A Photograph: A Story by Benny Lam Kit-pun

I sometimes feel as though I have my life completely figured out. But then something causes a large break, like a rock thrown into a small pond. Then life churns around and I wait for it to settle once again. Pictures of friends and family cover the walls of my bedroom to remind me of the people I care about. One photo posted to the wall has become yellow with time, and the smiles on the photo are slightly distorted by specks of white, the colours removed by fingers trying to feel the faces and bring them into reality. This picture captured a moment I remember vividly. Grandpa was teaching me how to climb a tree and eh would catch me whenever I fell. My grandmother had been there to take a photo of the event. My hair was waving in the wind, grandpa’s strong arms were raising me up in a celebratory fashion. He stood very tall, like a strong soldier with the will to match his physical power. But if one looked closely, his eyes were cold, clear and left an impression of hollowness. I wanted to know what he was thinking about at that time, but I never did find out.

The last time I ever saw those hollow eyes was during Form 1. It seems longer than six years ago, if I had known the future I would have done so many things differently.

“Grandpa, what are you doing? How did you get here? Does dad know?”

“I’ve come to see you, does that answer your questions correctly?”

“Great, how long will you stay?”

“Just up to you. If you love me, I will stay longer.”

I dropped my bag and walked over to him and I gave him quick hug. However, when I heard my dad’s car come near, I knew that our time together would soon be gone.

“Grandpa I just want you to know that no matter, I love you and will always be here. Please try to keep in touch in case I can do something for you.”

“Thanks, I love you too. Don’t believe all the bad things you hear about me, remember the time I caught you when you fell out of the tree?”

“I love you.”

“Me too.” All I could do was nod my head. My dad’s heavy footsteps came closer and closer to stop our time together.

“Hey, are you going to let him into the house? Close the door, tell Grandpa goodbye and go to your room.”

“But dad. . .”

“Go now.”

Everything stopped, the air had become so thick that I had to force myself to breathe. My head turned to see my grandfather’s reaction, hoping that he would persuade dad to let me stay. But then I realized Grandpa was no longer the strong man I had pictured him to be. He had become very old now. He looked worn down, and his eyes showed his shame. His strong will had long disappeared. I tried to grasp on to every detail on him so that I could have a picture of him in my mind. He was exactly how I had remembered him when I was a child, except that he had slowly sunken under the weight of life. I turned and walked inside, but glanced back to see grandpa.

Grandpa had taken a wrong road in life. He had divorced my grandmother and ignored everyone’s emotions. I can’t determine the exact date that I knew something had changed. Grandpa quit the family and had decided to spend his retirement funds at the local bar. After many run-ins with the police, Grandpa had a decision to make. Would he spend his jail time for many offenses or should he disgrace the family. Would he shame us. I didn’t see him the day he fled, then rumors flew through our small town, but we held our heads up burying our emotions until we could escape to the dark rooms of our home. To my parents and sister, Grandpa was gone and there wasn’t to be any discussion. Finally everything was forgotten and life returned to its boring normal self. It was not until two years later that I heard Grandpa again.

“Hello. Long time no see.”

“Yes.” I had mixed feelings about talking to Grandpa there were so many question that I wanted answers to. For instance why he decided to leave us. But decided to ask him later. This later never came.

“Hey Chun, I thought that I would call to wish you happy birthday. Sorry that I missed it, but February is such a busy month so I figured calling in March was better than nothing.”

“It was in January.”

“Let’s see you must be what, twelve, thirteen?”

“Try sixteen Grandpa.” I thought that it was ironic that he had forgotten how old I was, but I really felt angry at that time.

“Sorry, I guess that my memory’s not as good as it used to be huh? So how are you, any girlfriends?”

“Yes, but it’s nothing special, tell me about you Grandpa are you okay? I heard that you have remarried.” I found this news by stealing one of his letters from my father’s desk.

“Yes, a wonderful girl, she’s younger.” The letter stated that she was twenty-eight. He was seventy.

“That’s good I’m glad you’re happy.”

“So did you receive any birthday money?”

“Yeah, around a hundred.”

“Well that’s another reason I called, your old Grandpa is a little short on money. Your dad hasn’t sent any lately. Do you suppose that you could help your Grandpa a little bit?”

I felt used, but yet I didn’t want to disappoint him. “Sure Grandpa, I will help you if I can.”

“Thanks, well I’ll let you go, because I know that your father doesn’t appreciate these high phone bills. So take care I’ll keep in touch.”

I hung up the phone and realised that Grandpa wasn’t the hero that I wanted him to be. But an anyone who made mistakes. The waves in my small pond were churning violently from another rock.

The years passed along with several holidays. Our family lived on trying to forget the past. Grandpa was never mentioned except when old family friends would talk about him. I still tried to find out any information that would give me a hint on grandpa’s life. Letters were appropriated from the trash and secret coves hidden in my father’s desk. Through this I found out as much information as I could. The letters always requested money to be sent to support his new family and never asked about how his old family was doing. I just figured that his new children had taken the place of his grandchildren.

My senior year of secondary school dad came to talk to me. Since we rarely had father-son talks, I knew that something important had happened. He explained to me that Grandpa was dying and the doctors didn’t think that he was going to make it to the end of the week. There was an invitation from Grandpa, he wanted all of us visit him and said goodbye to us.

I can’t remember the exact emotions that I felt, but for some reason I did not feel like that it was my place to be. I still loved him; however, his heart left us so long ago and had travelled so far away. I could not forgive him at that time. My grandfather died later that week. At his funeral, family and friends gathered to pay their respects. I was relieved that he was remembered as an upstanding citizen in the community. It was as if the mistakes that he made were all forgotten.

There are times that I think about Grandpa and regret the fact that there were so many things that I should have said to him before he died but I didn’t tell him. But hopefully, wherever he is now he knows that I love him.

~Benny Lam Kit-pun (Hong Kong)


Return to Bloodlines: Poems and Stories about Family by Young Asian Writers (Asian Voices)


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