Off the Shelf
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Ajoba shuffles across the room towards aji, screaming
“Why do you ask the same questions over and over again?”
“Why can’t you just try to remember?”
“I forget,” she replies
Her voice is indignation and resignation all at once
She spent her life teaching the art of problem solving
But now the simplest questions evade her
“Why am I not allowed to cook dinner?”

Because she has left the gas on too many times
Abilities fail
But pride resists.

When we first arrive in India, we take aji to the doctor
“Her blood glucose is over 400,” he admonishes
“Has she not been taking her pills?”
We find unperturbed foil packs, pink and blue and white.
“I don’t need them,” aji insists, “there’s nothing wrong”
I turn to ajoba, ready to burst
But I see that he has given up on arguing with her
Love is not the same as responsibility.

Fifty-eight years of marriage stretch people thin
Patience is lost
But stubbornness hardens.

At night I help aji into the adult briefs we bought
One foot in, then the other, pull up
I find myself using the same words of encouragement
That she once spoke as she dressed me for school
She resists at first to me seeing her naked
It isn’t the sagging skin or the papery wrinkles that shames her
She doesn’t remember how we got here
And for once, neither do I

In the morning I find discarded briefs
Urine is mopped
But denial stains.

I kiss her goodbye knowing that
Tears are easily wiped
But the ache of loss lingers.

Author’s note: Glossary of Marathi words: aji = grandmother; ajoba = grandfather.

Surabhi Nirkhe Surabhi Nirkhe (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Washington School of Medicine

I am a 3rd year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine. I grew up in India and Seattle and spent some time before med school doing research on family planning in India. I'm interested in writing about how medicine interfaces with culture, and I'm passionate about health equity and how we can help doctors be more human.