He is always on the rocking chair. The floor creaks when he rocks the chair but mostly he is asleep. My memory has no other picture of my Grandpa – Sleeping on a rocking chair with his head hanging on one side and mouth slightly open just enough to hold the saliva from dripping down. His holey vest at some point in time must have been white, I was not born then. The newspaper is mostly spread on his belly like a blanket. I rarely see him read. He grumbles when he rocks, “Witches, all of them are witches.”
He is perched on the chair by the time I wake up. I know he sleeps on the bed because it is rumpled in the morning. Father makes his bed before taking me to school. It remains intact till my bedtime.
Sometimes when he is awake I sit on his lap. A pleasingly pungent odour comes from him. The newspaper crumples when I sit, but he doesn’t mind it.
“Grandpa, everyone has a Grandpa and a Grandma, even if they are in family photographs. Where is my Grandma?”
“She flew away on a broomstick.” he replies.
“What?” I exclaim. “How can anyone fly on a broomstick? They will fall.”
“Witches do.” he says with a crooked smile. Most of his teeth are broken. He looks scarily comical when he smiles.
“And mother?” I try my luck for another answer.
“She too was a witch.” he remarks.
“It is time for school, Sonny.” Dad calls out from the porch.
I jump off and run out. I never say goodbye to Grandpa. We never hug. He does not even accompany me to the park like Pete’s Grandfather.
I hold Dad’s finger as we walk to school. I like his finger it is long and warm. Sometimes when we cross the road he holds my hand. I like that too.
“Dad, why don’t I have a mother?”
Dad doesn’t answer questions. He doesn’t even ask many.
“Was mother a witch?” I ask.
“Who told you so?” he questions in return. I like this topic. Dad even looked at me.
‘Grandpa said that my mother was a witch. Is it true?”
“I don’t know, Sonny. If Grandpa says so, it may be true.”
I don’t like this answer. There must be more to the story.
“He said even Grandma was a witch.” I try my luck for some more conversation with Dad.
“I don’t know, Sonny.” Dad replies.
“Then how does Grandpa know? How can he recognise witches?”
“It is his rocking chair, Sonny. The chair gives Grandpa the power to recognise and drive witches away from home.”
“Really Dad!” I exclaim but that is the end of our conversation. I have a few more questions but I know Dad will not speak any further.
I return home in the evening. Grandpa is asleep on his rocking chair. I know he will answer my questions but I will have to wait till he wakes up.
The sun has set. Dad is at the door. He has returned from work.
“Sonny” he calls out and heads towards Grandpa. I run downstairs.
“Did you speak to Grandpa after you returned from school?” he asks.
This is the second question from Dad in one day. The first one was “Who told you mother was a witch?”
“He was asleep when I returned, Dad.”
Once again Dad is quiet. He is moving around checking something on Grandpa. He touches his forehead, lifts his hand by the wrist and does a few other things which I do not understand. Grandpa does not wake up.
Some people have gathered in the living room. We barely have furniture for them to sit. Grandpa is gone. The rocking chair is empty.
I am curious to check the magic in the chair. Will I also get the power to drive witches away? I shall wait till tomorrow morning. The house will be empty. Only Dad and I will remain.
I run down to Grandpa’s room in the morning. The bed is made. The rocking chair…
Dad is sitting on the rocking chair. He is in his vest. It is white and doesn’t have any holes. The floor creaks. Dad is rocking the chair.
“Witches, they all are witches.” he says. He doesn’t sound like Grandpa but he continues to say it like a chant.
The rocking chair now belongs to Dad. I will wait for my turn to drive the witch away.
Vibha Lohani is an author, translator and storyteller. Her stories have been published by Penguin Random House, Pratham and Amaryllis as part of anthologies. Her story 'Manu's Mango Friend' is available in six different languages (English, HIndi, Malyalam, Filipino, Tibetan and Mandarin) on StoryWeaver's open source platform. Her story has been published as a part of the First Book On Road Safety in India 'Have A Safe Journey' promoted by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. She also runs a story telling and creative expression programme called Abhivyakti for underprivileged children to encourage them to read and write.