Tick-tock, said the clock and the radio sang of a baby on the manger. But it was not Christmas, I thought. Sure enough snow covered the yards outside, but in this part of the world, Christmas was in summer.
I shivered from the cold and watched him sing along to carols while he placed dry wood in the fireplace. He lit a scrap of newspaper and placed the fire underneath the wood. A small piece crackled and caught the fire. He sat on the floor beside me, turned towards the fireplace and he picked up a flask from the table beside him. He opened it, the smell of instant coffee interjected, before it mingled with the smell of the fire, and the snow. He poured some into two paper cups.
It has been a while since I had visited the old man. But when neighbours rang telling that he had been away for too long, I guessed he must’ve been up at the old shack. He told me of it years ago in a grunt saying he would rather live in his old distorted shack than to be surrounded by nuisance. I drove up with vague directions in the morning to find the shack existed. I should see to it that he was alright. It would stain my conscience if I did not.
After all he was my granddad. I happened to be the only family member close enough, and willing enough to be a relative. The rest had disowned him. I was too curious.
There was an incident when he was but a young lad, I heard the tale from an aunt. Where he had so boldly duped his own parents of some funds, to run off to breed more children with some other lass that was not my grandmother. Of course grandmother ended up bringing up not only her own children but the children from the first wife she never even knew about till that lady’s death. I could only imagine the look on her face when five other children turned up at the door. This was partly funded by granddad’s parents. She must have thanked god in multiples for her in-laws.
And then when he had run out of those funds, he came back asking grandmother for the house. That war went on till his adult children took him to the court of law, and settled the affair. No, I think for grandma that war went on forever, the emotional one anyway. She carried that baggage to her grave. He was quite the ingrate.
Several christmases back, I rocked up to the cafe that both us twin sisters owned, and found him standing there, demanding some cash. My twin sister Marcia, had inherited a far larger dose of hatred than I. So she did not feel that heart-tug I felt at the sight of him, I took him aside and shoved some bills into his pocket, took his address and promised to visit before walking him to his semi-old station wagon that was still sturdy. I found myself thinking about the fact that he had such a sturdy thing to drive. Why did he need to come asking?
I rocked up to his house on a day I wanted to do a good deed. I found nothing like the dirty, messy, run-down hut in the bad side of town I had imagined. It was a decent brick piece in rich old-people town. Yes, he lived in one of those exclusive rest homes. Ah well, the advantages of them people on the benefit, I thought.
He spoke, his breath was visible in the cold, and his first words to me that were not a grunt, or a complaint, or a demand for some cash were visible. I could see each word form in the air as I looked at his strong forehead and big nose that were the same physical traits of my uncle, and my father.
“So you want to know the story huh?” he asked.
Yes I did, that was why I stuck around, I always knew he had a story to tell. I nodded looking into the fire.
“I am not your grandfather,” he said.
My forehead creased into a tight frown that showed my confusion, and as I replayed those words I saw the stories that grandma, and dad, aunt and uncles had told me begin to crumble. And instantly, just with that one sentence I was placed at a crossroad between “ingrate” and family.
I felt the immediate need to stand to leave, but he kept going on. Accusations flew from his mouth. The more he spoke the more I felt that threads of betrayal wrap around me. His words hammered into the perfectly formed truth I once held, the smooth circle dented.
I stood, and looked at him, stained with what may well be lies that will pollute me forever with doubt. The strong forehead that was a common trait in the family disappeared and before me sat an old man I could not even recognise.
“Liar,” I said to him before I walked out of the distorted shack.
And he shook his head, as if to say, we would never ever see him again.