Even now, weeks after it happened, I still don’t know what to write. The memories of him are beginning to fade. He always told me not to be sad, but I can’t help it. My bin is filled with paper. Each sheet a failed attempt to express what he meant to me.
Hours at my desk has produced nothing. My mind feels as blank as the page staring up at me. Its barrenness taunting me. Mocking me, daring me to write something. But nothing.
Papou wouldn’t want me to cry during his eulogy, he was far too stoic for tears. Nonetheless thinking about him sent streams down my cheeks. He’d been such a constant in my life. Down the road and to the right, a thirty second walk away from home. But now he was gone. His house now as empty as my heart. Sitting there collecting dust as nosey neighbours attempted to peer in, trying to learn what had happened to the gentle old man who would spend hours sitting on his front porch.
Dad said we shouldn’t be sad, that Papou lived a long happy life. “We should celebrate that,” he’d been saying.
I sighed cynically, letting my forehead hit the desk. Nothing about death felt celebratory.
I opened the book he gave me when I was a child, he wrote my Greek name on the inside cover. I had crossed it out and replaced it with its English translation when I was younger. I had never liked the Greek iteration of my name. Staring at the small book I lifted it off my desk. Careful not to damage its fragile binding, I turned through the pages, remembering the day he’d gifted it to me.
I was playing in his backyard, he was sitting, just watching. It was how our time together was usually spent. The language barrier limited us to such a plain interaction. My grandfather had never learnt to speak English, despite having spent half his life in an English-speaking country. But that’s how old Greek men were, they were stubborn. But that day he seemed hell bent on changing that. He had left his post on the old green patio furniture and retreated inside. Moments later he would return, holding an old book.
“Ela edó – come here,” he said.
He motioned for me to sit on his lap, and handed me the book, it was titled Saint Demetrios. I had carelessly flicked through the pages, damaging the binding, discovering the entire book was written in Greek.
“Diavasé to – read it,” he told me.
For the next hour I tried to read this foreign book. I felt like a kindergartener learning to read for the first time. I struggled constantly, requiring much help, but he was happy, so I persevered. I had no idea what I was reading about or why suddenly, I was reading this book, but his smile encouraged me to keep trying.
I can still picture that smile.
The next time I saw that book was on the way home from Greek school. He used to enjoy taking me to and from Greek school. When we got home, he asked me to read to him again. Unsurprisingly I struggled. The words were far more advanced than anything I’d learnt at Greek school – not that I paid much attention in those Friday night classes anyway.
By the fourth time he had me read the book he could see my frustration.
I asked him, in my best broken Greek, why he was making me read the book. I could barely speak the language, let alone read it.
To this day remember his response, it made no sense at all.
In his best broken English he said to me ‘if you don’t get lost, you will never be found.’
It was both a cryptic and nonsensical response which had completely blown my mind. Over the years I had asked him about it, but he would always repeat himself.
He never did give me an answer to that question, but thinking on it now it started to make sense. He had never been talking about getting physically lost. I had lost a valuable part of myself without even knowing it. I had grown up without the culture that had shaped his life… my culture. Only by losing myself in the culture I didn’t understand would I learn more about myself, and our family. The book had been a means of achieving that. Without realising it he’d been teaching me the language that would allow us to communicate with one and other. The language I would eventually use when I visited the country he’d grown up in.
I could feel the tears welling in my eyes as I stared at the small book that had effectively remastered my relationship with him. Carefully I turned to the inside cover and grabbed a pen. Scribbling out the English translation of my name, I replaced it with what had originally sat there. The name I’d been baptised with. The name that had been gifted to me by Papou. His name. My name.
My hand moved from the book to the blank page that had taunted me for hours. Even in death he was still using this book to help me. I finally knew what I would write about…