The sound of si­lence

What­ever hap­pened to the beauty of si­lence – of feel­ing con­nected in spite of the ab­sence of words?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

amused and en­ter­tained.

I usu­ally passed the time by read­ing one of my grand­mother’s books, or my grand­fa­ther’s lat­est is­sue of Farm­ers Weekly.

When I got fed up with grownup lit­er­a­ture and look­ing at the price of trac­tors and an­i­mal feed, I would some­times at­tempt to build one of my grand­mother’s jig­saws – enor­mous un­der­tak­ings in­volv­ing more than 1,000 sim­i­lar-look­ing pieces.

Some­times, when she was in a talk­a­tive mood, my grand­mother would en­ter­tain me with sto­ries about the good old days.

I loved it when she dished up some snip­pet about how naughty my mother had been as a child; here was ev­i­dence that par­ents were ac­tu­ally hu­man.

Around noon, she would pack a lunch for my grand­fa­ther and head for the fields, where he was usu­ally hard at work.

As soon as he caught sight of us, he would im­me­di­ately stop what he was do­ing, lift his cloth cap from his sweaty head, glance up at the gen­eral di­rec­tion of the sun and say: “So it’s that time al­ready, woman, is it?”

We would then sit with him on an old blan­ket spread on the ground and watch as he ravenously de­voured the large chunks of home­made bread crammed full of fragrant smoked ham and sharp Ched­dar cheese.

Af­ter he had washed ev­ery­thing down with a flask of sweet, milky tea, he would smile at my grand­mother, thank her for the food, ruf­fle my hair and give me a wink, as if we were shar­ing an enor­mous se­cret. Then it was back to work.

My grand­par­ents barely ex­changed more than a few sen­tences, but look­ing back, I re­alise that their silent com­pan­ion­ship spoke mul­ti­tudes.

They seemed to be in tune with each other in a way that tran­scended words.

An ex­changed glance here, a smile there, a gen­tle pat on the shoul­der in pass­ing – th­ese silent nu­ances told the true story of their re­la­tion­ship.

Af­ter our evening meal, I would usu­ally sit with my grand­fa­ther on the old wooden bench by the back door.

He would ask me how I’d passed my day, and I al­ways had the feel­ing that he re­ally lis­tened to ev­ery word I had to say.

Not many peo­ple have made me feel that spe­cial since.

Once he was sat­is­fied that all was well with me and I wasn’t feel­ing too bored in my iso­lated sur­round­ings, he would lapse into long pe­ri­ods of si­lence.

I’d had my say and he’d had his, too.

It wasn’t an un­com­fort­able si­lence, not the sort that would cause you to rack your brains for some­thing to say.

In­deed, it felt like the most nat­u­ral thing in the world: feel­ing con­nected in spite of the ab­sence of words.

As we sat there, look­ing out at the ripen­ing wheat fields, he would re­trieve his old pipe, pol­ished with use, from one of his bulging pock­ets.

He would stuff the bowl with to­bacco and strike a match with a deft flick of his wrist.

I would watch in si­lence as the packed strands glowed bright red when they caught alight.

Even now, I can still smell the aro­matic sweet­ness of the to­bacco and the earthy scent that was my grand­fa­ther.

I can still see the swirls of smoke that rose up from his pipe to be car­ried away by a gen­tle evening breeze.

But most of all, I can still hear the sound of si­lence.

Check out Mary on Face­book at www.face­book.com/mary.sch­nei der.writer. Reader re­sponse can be di­rected to star2@thes­tar.com.my.

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