Mia’s annoyance with her family increases with her weekly visit to her grandfather. To divert her mind and find some inner peace, she decides to paint, which is her solace. What she decides to paint surprises her more than it anyone else.
Connor sped away in his rickety car as quickly as the shoddy road allowed him. Mia and Max tried watching the car vanish into the distance, but all they could see was the huge puff of dust the car left behind. They were trying to delay going inside as much as they could.
“Come along now, you two. Grandpa would be waiting eagerly,” said Brandy, walking into the building with Joshua. Mia sighed and turned around, taking one long look at the place they visited every Saturday.
“I suppose your Saturdays are way better than this in college,” she said. Max chuckled at her and stroked her hair playfully.
“It’s not as bad as you make it look, Mia. He’s a nice fellow,” said Max.
“I know he’s nice, which makes it difficult to refrain from coming here! It’s just that he’s so cranky and worked up all the time. Then there are his practical jokes. God, Joshua could come up with better ones than him!”
Max laughed cheerfully as he walked in with his arm around Mia’s shoulders. “People tend to get that way when they’re old.”
“I won’t ever be like that,” said Mia with a fuming determination found only in teenagers.
“You’re in your third year of high-school, Mia, you wouldn’t know about it now.”
“It’d be better to be in high-school all my life rather than getting old and becoming like that,” mumbled Mia as they reached their grandfather’s room.
“I don’t think Jimmy Thomas would like that. I bet he has thought about your prom night already,” said Max, teasing Mia. Mia blushed and tried punching him playfully, smiling embarrassingly.
“Oh, so you finally found your way to your grandpa’s room!” said their grandfather sarcastically in his cracking voice. His remark stung like an accusation because of his sharp, piercing eyes and thick white eyebrows. In addition to his puffy cheeks, they always gave him an appearance of frowning, which was indeed the case most of the times. He was sitting in his easy chair by the window, while his roommate lay on his bed in the other corner of the room. The radio on the table played an old country song. The weather outside was quite gloomy, the way the weather usually was in their town. Mia always felt that old country songs were meant to be played in such weather. They both went well together.
“How have you been, grandpa?” said Mia, walking up to him and embracing him.
“My arthritis is a constant bother, but apart from that it is all hell,” he said, patting her back lightly. Mia frowned as she let go of him and straightened up.
“Dad, you can try and be a little cheerful at times,” said Brandy in a consoling tone.
“When you get as old as I am, you’ll know how I feel all the time,” he grumbled.
“You smell funny, grandpa,” said Joshua. He sniffed and giggled and sniffed again, causing himself to sneeze with a squeaky utterance. He stood on one of the curved supports of the easy chair.
“I know! He wouldn’t believe me! I told him that he ought to take a bath. It’s been four days since he last had one,” said their grandfather’s roommate from his bed. Mia’s grandfather grunted and turned towards the window. He knew what was coming.
“How can you live like this, dad? Four days without a bath! No wonder you’re always so grumpy and sulking! When your body is fresh, you feel better already!” Connor had heard her daughter say all this on countless occasions before. He knew it was pointless to argue with Brandy over this, so he turned his attention towards Max.
“Tell me boy, what’s going on in your life?” he said politely. He was always that way with Max.
“I’m almost done with my freshman year of college, grandpa. It’s a really quaint settlement. If you feel up to it, I’ll take you there sometime. I’m sure you’ll like it,” said Max. His grandpa laughed off his suggestion.
“This old geezer has had his fair share of travelling for this life. Besides, travelling by road is not for me. I’m a man of the sea! Living with other sailors, working hard day and night, eating fresh quail from the sea each day….ah! Now that’s a life worth living! You kids wouldn’t know about reaping the fruits of the sweat of your brow or the strength of your back.”
Mia sat down heavily on the edge of his bed as he started recounting one of his tales from his sailing days. She wondered whether old people liked living in the past, or one just runs out of things to talk about after reaching a certain age. She moved closer to the edge of the bed as her grandfather’s roommate began coughing profusely.
As she sat closer to her grandpa, her eyes fell on the strands of hair sticking out of his ears. It always irked and disgusted her to look at them, but her eyes wouldn’t move away from them. His black toenail attracted her attention similarly. She had always thought it was a bruise mark, but she had remembered her grandfather’s toenail to be black and the skin surrounding it yellow since forever.
After a little more than an hour, Connor told his family that he was feeling drowsy and would like to rest. While the others got up to leave, Mia continued looking at him, thinking about his smile. She wondered why he hardly ever wore it anymore. For all his physical and mental changes, he had retained the warmth in his smile. When their eyes met, he gave her a smaller version of it, but it was still a beautiful sight to watch. He signalled her to lean forward.
“Your flyer is open!” he shouted as she brought her ear to his mouth. Mia recoiled from him, checking her trousers. But he was lying. It was another one of his silly pranks. It amused his roommate a lot, who was having a fit of laughter and coughing in his bed as a result of laughter. She couldn’t believe how it was that she always fell for it. She cursed herself and stormed out of the building.
Max was packing his bags. His new term was due to begin the following day. He noticed Mia standing at the door from the corner of his eye. He didn’t turn towards her, for he could see that she was trying to stay out of his sight, hiding behind the wall. It made him smile, and he waited for it to subside before turning towards her.
“Hey, come on in,” he said, trying his best to look surprised to find her standing there. Mia ambled into the room nonchalantly, as if she would rather be somewhere else and would sooner be done with this.
“I see you’ve got your things in order then,” she said, sitting on his bed.
“Yup, that was the last of it. All set to leave first thing in the morning,” he said, exhaling loudly. Mia was conscious of his gaze and tried to find a point of attention in the room to look at. She fixated on his ukulele.
“Aren’t you taking it with you?” she asked disinterestedly.
“I am, but I prefer to hold it in my hands. The case is quite sturdy, but I like to hold it in my hands nevertheless. It’s not like it’s too heavy.” Mia raised her eyebrows slightly and nodded at him.
“Any chance you might tell me what you’re painting currently?” asked Max. Mia looked up at him and smiled, shaking her head in refusal mischievously. Max shook his head and chuckled. He sat down next to her and patted her head.
“Take care of everyone, dear sis, especially yourself,” said Max. Mia put her head on his shoulder and threw her arms around his neck.
The next morning, Max embraced Brandy and Mia before getting into the car. He patted Joshua – who was rubbing his eyes and clinging on to Brandy’s nighty with the other hand – lightly on the head and ruffled his hair. They waved their goodbyes as Connor sat in the driver’s seat and drove Max to the bus station.
He drove in a rash manner even early in the morning. But that was Connor. Mia always felt that the town knew him not because of his practise as a doctor but as the most dangerous driver around. It was like he was driving to a patient in emergency all the time. It did not matter to him how poorly the roads were made, for he never took his foot off the gas. What was worse was that he was never really in control of the car. It was nothing short of a miracle he was yet to kill someone.
Every time Mia rode with him they would just miss hitting at least two people. She was always on edge but he would always be in good spirits. It was like his mind didn’t register his reckless driving, and the near-death experiences of the people on the road wouldn’t fluster him in the least. But no one ever gave him stick over it, for apart from being the first doctor of the town, he was one of the kindest spirits around.
There was still time before school, and Mia wasn’t particularly sleepy. She picked up the local newspaper and went inside the small service room on the corner of their little garden. An advertisement about a district painting contest in the paper caught her attention. It was a contest for children under the age of eighteen. Mia instantly made up her mind to send an entry in the contest and thrust the paper aside. She sat there on the chair, looking at her easel for a long time, trying to think of a theme for her painting.
She heard her father’s car coming up the driveway. He didn’t get out for opening the small, white wooden gate but gently nudged it open with the car. Mia watched him go into the house. Her mother then appeared and started walking barefoot in the garden. Brandy liked how the morning dew felt on the soles of her feet and walked around the garden each morning.
After a few minutes, she stopped walking and stood resting her arms on the wall, looking outside. Looking at her from where she sat, Mia couldn’t help but feel that the morning was so fresh and beautiful because of her mother. She felt as if the day rejuvenated because of her mother’s presence and not the other way around. Her blond curls hid her face from Mia. The sunlight fell on her bare arms and legs, giving her body a heavenly radiance.
Mia was able to see Brandy’s face when the wind blew the locks of hair away from her face. She was saddened by what she saw on her mother’s face and in her eyes. There was something in them that she knew all too well, for she had seen it on numerous occasions in her own reflection in the mirror. It was the look of an emptiness within, born from the accumulation of small unfulfilled desires. She knew her mother didn’t want anything extravagant in her life but only small moments of joy. She had seen her mother rejoice in them when they did happen to fall in her lap. Surely it’s not too much to ask, thought Mia.
Her mother was startled as Joshua ran up to her and jumped on to her back. She prevented him from doubling over and falling hard on the ground, before falling playfully with him. She tickled him mercilessly for the few seconds it took for him to free himself from her grip and disappear into the house. Mia couldn’t help but smile.
Joshua slammed his fist on the door of the service room before going into the house, but Mia didn’t mind. She was busy looking at her mother, who saw her looking at her and smiled. Mia smiled back and waved at her as Brandy walked into the house. She knew what she had to paint.