Grandmother lives in the shelter I pop in and out of. She's a bit confused. Sometimes she doesn't know where she is and wanders around looking for her daughter. Then there are moments where she is incredibly clear. This is a story about both.
I'm at the shelter, having spent the morning volunteering to clean. There are over 70 people here and the volunteer group I'm with sends people in to help with the cleaning and cooking from time to time. On this particular day, I raised my hand to clean. (That this is a minor miracle will be kept for another day. The short version is, I'm not known for my cleaning skills.)
But I digress.....
The cleaning is done for the day and the volunteer shuttle bus is waiting outside to take me back to the base in town. Grandmother is wandering around outside, confused as to the whereabouts of her daughter who is to take her to her doctor's appointment. She comes up to the shuttle driver and asks for a ride into town to the taxi stand. The shuttle driver asks me if this is okay. Of course it is.
Grandmother has short hair, some completely white mixed with strands of jet-black dyed hair. I like it that she still wants to color her hair. Something about it makes me smile. She tries to climb into the bus, up two big steps. The driver and I say together, "careful!" as she starts to topple backwards. I catch her and push her back in all the way and seat myself behind her.
She starts chatting right away. "My daughter is good for nothing. She's always disappearing. I don't know what to do with her. She was supposed to be here." The driver, definitely young enough to be her son chimes in saying, "I'm sure she means well, mother."
"Ha. You clearly like women!"
"Well now, that's not what I meant."
"That's okay. You're a good boy."
And then it begins. Grandmother is now very, very clear.
"You know, when the tsunami came I ran out of my house with nothing."
The driver turns around. "Really?"
"Really. All my neighbors who went back to get their bank books and cash died."
I look up. This conversation doesn't involve me, but I'm listening, of course. Grandmother continues.
"I don't need money. Or my bank book, for that matter. I just want to live. I'll figure things out. I've got time."
"You're lucky, mother," the shuttle driver says.
"I'm smart," she snaps back and I grin. I love this woman.
"You're taking me to the doctor, right?" She's confused again. Just like that.
The driver looks at me.
"Mother," I say. "Did you want a ride to the taxi stand?"
"Right, right," and she nods. "Take me to the taxi stand. I know how to get to the doctor's from there."
We pull up to the taxi stand and I get up to help her out.
"How much?" she says.
"No, no, mother," I respond. "It's alright. We were coming this way, too."
"Oh, you're cute," she says to me. I blush. I actually blush. I'm mortified. When's the last time I blushed?! Then I blush again because I'm embarrassed that I'm embarrassed.
"Are you okay from here?" I ask.
Of course she is.
She is clear enough to say she was the smarter one for staying alive. In the same breath she loses track of where she is. This flip-flopping between confusion and clarity must be exhausting. I admire her spunk and sharp tongue. I respect her resolve. I also wish she were mentally present longer to tell me more stories. She is exactly the kind of woman I would love to listen to for hours. For this, I'm happy to have had this ten minute ride and saddened by the fact I will likely not have another. Live on, grandmother.