Particles of talcum powder filled my grandmother’s bedroom like white smoke before settling on the crochet doilies she kept on the desk. She used it daily: Yardley English Lavender. Although, it smelled less like lavender and more like an artificial sweetener. Sometimes, when she opened the desk drawers to pull out one of her sarees, the tanginess of mothballs would waft out and mix with the scent of the talc. I wanted to run out, but my grandmother wanted company after my grandfather died, so she asked me to spend time with her.
We used to call her bedroom the box room. All it held was a single bed and a wooden desk, which doubled as a stand for the fourteen-inch CRT TV my father had bought for her. We slept on opposite sides of the bed. My grandmother was tiny, but her feet would stretch outside the duvet, and I would wake up to the sight of the hardened grey nailbeds that grew out from her toes. I had wished so hard that she would clip them because I was afraid they could cut me across the cheeks. She had trouble reaching her feet, and I never offered to clip them for her unless she offered me money. She never did.
My grandmother was unhappy. She had spent most of her life moving from country to country (India to Africa to Britain). She had endured a series of miscarriages and misplaced her identity along the way. Only to end up in a place where her family would soon become outcasts because of their brown skin. At least, that is what she feared. She feared most things. She wanted to go back to India. Back to familiar faces, but she had built up an attachment to us.
She spent most of her time in her room — sleeping, powdering her face, watching TV and looking out at the neighbours, then closing the net curtains with haste when she thought they spotted her.
Once, she was watching a late-night documentary about asteroids hitting Earth. I’m not sure whether the contents were suitable for children my age — It didn’t feel as though they were, but my grandmother never had the awareness to care.
That night, a strange feeling took birth inside of me — of eternal emptiness. It grew from these questions: What would happen in a billion years when the sun disintegrates and when the Universe shrinks back…