didn’t even acknowledge me. I heard the door of her bedroom slam shut. I knew the violence of the action was not due to anger: it was frustration, a need for isolation. I was tempted to check on her immediately but knew it couldn’t help.

I looked back at Grandma. She hadn’t realized that I was there the entire time. She was staring into blank space, thinking about what had just happened. I trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. As I neared it, I looked at the door Mother had slammed and sighed.

 

I miss those days when Grandma was different.

“Hey, Cathy, come over here! Let me show you something,” Grandma beckoned to the three-year-old me. I put down my doll and rushed over to where she was sitting comfortably on the couch.

Even at 70, Grandma’s eyes had a bright, unforgettable sparkle. Her skin was pale, and her silky, scrunchie-secured hair was tied up in a bun. It looked like ebony streaked with snow. Every time she smiled, a few wrinkles would appear on her forehead.

“Come look, Cathy. Don’t you look cute in this photo?” Grandma pointed to her phone, chuckling with delight. In the photo, she was hugging me, and we were both smiling broadly, our eyes reduced to creases. We seemed to be having the time of our lives. Both our front teeth have a slight curve to them, a trait shared by no one else in the family. I stared at the photo for a couple more seconds, trying to remember what had made us so blissful.

“Time passes so quickly… Don’t you agree, Grandma?”

“Oh, yes, it does. I wish it would slow down so we could cherish happy moments like these. Look at you now; you’re almost four years old!” Grandma placed her wrinkly hand on my smooth cheek. “I wish I could spend more time with you.”

 

My mind returned to the present.

She used to be able to use her phone. I thought about what had happened over the past few years — her loss of memory, the surgeries that had weakened her, the slow dulling of her eyes. The changes had been so gradual as to be invisible to my younger self. It was only thinking back to this more vibrant Grandma that I realized their extremity.

I wish time would slow down… I turned back to Mother’s room, thinking she might have had time to recover her composure. My feet dragged reluctantly, but I gently pressed my right ear to the door. I hoped I wouldn’t hear the sound of weeping.

There was silence.

Hesitantly, I tiptoed into the room; Mother was sitting on the bed with a couple of tissue boxes next to her and her hair in a messy ponytail. Although there were no tears rolling down her cheeks, her eyes were burning red. A huge pile of crumpled tissues covered the wooden nightstand, surrounding the lamp that was the only light in the room. It glowed in the darkness, illuminating Mother’s face.

“Mom, are you okay?” I whispered, afraid to startle her. Mother lifted up her head to look at me. She forced a weak smile. I closed the door behind me and crawled onto the bed. I lay down next to her and wrapped my arms around her frame. She suddenly seemed very small. Her shivering, cold arms wrapped around me, and we let silence envelop us.

After a few long minutes, Mother finally cleared her throat and spoke.

“Cathy, sometimes, I look at grandma and I want to cry. I wish that things could be just the way they used to be. I don’t want Grandma to grow old. I don’t want you to grow up. I don’t want to grow up. I just wish that life didn’t have to pass so quickly. I wish that Grandma’s memory loss would recover and she would be the way she used to be… But what can we do about it? Things are happening now, but there’s nothing that can pause life or slow it down.” Her voice trailed off. I hesitated but knew I had to speak.

“Yes, Mom, you’re right that we aren’t given the chance to slow down our lives, but if we were, wouldn’t that just give us more time to think about how quickly it passes? It’s sad that life seems to pass too quickly sometimes, but that should make us want to spend more time together and enjoy the experiences we have. People have to come and go. It’s going to happen, sooner or later, no matter what. Let’s not waste a single second thinking about what may happen or regretting what has. Let’s cherish what we have now. Let’s have the best time that we can have… now.” It felt strange to speak like this to Mother, but I knew I wouldn’t regret it.

I searched my mind for more memories of Grandma. I remembered how she used to teach me strategies for memorizing the times tables. I remembered how we used to take walks to the markets and malls near our house. I remembered how she used to push me in my trolley back from daycare every single day. I remembered how she used to make my favorite dish all the time: her special fried chicken wings. I had so many memories of us together, but I was suddenly determined to make more.

After a while, Mother’s eyes brightened, and she smiled at me. I gave her one last hug, because I knew there was someone else that I needed to give a hug to. I rushed down the stairs, almost tripping, and pushed open Grandma’s bedroom door. She was lying on her bed, trying to open her phone. As I walked into the room, I realized that it was cold and dim. Grandma looked up and smiled at me.

“How are you, sweetie? What are you up to?” Grandma stared into my eyes, amused.

“Nothing much,” I answered. I sat down next to her on the edge of the bed, and gave her a big hug. I smiled with my two curved front teeth and she did so, too.

 

The future is in the future. Now is now.

 

By Cathy Tu, 

Concordia International School Shanghai

 

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