On the Transit of Our Great-Grandmother

Best Small Fictions 2022

The moon is the color of failing memory, which is to say the moon is the color of my great grandmother’s brain, a phantom of uncertainty, and with every passing day the shape of her skull shifts: even if she can’t feel it, even if we can’t see it, she is leaning into her metamorphosis as a Quarter Moon. We adjust our language to survive in an environment where her memory is in flux, a hummingbird of moments; we speak in cyclic permutations so our narratives align. Her questions are delivered with a bursting repetition. How old are you again? What’s your name? Then she gazes at the sky, eyes glassy with reflection, turning back to me with a smile to ask with fresh interest, how old are you again? As every day passes, her condition reminds us that the hummingbird fluttering inside her will fly away someday, never to return.

She likes to sit in the gallery, near the railing, overlooking the bushes and trees of avocado and mango and bay-leaf and hibiscus. Her caramel skin wrinkled and loose to the bone, her white hair a stubborn cloud soft to the touch of breeze, she code-switches between English, Dutch, and Patois as a tide of languages come rushing back to her like a long-lost tsunami returning to its place of origin. We nod and laugh with patient approval. We never talk about the ageing or her forgetfulness—we simply adapt to this new phase like the city adapts to night. We witness our moon shrinking before us. We attend to her with reverence, a deity of sorts; we look up to our Waning Crescent, even if she hardly recognizes us. I visit her on weekends; when the day is clear, we stay at the pool until the sun sets.

She documents herself; with every word she utters, she carves her autobiography. She grasps her great-grandson’s hand, my hand, and I glimpse her former life:

Long ago we would eat plenty of cocoa; there were cocoa trees all over the place. Are you my son’s son? Who is your mother again? Simone? Yes, yes Simone. How is your mother going? Wait! Wait, why do you have this long-long beard? I don’t like to see my men with long-long beards. I ever told you about the cocoa we used to eat? Mmm, how old are you again? Ho oud ben je ook alweer? Hou je van lezen? You know what language is that boy? Haha look how my boy get big-big! How old are you again?

I respond when I can, when her words get into a traffic jam, allowing her to pause and drink in some air. I am 22 years and I have to shave. I just haven’t done it yet, I say. She always responds with a smile. Sometimes I think if we told her there was a bomb, she would smile and nod, answering, I think I’m ready to go and take a little sleep. Her days are punctuated by naps—her body runs on audacity and the will to see the sun, her rival, one more day before she goes.

During the week, I compartmentalize for my jobs as a tutor and admissions assistant. I was in a meeting when my mother calls me crying, her sobs rattling through the phone, her words caught in her throat. I know what’s happened before she can utter the words. On that morning I look to the sky, the sun scorching in triumph down on bustling bodies, assaulting my forehead, proud and boastful. That morning my great-grandmother transitioned into a New Moon and walked into a new beginning. And as the day comes to a close, the sun makes way for her arrival, and her glowing shadow stuns the city as night falls.

Artist’s Statement

I finished this piece in one sitting. It must be the way my memory works, but I needed to get it all out onto the page before it escaped me. I’ve always been interested in documenting the final days of my Great-Grandmother’s life, especially because it taught me how memory could be such a moveable and brutal companion. So I attempted to convey that. I wanted to share a glimpse into how we adjusted to her ailing memory, how she attended to re-membering, while also incorporating some of her wit, because through it all she suffered no fools and maintained a smile. Even through the careful editing process, the essence of the piece remained true to my creative intention and her voice echoes throughout  every time I reread it. 

Akhim Alexis is a writer born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. He holds an MA in Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The McNeese Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Juked, Finished Creatures, Gordon Square Review, No Contact, Welter, Moth Magazine, Feral Poetry, Blue Earth Review, Moko Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, and others. He can be found on Twitter @akhimalexis1