The last time I saw my grandmother, Jojo, alive her arms were bound with thick, brown rope of the kind used to pull drowning bullocks out of rivers. The nursing home staff had tied her wrists to the wooden armrests of her chair. There she sat, in the corner of the tiny sitting-room, a room visitors entered carefully in search of their ageing relatives. The nursing home was a surprisingly small bungalow that housed about twenty elderly patients. The sitting-room had French doors that flooded the room with light but they were closed so the air was carpet-dust stale. Various ointments – Deep Heat, Dettol, Sudocream – masked the stink of despair.
I looked at Jojo and my stomach cramped. My mother chatted to her as if nothing were wrong, asking her if she was well, if the nurses were looking after her. I had to look away. One other woman received visitors in the cramped room. I focussed on her but that didn’t help much. Mouth clamped tightly, the old woman held onto her knees and rocked ever so slightly back and forth as her daughter explained why her grandchildren had not come to see her. They’re busy at football training, she explained. They’re all obsessed with soccer after Italia ’90.
The old woman’s rocking intensified. Her lips disappeared.