By the time I was eleven, I was sick of school already. I hated everything. I wanted to sleep and stuff my face with Pringles and stay on the couch like a fat cushion.
It was that summer, 2002, that Dad decided enough was enough. Every kid was doing amazingly well, he said, taking their classes and homework seriously. Except me. He unceremoniously packed me into the car, me screaming like my skin was on fire, and whisked me off somewhere.
Ten minutes later, we stopped in front of this house with peach walls.
I was still bawling.
My Dad turned to me and said, “Baba, behave, please. You’re getting a new tutor.” Now, I detest tutors on principle – present tense because I still do – and this was going to be hard. He’s a nice man, my Dad, so I stopped my bawling and nodded, eleven year old me, brave face and all.
Dad actually held the door open for me. We walked up the stone steps and rang the doorbell. A tiny elderly woman, my height, all apple-cheeked, sparkly-eyed and smiley, opened the door. She greeted Dad with a “Hello, Doctor” and showed us in.
The room hit me like whoa.
The whole area was filled with bookcases bursting over with books. Now, I’ll admit, I was hooked. Books with Russian sounding authors, books with weird symbols on the spines, books with varying stages of yellowing jackets, well-thumbed, everywhere. Like a home library of enormous proportions.
“Seems like she likes it here!”
I had forgotten we were here to get me a new tutor. I whipped around and there he was, this old and incredibly smiley guy in white linen pajamas and a tee. And carpet slippers. I’m shy with new people so at this point, I think I kind of hid behind Dad.
This guy said his name was Mr. M and he’d be happy to see me start attacking his library. Some of my shyness gone, I emerged from behind Dad and asked Mr. M, blurted actually, “I’m glad you like Harry Potter too! Who’s your favorite, though?”
Mr. M seemed delighted to answer, “Hermione, of course!” I near about high-fived him. The ice broken effortlessly, Dad left me there so I’d start reading straight away, and he promised to come pick me up after we were done.
And that’s how it started. Mr. M become my proxy grandfather, since I’d never had a grandpa (both my grandpas died before I was born) and I got a new nickname, Vernon. Because of my pushing him to eat rabbit food. You know, carrots and stuff. If you’re a Potterhead, you’ll know what this means. We’d hang out everyday after school, he’d help me with grammar and prepositions and he taught me phonetics and he was the BEST DARN ENGLISH TEACHER IN ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY. Also, the best grandad. He and Mrs. M had totally adopted me too.
Thing is, he was very fussy about his food. Despite my constant cajoling, he refused to eat his greens – rabbit food. Mr. M was vegan and picky, and it hurt his body. His liver failed, despite the fact that he was a non-alcoholic. Cirrhosis and ascites** kicked in randomly and rapidly and he had to be moved into a nursing home.
All those tubes, coming out of him like transparent worms – it hurt to watch. The second love of my life, after my Dad, he was frail yet he still managed to crack jokes. I’d mostly run out of the room to cry, it broke me to hear his voice crack and the sparkle in his eyes dim.
I remember, towards the end, when he could still talk, he told my Dad, “You’ve got a brilliant child. Don’t you worry about her. She’ll do great.” He’d never live to see me get into med school. He’d never see me again.
He died on this very day, August 4, seven years ago, aged 65, ripped from me before his time, at 19:03 hours Indian standard time.
(**kwashiorkor causes ascites.)
I can’t write anymore today.