Grandma, the Developer and Me
The day arrived, when Salila and her Granny Henrietta Masters could find nothing left to eat in the house. Usually Salila and her Granny had many tasty things around: pancakes, pudding, cup cakes, soup, fish-fingers, burgers on sauerkraut. That was because Salila never stopped growing, and her Granny was of the opinion that growing children must eat (and eat well). Granny also liked to eat well, especially all those tasty things that she was constantly cooking and baking for Salila. That is why in the following story Granny and Salila will be found sitting around the kitchen table at all times. Still, the day had arrived where all the cupboards and the fridge were empty. Granny and Salila had no idea how this could have happened. They simply hadn’t paid attention! They should have gone shopping on time! So there they were, scratching their heads. Then Granny remembered. ‘Hang on a minute’ she said. She knelt down, pushed aside the flowery curtain below the sink, where more normal housholds would keep the washing up liquid and cleaning things. Up she stood proudly holding a tin of something. ‘I knew it, I knew it, I knew it’ she said excitedly. She studied the label carefully before declaring: ‘Wild running peas. There time has come.’ Carefully she opened the can and tipped the contents into the waiting saucepan. Out came … macaroni. Bright yellow, they swam in a red sauce. ‘These are not peas, Granny’ said Salila. ‘These are macaroni’. ‘Yes’ Granny replied. ‘How strange’. ‘But look Granny, on the tin it says ‘Macaroni’, not ‘Peas’. ‘Fancy that’ said Granny, ‘I could have sworn I read ‘Peas’. Salila thought this very strange. Then she forgot the whole thing. Though not for too long…
[expand title=”more”]Chapter 1
I am greeted by a loud hammering in the hallway. It comes form the first floor and echoes through the house. This can only be Granny. Who else in our house would make such a racket, she is obviously repairing something again. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, Gran is full of such sayings. She loves them. Especially the old ones. Granny is of the opinion, that there is nothing, which can’t be repaired. And before something finally gets thrown out, the chances are that she has fixed it at least ten times. With this din there is no point in knocking or ringing the bell, so I stick my key in the door. The door doesn’t open. I wedge my foot in and start to push. The hall carpet is rolled up and there is Granny on her knees, hammering a floorboard. ‘Hi Granny’ I shout, but she just keeps on hammering. I whistle through my teeth, something Granny taught me when I was much younger. The hammering stops. ‘Hola Chica’ she says, throwing her hammer in the corner. That’s Spanish. It means ‘Hello’ or something. Granny knows a little bit of lots of languages because she is a well travelled Lady. ‘Already twelve’, she states, blowing the hair out of her eyes. ‘I have to fix this floor board before the squeaking drives me mad’. ‘Never mind twelve’, I say. ‘Its after one. I’m always back at one on Tuesdays.’ Granny sighs and grabs her hammer again. ,Two minutes’, she says. ‘I’m nearly there.’ An hour later we are eating soup. Granny has a very flexible understanding of time and when she says ‘two minutes’ it can take her anything up to an hour to finish. ‘Repairing is a creative process’, or ‘artists can’t be rushed’, these are more of her sayings. Therefore I have heated the soup and set the table. The purple plates with the gold trim, faded from all the years of use. Above us hangs the mobile we made for Christmas. Gone are the angels we used then, only to be replaced by bent forks and broken cups. The angels are sleeping in the box Granny brought from Sri-Lanka. Smelling of soap, they patiently wait for next Christmas. Through the open window we can hear the birds singing in my chestnut tree in the back yard. It’s spring, school is finished for the day and I have a lazy sunny afternoon in front of me. ‘Much to do?’ Granny asks casually. School isn’t an issue between Granny and me and I’ll tell you why, so that it’s done. I’m good at school, it’s as simple as that, and I always have been. I listen to the teachers, look at some of the text books and it sinks in. Sometimes I do my homework, more often I skip it. I have become used to it. However, sometimes I wished I were different. Maybe then I would have more friends. Granny doesn’t talk much about school, really she doesn’t want to know about it at all. She just says ‘it’s because you are brainy’. From time to time she searches for her glasses so that she can sign off some school report or other. But she never finds her glasses, and she doesn’t sign. Nobody cares. That’s what happens when your grades are good. Not too long ago my teacher wanted to see her, she wanted me to skip a class. ‘Will you leave that poor child alone’ was all that Granny had to say. And that’s where we are. There was a time, when my classmates used to tease me. That was before Granny showed me some tricks. Whistling was one, the Travelers Grip-Lock the other. The Grip-Lock is great. Speed is vital, and, especially when you are dealing with someone bigger, the element of surprise is crucial. You grab the hand, quickly twist the arm, give a jab in the ribs, a kick in the shins. The third thing Granny has taught me is Speed Spitting. ‘With those three things school should be a piece of cake’ or so Granny thinks. ‘Whistling, Speed-Spitting and the Travelers Grip-Lock, that’s all a smart girl needs to know. The rest you will manage in your sleep.’ She had her Granny grin on. ‘If you were a boy, I’d show you how to pee the furthest. But since you aren’t, I won’t.’ My name is Salila. Granny gave me that name when I was born, because she was wading through a river in India at the time. Salila is Indian for ‘water’. Granny says that I look like an Indian too. I have no idea if that is true. All I do know is that I have long jet black hair and our greengrocer on the corner calls me ‘Prenses’. That’s turkish for ‘princess.’ He says that I have turkish eyes. When the shop is full, he doesn’t say anything. Then he just throws me an apple and gives me a wink. When I was born, my Mum died, and that’s why Granny came back from India. Dead mothers, that doesn’t happen very often. I even know the number. It’s a crooked number: 0.012% of all Mums die when they are having their baby. You wouldn’t imagine that 0,012% dead Mums would add up to one full person. But there we are. My Mum is most certainly dead. My Mum was called Linda. Granny has a photo of her beside her bed. She had blue eyes and short blond hair, just like Granny, except Granny’s hair is long and turning grey. Granny says that the doctors messed up and that Mum shouldn’t have died. She doesn’t talk that much about it. Only sometimes she gets a distant look in her eye, as if she didn’t even see me. That’s when I know what she is thinking. I know she blames herself, because when Granny is around, everything always has a habit of working out. Just one look from Granny is sufficient. I call it her Granny stare. However, her Granny stare doesn’t reach all the way from India to here and that’s why Granny couldn’t see the mistake the doctors made when I was born. I look a bit like Granny and a bit like Mum. Granny calls me her little Cuckoo. She says that my father either must have been a maroccan camel breeder or a persian scribe. That explains my dark eyes and black hair. Blond hair and blue eyes always prevail she says, except in the case of maroccan camel breeders, persian scribes or princes. In those cases the children will be dark like me. However, a prince was unlikely with my Mum (says Granny). In my quarter there are many kids living alone with their Mum or Dad. Lots of kids take care of themselves because parents are out working. However, I don’t know anyone else living alone just with one Granny, like me. I don’t care as long as I don’t get asked too many questions. ‘I’m going to the flea market, do you want to come?’ Granny asks. You bet I do, flea markets are what Granny and I like doing best. There is even a plan on the kitchen wall marked with all of the dates for flea markets, garage sales, jumble sales and so on. Grannys flea market plan is huge. Granny drew it with a pencil, streets and houses, trees, bridges and our railway station. Blue flags mark the next flee market coming up. Granny uses yellow flags for garage sales and red flags for special bargains. All said and done, her flea market plan looks like a secret treasure map. In many ways, that’s exactly what it is. Granny is the only one who fully understands it and she spends a lot of time keeping it up to date. In the morning, when I am off to school, she carefully rolls up her plan and strolls to Hakan the greengrocer on the corner. Hakan makes tea, served in small glasses with plenty of sugar, while Granny unfolds her plan on his counter. Hakan drinks tea only with Granny. That’s because she knows Turkey well and they get on great together. They usually don’t talk that much, just a bit about the weather or the traffic jams in Istanbul. Then Hakan takes out the newspaper and opens the small ads section. He reads out the street names while Granny moves her flags around like a roman general at war. When they are finished Granny asks ‘so what’s broken?’ Sometimes Hakan has a leaky tap or a broken lamp that Granny fixes for him. Otherwise she buys what she needs for lunch and heads home. Granny repairs things for people, that’s what she does to make a living. Her visit to Hakan saves her the price of the paper and spares her eyes. Says Granny. ‘Nightingale way’ says Granny. ‘Bulky garbage is left out today.’ We fetch our bikes from the backyard. Mine looks fairly normal. It’s red and has a hand break in the front and a pedal break for the back, the mudguards are violet with dolphin stickers. Granny’s bike on the other hand is something special: She re-sprayed an old one that she got from the postman. You know the ones with three wheels, one on the front and two on the back, a tricycle. It was yellow when she got it, but now it is metallic, with two white lamps and one red one on the back and a horn that she got from an antique car. It’s got five gears, a small engine and even a trailer for the things we find at the flea markets. When it’s fully loaded, Granny can do 43 kilometers per hour, downhill. She is not allowed to travel faster because she doesn’t have a driving license. It looks funny when she goas downhill, hair all over the place. Granny is against wearing helmets. ‘Helmets are for cowards’ she says. ‘The secret is to make sure that you never fall. Not falling is what counts, on a bicycle as in real life.’ It’s a long ride to Nightingale way. But then, Granny and I cycle everywhere, she says it keeps me fit and her young. We lock the bikes together with a big chain. The code for the lock Granny changes every day using our birthdates and the date of the day. Off we go. Many of the things we find are useless, a torn sofa or a stone old computer are of little interest to Granny. The birdcage and the flowerpot however she puts to one side, and she sticks her head into a massive washing machine. A broken bed, a shaky high chair or the old wardrobe are no good to her. ‘Not much’ says Granny and we are about to leave before something catches her eye. ‘What’s that then?’ It’s an old table football, and apart from some paintwork that’s peeling off, it seems to be in good mint. ‘Look at this’ she cries, ‘what a treasure. It must be an antique, isn’t it amazing all the things that people throw out, I’ll slap this back together in no time and then you and I will be football champions, Chica!’ Granny is always beside herself with excitement when she finds an antique. Antiques are very old things, sometimes even older than Granny. I have been surrounded by antiques for as long as I can remember, that’s why I know so much about them. If I ever forget what an antique is, I just think of Egypt. Egypt is full of antiques, it even sounds a bit like one. Egypt and antique are twin words. I keep my own list of twin words in my desk at home. ‘Let you take the bird cage and the pot and I’ll take the football table’ Granny says. I know that she won’t leave her treasured antique out of her sight, so I don’t complain. But I’m in a sweat by the time that we get back to the bikes. Granny puts in today’s combination. 4512039 and the lock clicks open. She puts the table football in her basket with the flower pot and the bird cage on top. ‘So what do you want the bird cage for?’ I ask. ‘Who knows’ , Granny says. ‘We should always be prepared. You never know when the next bird might come to visit.’ Whenever we want to celebrate a treasure, we go to the ‘Palermo’. A few years ago Mario decided to decorate his place as a cave or grotto or something, that’s why it’s always dark inside. A couple of coloured lights shed a dim light. Before he decided to go ahead with the decoration, Mario had the Palermo as an ice cream parlor. Then he turned it into a Pizzeria, so now you can get everything there, ice cream, pizza, pasta, and coffee for Granny. The thing with the grotto he did himself. It took him ages and when he connected up the lights he ended up getting an electric shock and had to spend a few days in hospital. Granny just shakes her head when she sees somebody with two left hands like Mario at work. She also finds the grotto ugly, but she would never tell Mario that. I like it! The waitress is new, she is blond and I’ve never seen her around. With Mario we never have to give an order. We just take our seats and I get my ice cream, blueberry and pistaccio as usual, and Granny get’s her double espresso. Sometimes he sits with us and smokes cigarillos with Granny. They take turns to see who can make the best smoke rings. It stinks badly, but I don’t want to spoil Granny’s fun. She takes blowing smoke rings pretty serious. We head for our usual places while the waitress polishes some glasses behind the counter. Granny finally clears her throat to get her attention. The girl grabs her notebook. ‘Ascoopofblueberryandascoopofppistacciotoppedwithhundredsandthousandsandadoubleespresso’ goes Granny. The waitress frowns. ‘We have no coffee, did you not see the sign?’ There it is, written in large letters. DEAR GUESTS, OUR COFFEE MACHINE IS BROKE’. Mario must have written it, he only learnt to speak German when he came here as an adult, that’s why he always makes mistakes when he writes. Granny takes one good look at the waitress over the rims of her glasses, her eyebrows almost touching. It’s her Granny stare. When she stares at me like that, I know that I’d better do as I am told fairly promptly. And sure enough, after a few seconds the waitress starts shifting from foot to foot. ‘Very nice indeed’ says Granny slowly. ‘All those big letters, I mean. But what I really want to know is this: Are you capable of waitressing? Could you manage a hot chocolate?’ That’s exactly when Mario arrives. A big smile spreads across his face when he sees Granny and me as he stumbles through the door carrying two big shopping bags. ‘Ah, Signorina, Signora!’ he calls, wiping the sweat from his forehead. ‘Buon giorno, I’m inconsolable, mi dispiace, my coffee machine is broke!’ Granny looks relieved and casually answers ‘Hello Mario. I suppose if I can’t have my espresso, perhaps I might have a loan of your toolbox instead?’ It then turnes into one of those Palermo evenings. Granny has taken a clean tea towel, a pliers and a screwdriver and gets to work. Carefully she dismantles the valves of the coffee machine, places all the pieces on the tea towel. I know better than to disturb her when she is at something like this, otherwise she will never get all the parts back together in the correct order. So while she gets on with repairing the coffee machine, Mario and I play black-jack, and because black-jack is much more fun when three people play, the waitress joins in. Mario and Granny drink grappa together while the valves steep in vinegar for an hour or so. Finally Granny re-assembles the coffee machine, rinses it through a few times with water before proudly declaring to Mario: ‘That was a serious case of chalked valves! Not a problem, though, as long as it is only the coffee machine and not your head.’ Granny can sometimes be pretty cheeky, however Mario is not in the slightest offended, he knows Granny far too long. He offers to pay for the repair. Granny insists on not being paid and saunters out of the Palermo. Her head held high, without bidding the waitress the time of day. That’s what you are in for when you get on the wrong side of my Granny. By the time we get back home there is still lots to do. I jump into my pyjamas, wash myself, brush my teeth, feed the fish and my canary Henri. In bed I do some homework and a Sudoku that Hakan tore out from the newspaper that morning. Granny has stowed our treasures from today away in her workshop. Above the door it says: Henrietta Masters, repairs, spare parts bought and sold. Whenever someone in the neighbourhood has something which doesn’t work anymore, they usually come to Granny. She fixes hairdryers, food-mixers, vacuum-cleaners. For larger items like washing machines or refrigerators Granny makes house calls in the mornings when I am in school. The money which Granny gets from all the repairs she keeps in a purse in the kitchen and that’s the money we live from. Granny is far too young for a pension and when she is older she says that she probably won’t get one either. She says that’s because she has always worked doing odd jobs and never spent a day of her life working in an office, and when she was younger she spent her time travelling. You see, Granny doesn’t have a profession as such like most other people. Whenever anybody asks her about her job she simply says ‘I’m an artist. Repairing things is an art, that’s why I am an artist!’ Before I go to sleep Granny comes into my bedroom for our Threesome. We have had our Threesome every evening for as long as I can remember. Granny sits on my bed and we tell Mum all that has happened during the day. Tonight we have lots of things to talk about, the table football, the blond waitress and the coffee machine, to mention just a few. By the time we are finished it’s half eight, so it’s out with the lights and off to sleep I go.
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