Grandma had died during the early evening of Christmas 1973. Eight families (aunts, uncles, cousins and my own family), my grandfather and his maid now sat or stood subdued in the house. We could all hear the clock ticking loudly, and then my second aunt said, ‘Now we must wait for her spirit to return.’ Third aunt then said, ‘We will know when we hear a tinkling sighing sound.’
Easily impressed and quaking in our flip flops – it is hot in Singapore – my younger cousins and I began to wonder how this could be. For most of us, this had been our first brush with death. For all of us younger children, this was our first encounter with death whilst we had been in situ. Already the house felt uncomfortable. Sis had always maintained that a ghost occupied the part of the house where our grandparents’ rooms were. In fact, all of us younger cousins 12 years and downwards had always disliked using the bathroom next to my grandparents’ bedroom. It never felt right; we always rushed through our ablutions.
The clock sat above that dratted bathroom and ticked loudly. We knew that the gong would sound on the hour soon enough. One quivering voice asked no one in particular when Grandma’s spirit would return. We were told that it would be soon. Then, true enough, at approximately 7 pm, a sigh seemed to emanate from the vicinity of our grandparents’ room. We heard chimes that seemed to come from nowhere; they were certainly most unlike the gong that normally sounded from the clock.
There were 35 of us in that house but I think you could have heard a pin drop. Finally, our third aunt broke the silence and said Grandma had returned. We could now get on with living again.
Christmas 1973 was a Christmas like no other for me and my relatives. Impressionable as I was, I truly believed that Grandma’s ghost now lived in a house that I had visited and would continue to visit regularly. I even imagined meeting Grandma again in her ghostly guise whenever I had cause to enter the bedroom she once occupied.
Now, many years down the line, I remember Grandma and Grandpa with a kind of nostalgia, that recalls mostly happy days, rather than sad ones. I was closer to Grandpa than to Grandma, because I spent more time talking with him. Grandma’s death made me sad, but it did not overwhelm me. After all, if what the elders said was true, then Grandma was still with us.
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