“The winds that sometimes take something we love, are the same that bring us something we learn to love. Therefore we should not cry about something that was taken from us, but, yes, love what we have been given. Because what is really ours is never gone forever.”
Gran lived at 20 Marie Curie at Sceaux Gardens on The North Peckham Estate for the best part of my young life with her. I will ever remember being sat behind a bolted door on her bedroom floor in that flat, nibbling my McVities chocolate biscuit (to make it last) while my brothers (two elder; one younger) watched Top of The Pops, Gran watched us all and I watched Gran put her rollers in before bedtime.
In those final years when she’d come home with us after church on Sundays, I’d comb her hair. By this time I was working at W H Smith in Victoria Station, towering over her and helping her to take care of herself, but I was always so gentle with Gran. Gentleness was something I’d learnt from the holes in the shoes she repaired over and over again that now sit in the bottom of my wardrobe; the matches she used to light up the stove on which she roasted breadfruit that she’d then slice into half moons that would eclipse my hunger and glow in my belly; the gas stamps in the book that had its home in the black leather purse and the envelope with half her pension in it, that she pushed through the letterbox early every Thursday afternoon. The harshness of life lingered but there was only compassion in how hard she worked; how hard she loved; how well she seasoned her chicken and how hard she would conk me in my forid if I ever yanked at her hair. Compassion and gentleness. No matter how big we got, none of us were ever too big to be brought back down to size.
Gran’s hair was always very compliant, it wasn’t the stubborn black clumps that stuck to my scalp the way we all stuck to her right up to the end. The truth is we are still clinging. In the bedroom upstairs there’s a big blue barrel with housecoats and church frocks in it. There’s a thick red plastic bag with small balls of wools she used to crochet leg warmers, winter hats and blankets for us in her ongoing efforts to always keep us warm; her blanket, the one that was always laid out across her bed, is rolled up in a plastic bag beneath my bed and my favourite blouse of hers is hanging quietly in a corner of my wardrobe. There are Christmas cards her neighbours addressed to No. 20, they never knew her name because she never gave it to those who didn’t need it; names, she used to say, will travel to places you never will if you let them. Give them a smile but never give them yuh name. She also used to say something else I remember. Every Sunday it would cut through the cartoons,
You goh cry when me dead?!
Rivers of love Gran. Rivers of love.
But I’m tired of crying for her and I’m tired drowning in my tears and I’m tired of not being able to move ahead with my life because there are balls of wool and barrels of clothes blocking the way. I want to move past this grief and so I am actively doing so.
On Saturday 30th August 2014 I will be walking 10K for Marie Curie Cancer Care to help raise funds and awareness for those living with cancer and other terminal illnesses throughout the UK. I will be doing so with my mum who – a month or so ago – brought one of her monthly magazines upstairs, put it beside my laptop and said, my knees are bad but my heart is good so I’m going to walk for Gran. To honour my great grandmother’s life in this, the 16th year of her passing; to honour my mother’s wishes and to finally gain some closure.
When we return home after that walk that night, I am going to burn every last one of her possessions so that they will no longer possess me. All the good things I’ve learnt about Jamaican independence, I learnt from the most independent Jamaican woman I have ever known. She loved us all equally and she devoted her life to making sure we were aware of that, the least I could do for her is let her go.
It’s beyond time.