Spending time with her grandkids was one of Barbara’s favourite activities. And so her heart swelled with love, as she glanced in her rear view mirror, to see four pairs of eyes and four small faces grinning back at her.
“All belted up?”
They sat two-by-two, with the two youngest in the front tier and the two eldest at the back. Two sets of fairy wings. One tutu. One pirate sword.
They pulled out of the driveway and off into the streets, zipping through the lines of traffic, off swiftly to their destination. Off to try another café.
Grandma might not have been the most athletic, or the most agile, but she definitely came close to being the most wise. Her house was filled floor to ceiling with piles upon piles of books. And oh how she loved those books. Filled with adventures and romance and the collective wisdom of so many authors. Wisps of spiderweb blurred the line between book and floor. But if you dared to move one, she would know.
“There’s a system. Don’t mess with the system.”
And her books built on the positive energies she surrounded herself with. The energies that grew with every butterfly she added to her wall, and every rose that blossomed in the garden. Life was always a balance of these energies. And today she needed some of those positive energies to help her on her quest to find a park. Summoning the energies of the Parking Angel, she flicked the figure dangling from the air-conditioning unit in the car. The angel printed on the card appeared to be floating in space, the wisps of her robes dancing around her as if she was lifted by a heavenly wind.
“Come on, Parking Angel, help us find a park. Nice and close.”
And at that moment, reverse lights flashed on a couple of metres away. Barbara uttered a thank you to the energies of the Earth. She swung into the park and turned off the engine.
The children filed out and waited patiently for Grandma to collect her things into her bag, sling it across her shoulder, and manoeuvre herself out of the car. They crossed the carpark, the kids following Grandma like ducklings, keeping pace with her slow shuffling movements.
They settled down at a table for five, and Grandma produced a folded newspaper from the depths of her bag. Opening it out and smoothing the creases, she steadied her pen and eyed the selection of crossword puzzles before her. The children followed suit, simultaneously smoothing back the spines on their own books. Two colouring books. One puzzle book. One reading book. Although they might have rather been playing, they had all learnt to cherish these quiet moments with Grandma. There would be time for play later. And so they sat and coloured and puzzled and read.
But the books were quickly discarded upon the arrival of four fluffies. Because, although they were patient and reserved around Grandma, they were still kids. The youngest reached straight for the chocolate fish on the saucer, melted chocolate covering chubby fingers as fish met fateful end in a sea of froth. The fluffies were gone almost as quickly as they arrived, the last puffs of milk slurped away by four small mouths.
The children looked up, their mugs empty. “Can we please be excused?” they asked.
Years went by; the ritual continued. Fluffies were replaced by hot chocolates as four became three. The eldest was more and more absent as she embraced the world of adulthood. Her absence was noticed during those silences that once were filled with her continuous chatter and her absurd stories. And most noticed by Grandma, no longer receiving that grandchild’s beautiful pictures to cherish and hang on the walls.
Hot chocolates were replaced by flat whites as three became two. Soon the next-eldest was waving goodbye at the departure lounge, smiling with anticipation about forthcoming adventures, her belongings stuffed into a rucksack, the rucksack reinforced with strapping.
Two became one. One became none. The youngest two had also flown the coop.
Fifteen years passed. The grandchildren’s lives had all whizzed off in different directions, only occasionally arching back around to meet her. These days, Barbara was content with any opportunity to see just one grandchild at a time. She loved hearing about their adventures, and admired the way they managed to strive through the obstacles of life, each following their passions, even if they got a little lost along the way. So she smiled to herself as she and Alice tottered along in the car, empty seats behind them, arranged two-by-two, the faded Parking Angel gently swaying as they meandered through the town.
They relaxed into their seats at the newest café. Two cappuccinos swiftly appeared in front of them. The folded newspaper emerged from its position tucked in the side of the bag with the worn strap. The newspaper’s creases were smoothed out, and Alice quickly retrieved a pen from within her own bag. She had abandoned her own puzzle books years ago, but she began eagerly scribbling in answers. Her pen flew across the paper as words emerged and boxes were filled. Alice raced ahead, testing the speed of her youthful brain. Grandma sipped her coffee slowly, taking a little longer to get those neurons firing. Both of them knew that this routine merely served as a warm-up before the main event; the Cryptic Crossword.
Alice scanned over the clues, attempting to continue attacking them with the same speed. Grandma was still taking a back seat as she pondered One Across and One Down. But creases soon formed on Alice’s forehead, and her lips pursed. Emerging from her whirlwind pursuit, she gazed across to Grandma.
Grandma peered over the halfmoon glasses that balanced at the end of her nose.
“Let’s have a look at One Across.”
The experience of age now outweighed the speed of youth, as Grandma started producing solutions, brimming with words Alice had never even heard of. It was Alice who now took the back seat. She sat in awe.
Grandma might not have been the most athletic or the most agile, but she could say for certain now: her Grandma was definitely the wisest person she knew.
Georgia MacKenzie is a medical student at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. She has recently completed a writing paper as part of the humanities selective programme that Otago medical students undertake in their third year of study.
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