Artwork by Jay Mitra
Only when you’re drunk do you talk about your grandmother. We drink a lot, sharing pints and pizza while the telly blares in the background, cocktails on the terrace before fucking under the clouds. I miss her, you would slur, and your eyes brighten, yet you seem older. You never say ‘Baa’. You always call her ‘my grandmother’. She floats above us like a mystical figure, and I imagine her commenting on our drinks, calling me a lightweight. I feel like you are a reflection of her, or some mangled mirage.
Her northern accent was an engine’s hum. She picked it up quickly when she moved to Bradford, and everyone thought she was a born and raised Yorkshire lass. I guess people saw her as a local oddity, but to you she was special. You remembered the soft līlā of her saris, always flowing behind her, never getting caught or tangled. You said it made you want to be more traditional, but you never could be. Not after you met me.
The memory you come back to the most is your grandmother doing DIY with your grandfather in bootcut jeans. She never wore them outside your home. You were only small but she let you paint around the plug sockets. You remembered her flicking the paintbrush at you, getting it on your nose. I thought you were embellishing and you probably were.
You both shared a particularly northern English, swearing over fish and chips, faces painted for United games, ignoring when old school footie fans would stare. Even though your parents weren’t around, she never let you forget that you belonged to more than one culture. Your extended family were baffled, neither side meeting.
You talk about the funeral, how you had to shake everyone’s hand, wearing the wrong clothing, a sigh of a suit. You heard the funeral director talk about a tennis ball, the analogy going completely over your head. You don’t mention this often. I think I’ve heard you talk about it once, over a pale ale.
Your jumpers smell of overripe kēḷā and fake strawberries and I wear them when I dress as you. You wore one of my wigs once and it was the most beautiful you ever looked, the blonde soft, hanging past your ears, like dirty water. We are alike, both half Asian, both with the same hollow eyes. People used to joke about our skin, and it was okay because we were pale. Pale ish. Amtha amtha; when we kiss it’s like practising on my arm.
I didn’t particularly like you when we met, but there was a sense of belonging I felt when we talked. I knew I’d never get that again. You laughed at my jokes. I didn’t laugh at yours. You didn’t tell on me when I cheated at Cluedo. You were patient with me when I cried.
You burn chai and I pretend to like green tea, throwing it in the garden and watching it freeze. We tick ‘other’ on most forms, visit Google Translate more than Twitter. I guess we’ve never met anyone like us.
I don’t know what it would be like if we got married. Whether we’d have an Indian wedding or an English one. Neither feels right. We’ve been to plenty of Hindu funerals, but not a single wedding. I don’t know if we’d know how to do it right. I can’t imagine committing to you, but I couldn’t be with anyone else. Being without you is like parting with my shadow.
I worry about our children. Whether they will connect to our culture or neglect them both. Whether they’ll remember your grandmother. I imagine chasing after them, still fit at forty, and sweeping them up in my arms. I see them at graduation, attending the same uni I dropped out of. I know our children will occupy the same empty space, the no man’s land of multitudes, sapharajana from rotten oak. But they will be ours. And that’s enough, I think.
I think of you and this daydream often. As far as I know, you don’t exist, and never will. I’ll never know someone like me, love someone like you. I wish I could ignore you, shelve you, put you away some place where your figment would not get damaged.
But you’re right there, right on the surface, every time I look in the mirror.
Kayleigh Jayshree (she/they) finds comfort in memories, even as they twist and change. She is based in the North of England. Her work is published by Lunate Fiction and The Hearth Magazine, and she is forthcoming in The Bitchin’ Kitsch and Fruit Journal. She often writes about her mixed heritage and bipolar disorder.