My grandma is 85 years old. Before the revolution, she was an actress in a national theatre company. After the revolution, she came back and taught Chinese, music and art at the only primary school in our town. She has lived alone since my grandfather died, and every evening she goes for a walk around her apartment building. She likes to write poetry and to read. Last weekend I went back to see her, and told her about going to the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands? You mean in Europe?” she asked me.
“That’s right,” I said.
“Are you going on your own?” She looked at me worriedly. “Isn’t anyone going to go with you?”
“Oh, for goodness sake!” I laughed. “Of course I’m going on my own!”
“Yes, I suppose so,” she said, as if she had suddenly realised. “You’re grown up now, you can go to a lot of places on your own.”
These last two or three years, she’s always forgetting how old I am, forgetting that I’m an adult, that I left primary school, secondary school and university long ago.
“What are you going to do there?” she suddenly asked me, as we ate tangerines and enjoyed the afternoon sun.
“There’s a literature festival,” I explained. “I just told you.”
“Literature festival.” She broke off a segment of tangerine and squeezed it between her fingers, thinking about these two words. “What is that?”
“Mm,” I thought for a moment. “It’s when everyone gets together to talk, a bit like when you meet up with your poetry friends at the tea house on Tuesdays.”
“Oh.” She chewed her tangerine. “So will you be reading poems?”
She’d stumped me. “I don’t know,” I said, “maybe. I’ll read my stories.”
“I see,” she nodded. “You make sure you read nice and loud, like when you read poetry.”
I laughed, watching as she narrowed her eyes and broke off another segment of tangerine, and said, “I know.”
We sat together for a while. When the sun sank past the apartment window, and the room became dim, I said: “I should be going.”
“Fine, fine.” She quickly got up to see me off.
“Oh,” she pursed her lips, “I’m so old now, I don’t understand what you all do. When I was young, in Shanghai, I was quite fashionable.”
I hugged her, her snow white head against my chest. I don’t know when it started, but my grandma shrinks with every passing year. She used to have an actress’s height and figure. She played a Tang dynasty government official and woman poet from the Song dynasty.
“After I get back I’ll come and see you and tell you all about it,” I said.