“Edlu-pedlu”, she’d call out from the ginormous bench-lined front porch, in that most typical way Indians nickname their children. We were across the narrow road, in our neighbour/cousins’ house playing like there was no end. Making up new games once one ended and turning it into an endless cycle of happiness. We were unstoppable.
“Edlu-pedlu!”. Her voice signaled lunch time. If I didn’t hear her, I had two other sisters she could call out for. Our conscience would finally get the better of us and we crossed the road back into the compound that housed my great-grandfather’s house. My grandfather still lived there. A. Pacy, his unmarried sister, didn’t have any reason to leave her father’s home. That’s where she lived. That’s the same front porch bench she sat down every evening to talk and curse people that passed by, until the poder (bread man) came. Just like my memories stay tied to that place, so too did hers.
She was always a surprise to our pre-adolescent minds. If we ever did have our cousins from across the road or once-in-a-while friends come play at our grandfather’s house instead (which was rare), A Pacy knew exactly which kid she would hate for a made-up reason none of us could fathom. In the middle of our games, we would have to take hiding breaks if we knew she was coming. Not for our safety, but for the safety of our friendships. Just as deeply as she hated, she loved. She would make up cute names and say them over and over again until they became comical punchlines to invisible jokes. We laughed at “Gypsyyyy, Gypsy Girlie” and “Digli”, he names for our pet dog and cat. A lot of her love was reserved for her cats, unless they stole food or refused to sleep at her feet. Come to think of it, she was the only person I knew who treated cats and people the same way.
After my grandfather died, she became more of a person to me. She was no longer in his shadow and we finally saw a concentrated version of her. She was just as feisty and she never held back. One of my favourite stories is of her knocking a drunk man over his head with a big stick. When my mother asked her what if he died and she was sent to jail, she replied: “You would take me out (sic)” My saintly mother – who was the only person to tend to A. Pacy’s well-being – was equal parts exasperated and amused by her aunty’s antics. Mama would go to visit A Pacy after work and would come back with anecdotes like you wouldn’t believe. Despite her unsociable behavior, A. Pacy always asked and knew about everybody. She knew who was getting married, died and whose birthday was coming up. She knew ALL THE DATES (capitalisation is absolutely necessary. She was amazing!). That right there was her biggest gesture of love. I remember going to stay in Parra with my sisters for the first time after Babdi (a name my sister Jane made up for my grandpa) died. We wondered if she knew how it would be to have 3 children in her care, where we would sleep and if it would feel just as cozy. Most of all, we wondered about food. We got all our meals and granted the tea tasted a little strange but on request A Pacy made us her world-famous beef stew, which I mostly ate just for the carrots, potatoes and macaroni. We gobbled it all up like old times.
As she got older and had less control over her knees, my mother made the difficult decision to have her live in an assisted-living home. She was heartbroken. We all were. The entire foundation of that house where we spent the most blissful years of our childhood was losing its last caretaker. It’s strange to be so attached to a house and yet, it isn’t. Those walls have stories. Those walls have years and years of history built into the ground where every crack is a space that couldn’t hold some beautiful, tragic secret anymore. A. Pacy would be getting the best care, while the house would watch as its last human made her way to another. The doors would be closed and stardust would collect.
A Pacy took her last breath last week. She was 90 and a champion through it all. I gave her a needle and thread and a kiss on the cheek the last time I saw her before I flew back to the US. I finally knew how she felt. She’s back where she always wanted to be, a short walk away from her house in a place among the stars.
(My sister Jane prophetically took these photos of A Pacy not long before she died. Jane hadn’t visited aunty in a year and she wrote this before we all knew what would be. RIP, AP)