Nyassa was apprehensive as she pushed open the creaky gates of the mansion. For a minute she just stood and took in the surroundings. It seemed as though nothing had changed, and yet there was much that was different. The overgrown bushes were just as they had always been. The rusty swings seemed a little rustier. The neem tree still stood there, old but erect, just like her grandfather. The peonies looked as beautiful as ever. The dahlias, her grandmother’s favourite, were in full bloom, and the guavas on the trees were dangling invitingly, as if beckoning her.
Grandpa loved guavas. She remembered climbing the trees easily, plucking the best ones for him. She remembered the proud look on his face as he’d give her a penny in appreciation for her effort, and they’d enjoy eating them for dessert after a tasty meal made by Grandma. Nyassa had spent a good part of her childhood in this garden, in this mansion. Yet it felt unfamiliar now. Her throat constricted at the memories, and an outburst of tears seemed to be on its way. She swallowed hard, pushing it back. She had to put on a brave face.
As she reached the door, a strange fear gripped at her, accompanied by the feeling that something bad was about to happen. She paused for a moment before lifting the ancient bronze door knocker—she had always been intrigued by it, awed by its intricate carvings and impressive weight—and knocked it twice. She always knocked twice. One knock could go ignored, dismissed as one’s imagination; three felt too imposing. Two knocks felt just right.
She heard footsteps descending the stairs. It was definitely not Grandpa. The footsteps were too quick. It must be Anni, she thought. Perhaps Grandpa had guessed that it was her. Perhaps he had sent Anni to receive her so he wouldn’t have to. Her mother had spoken to him on the phone, informing him about Nyassa’s visit. She had even offered to go in Nyassa’s place, or at least accompany her. But Nyassa had refused. She had insisted on going alone.
Anni opened the door. Her face instantly lit up at the sight of Nyassa. She immediately pulled her into a warm hug and kissed her on the forehead like she always did. Anni was Grandpa’s maid. In her forties now, she had been working there ever since Nyassa could remember, although she looked very different now. Her hair was greying, her glasses were thicker, and she had grown plump with age, in contrast to the slender, agile twenty-something who used to chase Nyassa all over the lawn when she hid her chappals.
Nyassa hesitantly entered the mansion. The plaid furniture inside brought more childhood memories to the surface. As she sat on a sofa, Anni brought her a glass of lemonade, and she could feel a lump forming in her throat. She ran her fingers over the yellow, velvety cushions next to her. She had always found them hideous. They looked out of place in the otherwise tasteful décor of the house. She and Grandpa would always complain about them, but Grandma used to like them. She wondered why Grandpa never had the cushions removed after Grandma had passed away.
The lace curtains covering the windows reminded her of the many games of hide-and-seek she used to play with Grandpa, and occasionally Anni too if she wasn’t too busy. She would quietly hide behind the curtains, wearing her lace frocks. And after every long, hot day spent gardening, Anni would clean her up and give her a glassful of cool lemonade. It had always been a blissful indulgence for her. Even now, it was the best lemonade she had ever tasted. Nyassa closed her eyes as she sipped it slowly, replaying the memories in her mind.
When she opened her eyes, Grandpa was sitting on the armchair opposite her, facing her, yet looking away as if she wasn’t much more than the hideous cushion on his sofa. She felt her eyes getting moist. She wanted nothing more than to hug him, to take his hands in hers, even sit on his lap and listen to his stories. She clutched the edges of the sofa, as if that was all that was stopping her from walking up to him.
She waited for him to speak, or even acknowledge her presence. She waited. She cleared her throat. For the first time, Grandpa looked at her. Their eyes met for a brief second: hers, pleading, struggling to speak a thousand words all at the same time; his, cold and glassy, almost as though they weren’t real.
He looked away.
“Grandpa, I’m getting married,” she said, a little more firmly this time.
“I’m aware,” he replied, refusing to look at her. “Your mother called.”
Nyassa took out the invitation from her bag. Slowly, but deliberately, she placed it on the coffee table between them. It was simple and tasteful, the way he liked it. ‘Nyassa marries Aisha’ it read, in beautiful golden letters.
Grandpa refused to acknowledge it. He deliberately avoided looking at it, as if it was something nasty and perverse. She took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Grandpa… We… I would like you to come. It wouldn’t be the same without your presence and blessings.”
For the first time, her grandfather looked directly into her eyes. There was pure disgust in his own. “Bless? Bless this strange relation?” he spat out. “Marrying a girl; a girl. And you want me to bless this ridiculous marriage? How dare you even suggest it!” he hissed, his face screwed up in revulsion.
Nyassa sighed. She had expected this reaction, but not the spite, the disgust that it was soaked in.
“It isn’t strange, Grandpa…” she tried to reason. But it made no difference.
“Don’t you call me that!” he roared, a little too loudly for him. “You may leave now. Never come back,” he said, before walking out of the drawing room, closing the door hard behind him.
Nyassa remained seated, unable to move. She couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. She sat on the sofa, crying for what felt like a really long time. Slowly, she got back to her feet. She picked up her wedding invitation and dragged herself out of the mansion.
Outside, she looked at the card and thought about what her grandpa had said, about her relationship being strange. Was her love for another woman strange? No, it felt as sacred as any love could be. She couldn’t love anyone the way she loved Aisha. But what about Grandpa? What about his love for his granddaughter? How could he stop loving her because she loved someone of the same gender as her? Was love so conditional, so fragile?
She decided that it wasn’t. Nobody else had stopped loving her or disowned her for her choices, and she didn’t believe that love—any form of it—could be that weak. The more she thought about it, the more she felt that maybe it wasn’t her love that was strange. Maybe it was Grandpa’s.