The skin of my yiayia’s hands dry, like peeling garlic; blanketing a tangle of frustrated veins. Eyes round, tinged with terror, mouth agape, pale legs grappling with the white sheets in an effort to revolt against stagnation.
I want so much to comfort her, ease her pain. ‘I’m here for you. I’ll always be,’ I think but never utter the actual words. We’ve always shied away from exchanging soppy phrases such as ‘I care for you’, or ‘I love you’.
‘Words are not important,’ yiayia would say. ‘It’s actions that matter.’ She had always been full of beans, spinning like a tap all day long, stirring food in the drone of the busy extractor hood, bent over the ironing board, hoeing in the garden, weeding the vegetable plot, beheading dead carnations, pinching the basil round.
In a week my exams at the Mathematics School in Athens are taking place. But, I have to be here, at my native village. Look after my yiayia. She needs me now, after that stroke.
Yiayia would have objected to this. ‘You’re going to make it big one day. Don’t waste time on trivialities. Nothing good comes out of being soft’, she used to say.
Mana’s words pound in my head. ‘She won’t make it, you know. There’s nothing we can do. Nothing you can do. You will fall behind with your studies if you don’t take your exams. She’d understand. I’ll take care of her.’
I hear yiayia’s irregular snore, like a mumbling scolding, see her nostrils flare, her chest pump. Her bulging eyeballs roll underneath her papery eyelids, as if trying to decipher the intricate map the tiny, intersecting veins weave there, where words and actions intermingle, challenge and interrogate each other.
I stand up and pull my Algebra book down the bookshelf.
‘I love you yiayia,’ I say as I bend over my open book.