It was the middle of August and I was excited about heading away on holidays to Galway with some of my friends. A week away at a tennis tournament with the promise of parties and the chance to meet girls was all that we had talked about for weeks. It was going to be great, of course, and we couldn’t wait for it to start. For each of us it would be our first time away without parents, and we talked endlessly about what might happen. It was an exciting time.
A few nights before our departure my dad said ‘Make sure you go and see your granny; you know she’s not well.’ He had just been to visit her and he looked concerned.
‘Sure thing, I’ll go and see her tomorrow.’
‘Good, she’ll be delighted to see you, son. She’s always had a lot of time for you, you know.’
I blushed; then my mother smiled and poured tea.
The next day I took the bus across town and wondered just what was wrong with my granny. The look on my father’s face last night was something new, and dark. I had never seen anything like it before and it made me nervous. And now I could feel the butterflies buzzing about in my stomach, and it wasn’t good.
‘Hello,’ I said to Aunt Sarah when she opened the door.
She smiled quickly, trying to hide the same look of concern that I had seen on my father’s face. I kissed her, awkwardly, and we went into the kitchen, following the sweet aroma of coffee. My Uncle Leo was sitting, reading a newspaper and I noted his surprise when he saw me. We shook hands and he pulled out a chair for me. ‘Great to see you; how are you doing?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine, thank you. I’ve come to see granny. How is she?’
My aunt and uncle exchanged a look that wasn’t a happy one. ‘She’s not been well lately,’ my aunt said. ‘She hasn’t spoken to anyone for almost three weeks now…’
‘Oh,’ I said nervously ‘I didn’t know. Maybe I should leave.’
My aunt turned. ‘No, no. I’ll tell her you’re here. You have a cup of coffee while I go upstairs.’ She squeezed my shoulder and left the kitchen.
I sipped my coffee and told Uncle Leo about my upcoming holiday. He told me of his memories of Galway, and assured me that I would have a great time. ‘I always enjoyed myself there, it’s a great town.’
When my aunt came back she had a broad smile on her face. ‘She’s fine,’ she said ‘and she’s looking forward to seeing you!’ The look she sent to my uncle was one of bemusement, as I went past her.
I skipped up the familiar stairs to my granny’s bedroom where she was lying in bed, propped up on two large white pillows. Her silvery hair was tied up in a net and her eyes were as bright as the sunlight streaming in through the lace-curtained window. The room had a faint smell of the fresh roses in a vase beside her bed. I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, something I had done many times, and she gently touched mine.
‘How are you?’ she asked.
‘Fine, thank you. And you, granny?’
Her chest heaved. ‘I’m ok, but I’ve been better.’ She managed a grin, but I knew it was false.
For all the years that I knew her she was always an old person to me. There were more than sixty years between us, but I had always been able to talk to her, and she to me. She was the only grandparent that I knew and that was very special to me. I sat on the edge of the bed, her hand in mine, and we chatted about my coming holiday and what I was going to do when I left school the following summer. She listened carefully, gave me some words of advice but she was tired, and her head began falling to the side.
‘I must be going, granny’, I said and she opened her eyes.
She put her hand under a pillow and slid a £20 note into my hand. ‘Take it, and have a good holiday,’ she said with a mischievous wink. She squeezed my hand and I kissed her once more.
‘Take care granny,’ I said and quietly left the room.
Back in the kitchen I told my aunt and uncle that granny was fine and that I had to be on my way. My aunt insisted that I drink some lemonade before I left, and I was sure that £20 note was burning a hole in my pocket.
Less than three weeks later my granny died on a bright morning, drifting away peacefully in her sleep, my aunt, uncle and others with her in the small, sunlit room.
‘Of course I do. You and Leo were there,’ I said.
‘Well what you don’t know is that before and after you came she didn’t speak with anyone.’
I was confused. ‘But…but she chatty with me that day.’
She nodded. ‘Well, all I can tell you is that she never spoke with anyone after you left. Not a single word.’ She put a hand on my shoulder. ‘It’s strange, don’t you think?’
I was speechless. Me, the last person she spoke to. I had never realised that, and my head was in a swirl. ‘Wow, I don’t know what to make of it,’ I said, thinking back to that day so many years before.
‘See it as a gift,’ she said leaning close. ‘You were the lucky one, remember that.’ She smiled and I nodded, slowly taking in the importance of her words. I had indeed been the lucky one and it is something that I am forever grateful, as ours had most certainly been a fond farewell.