Your tiny hands look like my mum’s. They’re small and pudgy with a large nail bed. The little finger is always erect, alert. Like it’s ready to be aloft as you raise a teacup, or explore the upper echelons of your nasal cavity. You look like you’re from K’s side of the family. The nose, the eyes, the hairline, the ears. You have my father’s feline eyelashes and rabbit feet. Every part of you feels like a composite of our families.
Your hands look so much like my mum’s that when I catch them gripping on to my wrist it confuses me.
I know what my mum looks like because of photographs. She is in stasis now, because my memories have been replaced by static representations – that one photo of her from my engagement party and that one photo of her at my cousin Kavita’s wedding and that one photo of her and me and my wife from my own wedding. When I think about it, it’s those photographs participating in my memories. She is a two-dimensional photographic memory now that she’s been gone for a bunch of years.
I used to watch her cook. I’d sit at the kitchen table with homework, with comics, with books and her cooking would catch my eye. She had this small black serrated knife, it was probably blunt. You couldn’t cut anything with it in bulk. It was probably a steak knife for all I know. She’s stand with one flip-flopped foot up on a bench, cutting potatoes into the palm of her hand. That’s how I remember her.
And those are the hands you now have.
You’re at an age where she’s discovering hands, dexterity, reach, grabbing. Your hands, her fingers are the focal point of all of our interactions. You use one balled fist to push the other into your mouth, hoping to suck on it for comfort. You clench and unclench your fingers in the bath, studying them intently, hoping to imbibe the secret of dexterity, of hand-eye coordination. You use a flat palm to turn the pages of the board books I read you when you tire of each repetitive image – this is bear’s house, this is bear’s key, this is bear’s kitchen, this is bear’s settee – you know the lay of that bear’s house better than you know your own, and so you’re ready to skip through the thick pages fast. Except you can’t. When you clutch on to my fingers and drive them into your mouth to suck on for comfort when there isn’t a nipply, dummy, teat or cuddly toy in sight, I feel the glisten of drool on my skin. When you scratch at my hairy wrists, exploring the tactile feel of different surfaces, I can feel that sharp papercut nails dig into me. When you reach out to be picked up from your cot, you extend your fingers out, the only time you know you’re doing this, because it’s the longest you can reach, and the closest you can get to the person you’re pleading with to pick you up.
And each time, I see my mother’s hands.
On special occasions, my family feeds each other cake with our hands. My mother’s smacking hand was perpetually aloft, threatening, ready to descend. She drove with her hands touching on the top of the steering wheel. She cut those potatoes so small.
You move your fingers like my mother used to.
Is this part of your genetic make-up? So much so that I make these links, these fragmentary connections between one generation and the next? More that I’m trying something, anything to link you to my mother. Because even though her photo is in your sightline from your cot, even though I show you her photo on a daily basis, even though I saw her name to you – she’s just a static photo. Not even with a memory association.
And my mother wanted a grandchild more than anything. More than she wanted me to be a lawyer, she wanted a grandchild. What do we do now she has one and isn’t here to see it?
I make connections, join dots, using your hands and her’s, to trace a line through my family, and somewhere in it all, feel like we bridge generations in a way you’re not forgotten.