I spell Granny Fatma ‘Grannima’. Her legs are wobbly but she dances without them. Her arms start to curl and float like her starry dupatta. I bet the music smells of sherbet and turmeric. I’m a good reader but my letters are big and people can’t find the words in them. So I show Grannima what I mean.
For ‘police’ I arrest her round the wrist. For ‘doctor’ I lie on the sofa and open up my tummy. I know when Grannima is joking because she winks. It means she’s only pretending. Once when I ate a banana she sat the skin upside down on the table and signed ‘squid’ – and pretended it nipped her. Then she winked and her mouth went wide and wobbly. I can’t wink yet. I’m nearly five but you have to be six for that. Grannima’s very old and she forgets little things. But once she drew me the girl inside her who wants to skip. It’s the same girl who’s barefoot under a Neem tree in an old photo she keeps by her bed.
In the summer we went to the park and saw lilies on the pond but not Indian ones. She pretended to pick one from the water and put it in her hair. We found a bush full of roses to sniff and I saw a baby butterfly as small as my thumb because I have eagle eyes. Then I went up and down the slide nearly fifty times and made friends with a boy while Grannima was swaying to her secret music on the bench. In the end she signed that we’d better go before I rubbed my bottom away like a bad drawing. I don’t know what her laugh sounds like but it makes her eyes melt like chocolate.
When we got home Grannima couldn’t find the key. I signed wait and went round the back. The kitchen window was wide open so I pushed my dumper truck underneath it. I did some good thinking. I even put rocks by the wheels so they wouldn’t roll. Then I pulled myself up to the window ledge and swung right over onto the worktop.
I bowed to Grannima when I let her in and she hugged me and signed, ‘My hero’. But Dad said the key was a big thing to forget and the house felt sad and crotchety.
Now I have a nanny called Julia to take me out. She can sign better than Grannima but she’s got no girl inside her. Julia won’t let me do high jump with Grannima’s stick and she never lets me push the wheelchair.
If Grannima’s legs are really naughty she stays in bed but if she’s awake she still dances. My signing is speeding up so I tell jokes. The girl inside Grannima seems to like them but Grannima’s fingers get too muddled to talk. Signing makes her tired anyway.
I had a dream last night that Grannima’s eyes wouldn’t open but I looked out in the garden and the girl inside her was skipping. She smelt a cobra lily and threaded it into her hair. Her salwar kameez was red and gold and her dupatta danced in the breeze.
So I gave Grannima a kiss this morning to make sure she woke. She still looked sleepy but she sat up when I fluffed her pillow. I asked her what she wanted and she wrote, To be best friends forever. I know we will be, because she smiled but she didn’t wink.
Illustrated by Stu McLellan: