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She always wears a red cotton vest, worn and soft to the touch. She has short black hair stubbornly kept at a perm, despite it thinning at the top. Everyday she goes to the local market and talks with the other grandmothers, haggling over vegetable prices and discussing the latest endeavors of their family members. When the grandchildren came to visit, they always asked for something nice. She would smile and draw back a little, “tsk tsk,” and reach into her purse. Wrinkled hands would count the money and gently place it into the children’s waiting hands. Always a little extra. Her grandchildren lived in a different city then; they rarely see her, and so she tries to give them whatever she can when they do.
She has not seen her grandchildren in a while, not since they moved to another country. Why on earth would we come back, their mother said, when there is nothing for us here. When they finally returns to visit after three years, they returns to their home from before. The grandmother jumps on a train the next day, as soon as she catches news of their arrival. Barely stopping by the hotel room, she goes straight to their apartment. When the door opens, her eager smile and open arms are the first thing the grandchildren sees. They are happy enough to see her, hugging and laughing and responding enthusiastically when she says, “Surprise! Grandma is here!”
Her daughter comes down the staircase then, to see who had rang the doorbell. The face of the plump woman freezes, and morphs into a deep frown — a sign that causes her children’s stomaches to drop quietly. A beat.
“Why are you here,” the daughter says, “who told you to come visit us?”
Grandma blinks slowly and opens her mouth a few times, but nothing comes out.
“You need to leave. Now. I swear to God if you don’t leave I will take my children tonight and check us into a hotel,” the daughter starts to yell, “you won’t see them either way!”
Her son-in-law comes downstairs, when he heard all the ruckus. He begins to criticize his wife, “that is no way to speak to a grandmother in front of her grandchildren. She was just lonely, and she wanted to see her family. Besides, what kind of examples are you setting for your own children? If you can’t respect your mother, how can they do that in the future…”
The daughter argues, “this woman abandoned me when I was nine. She sent me to live with distant relatives, when she knew they did not want me.” She turns to her children,“your grandmother is a selfish woman. I spent my childhood suffering in a household that despised me, just so her husband and her can enjoy their lives.” The daughter’s voice breaks, “I went all the way across the ocean, hoping never to see her again.”
During all the yelling and bickering, Grandma sits quietly. Occasionally she murmurs to the grandchildren about how she did not teach their mother well, was not strict enough when she was young. In between, she gives them apologetic smiles.
After the daughter declared that she never wants to see her mother again, on this trip or otherwise, she retires to her room. Grandma was left with one last angry look. She gets up to leave. Before she does, her grandchildren hugs her and tells her that it is all going to be okay. “We definitely want to see you,” they say, “please come back and visit us before we leave.” Just not when Mommy is around.
The last thing Grandma saw before the door closed were the grandchildren’s eyes, full of tears and guilt. Their mother has told them those things about their Grandma before, late at night and when their mother was feeling particularly emotional. Yet, they never could have predicted their mother’s reaction to seeing Grandma again. Grandma never treats them badly. She is the sweet old lady who can never deny them anything. But their mother will always be resentful toward her for all her mistakes, and all they can do is remember the tears in Grandma’s eyes when she left.