Before Saying Goodbye

Grandma was baking a loaf of bread. The plan for the afternoon before Grandma started packing for her flight the next day, was to sit down and have a big slice together with butter and honey and a pot of tea. Grandma had asked Minka to help with choosing the nuts and seeds. She had done her best and now as she peeked into the glass cover of the oven and saw the bread rising, she was sure that it was going to be delicious. She started to mention it to Grandma, but couldn’t see her. She called out to her but didn’t hear anything back.

The strains of the piano reached her ears. Grandma was in the music room, playing a song she loved. She knew it was called ‘Pavane’ but not much else about it. Minka ran towards the music. There was Grandma, her ear rings catching the sun, her forehead without a frown, her fingers moving with ease across the keys. She looked calm.

Minka hadn’t heard this song in a while. Her mother played the piano but since the baby came along, she didn’t play it as much. Minka had lessons too but she was far from being able to play anything properly. She went and lay down on the floor next to Grandma. As Grandma finished the song, she smiled at her.

‘Hey Minka, how’s the bread looking, dear?’

‘Fine, Grandma, I think it’s going to be very tasty.’

‘That’s good. I’m sure your parents will like to have some when they are back too.’

Minka’s parents had gone out to a museum with the baby. They had asked if she wanted to go with them. But she had wanted to stay with Grandma. She wanted to show her all her drawings and maybe even get Grandma to tell her some special stories that she knew were reserved for her.

It was a fine day in October. Grandma got up and opened the door to the conservatory that led to the garden.

‘Let’s go see how warm it is outside, shall we? I see your father has planted some basil in the corner too. Come on, Minka.’

Minka followed her outside. She loved the garden. Father took good care of it. The grass had been mowed last week. The deck chairs were laid out and looked as though they were beckoning them.

Grandma and Minka went and sat down. Leaning back, they looked at the cloudless, blue sky. It was the perfect day to be outside. They had a delicious smell in the garden – freshly cut grass and baking bread.  Grandma always had a nice smell about her too. Tchoo Tchoo, the neighbour’s cat, had come to see what was happening. Minka was happy and Grandma seemed happy too. She gave her a little kiss on her forehead and told her so.

They heard a bang.

‘Grandma, what was that?’

‘Oh, don’t worry Minka, it sounded like it was just the wind banging the door…The door! Oh dear, I didn’t take the keys with me!’

Minka ran to the door and turned the knob.

‘Grandma…the door is shut!’

They were locked out. Father and Mother wouldn’t be back for a while.

‘What are we going to do? Shall we break it with this big stone?’ Minka asked Grandma, pointing to a brick by the door.

 ‘Break? Do? Don’t be silly, little Minka. We have no reason to destroy the door. Are you bored already? Everyone will be back in a couple of hours, won’t they?’

 ‘A couple of hours! That’s a long time, Grandma! What if we get stuck here forever? And you are leaving soon. I had so much I wanted to do with you and show you. And now we are locked outside and the bread’s inside. Oh, why couldn’t we at least have had some bread?’ cried Minka.

‘My dear Minka, we will have a feast when your parents are back. Look at Tchoo Tchoo, he is sitting down quietly isn’t he? Don’t worry about anything for now. Come tell me about your piano lessons. Do you like them? Are you practising hard?’

‘Yes Grandma. But Mother and you play it so well. I don’t like to practise when Mother’s around.’

‘Your mother? You should have heard her playing when she was your age. The neighbors complained that their dogs were barking too hard because of the way she made the piano creak. You just keep practising. Soon you’ll be playing better than all of us.’

‘When did you start playing the piano, Grandma?’

‘I was…hmm let’s see…four, just a little younger than you are now. My fingers were so short and I felt like my teacher had no faith in me.’

‘That’s how I feel! And it’s so hard. I just hate practising every day.’

‘You must not hate things that way, sweet Minka. It is a strong thing to feel. How will you play well if you don’t practise? I have been playing for sixty years now and I still have to practise.’

‘But I sound so bad when I practise. When I hear you or Mother, it feels so nice.’

It seemed like Grandma had already forgotten that they were locked out. Sometimes Minka felt like Grandma could be happy wherever she was, whatever the situation. She was always smiling and she never got angry about anything.

‘Grandma, I am hungry.’

‘Just a bit more, darling, promise’

‘Okay, if you say so’, mumbled Minka. She lay back on the deck chair and looked up at the sky. ‘Grandma…may I please ask you a question?’

‘You certainly may.’

‘What do you eat when you are at home by yourself? Do you make the same things you make here? Apple tart, roast potatoes, pie?’

Grandma laughed. ‘Of course not, Minka. Those are special meals for when special people get together. I eat the same as you do every day, great big soups, vegetables, bread, rice, salads.’

‘Oh. And how do you spend your time when you are at home by yourself?’

‘What a funny question, dear! You have seen me at my house, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, but I want to know what you do when you aren’t visiting us or when we aren’t visiting you, when you are by yourself!’

‘Ah, I see. Normally, I wake up every day at 7. I have a nice cup of coffee. Then I have some breakfast. I write mails and other things for about an hour. Then I do some voluntary work. When I am back, in the summers, I take a break and go and sit in the garden. Sometimes I listen to some music, maybe a symphony or a piano concerto. I cook and eat. Some evenings, I go for a walk with my friends. Sometimes we have another cup of coffee together. Some days they go to the cinema or the theatre or an orchestra. When I return, I write postcards family and friends. Or I play the piano and read until bed time.’

‘Wow, that’s so many things, Grandma. Don’t you ever feel… alone and like you don’t have anyone who can talk to you and listen to you?’

‘Alone?’ Grandma looked at Minka for a long time. ‘No. I miss Gramps sometimes, but I have friends to talk to if I feel alone. And I go for a walk sometimes too, to go outside always helps. Why do you ask that?’

‘Oh, no reason. I just wondered if you wanted to stay with us here…’

Minka looked at Grandma, her face full of expectation.

Grandma laughed.

‘You are cheeky, aren’t you? I would love to, young one. But I like living near the mountains. You know that you can visit me anytime, can’t you?’

‘Yes, Grandma. But, you leave tomorrow and then it will be the same as it was before you came. I cannot talk in this way with anyone else and no one else talks to me in this way either…’

‘Oh you are sweet, my Minka. I will be thinking about you too. But you will be busy. You will practise harder on the piano so the next time you see me you can play that song you really like to hear me play. And you will help your mother make bread because now you know how to do it the best way. You can tell your friends at school about how you got locked out with your silly grandma in the garden and you can remember this conversation in your mind again on a different day when you start thinking of me. It’s real, you see, we are here now, together in the garden and we are able to talk to each other this way because we are locked outside. You shouldn’t feel alone. If you want to talk like this with someone, sometimes you can take them to a special place or a new place. You should ask your father sometimes to take you on his bike to the forest to pick mushrooms or your mother to cook with you. Maybe you can take your friends to the river for a game. If you do that, you may be able to have a nice conversation with them. You see?’

After a while, Minka nodded. Grandma could explain things in a way that she could understand.

They heard the turn of the latch and then an exclamation, ‘Hi Minka, Hi Mother’. It was Mother. She swooped down and planted a kiss on Minka’s forehead, then on Grandma’s cheek. ‘What are you both doing here? Did you get locked out? Are you okay? Oh dear, what a horrible thing to happen. Mother, was Minka troublesome? Minka! Did you trouble Grandma?’

‘What’s all this? What’s the ruckus about?’ said Father, coming out of the door with baby Oscar.

‘It’s nothing dear, we just decided to enjoy sitting outside for a while and have a little chat in the sun, didn’t we, Minka?’ Grandma said winking at Minka.  Minka grinned back at her.

From inside the kitchen, a timer sounded. The bread was ready. It was time for tea in the garden, this time with the keys so they could go inside afterwards.

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