I was browsing on YouTube when my father sent me a WeChat message, telling me my grandmother just passed away.

I didn’t stop watching videos. There is nothing realistic I could do: I could not fly back home due to the pandemic; I don’t know what I should talk to my mother in this case, since it was not even her who informed me about this. And deep in my heart, there was no sorrowfulness. Just empty — maybe a little bit emptier than before, if one can compare vacuums.

I was born and raised up in an undeveloped provincial capital city in China. With my father growing up here also, my mother came to the city from a small town in the southern part of the province, a while after her failure to enter high school. My mother was never hesitant to tell me that their marriage wasn’t based on love. Instead, it was purely for her future child, who is me, accidentally. In those days the only way to let her child have a chance to grow up and study in the capital city is to get married to a man from the city. For whatever reason they never told me, they got married and I was produced.

“Let’s go back to hometown” — That’s what my mother always tells me when we head over to the small town, where she was born. Being close to Yellow Mountain, most people would call it a beautiful town based on its scenery. What was hidden behind those old and peaceful little houses is that after living in one of them, things usually become so surprising in a bad way. For a long time there was no flush toilet, no shower, without being said, no internet. My grandparents used to live in that house. I don’t know when it started, but it eventually ends, after they passed away.

I only have a vague impression of my grandfather, who passed away when I was nine. When the only way of going there was taking the slow green train, I visited them only during summer and winter breaks. For a kid like me, cousins were my best friends, and the Chinese New Year was the hugest celebration I could imagine, during which I could have new clothes, watch fireworks, and get red pockets of money. All those pieces still exist in my mind, but my grandfather’s face, in my memory, was blank. Nine years old was too young for a kid to understand the meaning of “death”, or to pick up and collect the memories of passed-away relatives which would eventually vanish. His portrait was hanging in the living room of that old house, which I have to say, looks handsome. Under the desk there were also pictures of my grandfather and grandmother in their youth, and they just looked like… someone I don’t know at all.

Still, I grew up. Slowly I recognized that the way my mother says that town is my “hometown” was nothing but a camouflaged brainwash, to win me from the destiny she chose by herself, which finally, stopped working. I kept claiming the city I was born in is my hometown (which should be, shouldn’t it?), and made various excuses not to go back to her hometown. “Your grandma doesn’t have much time left. You should go and visit her.” Well, I did that just to avoid fighting with my mother, and I kept playing cellphones with my mobile data all the time.

I was never close to my grandmother. In the town, people speak in a dialect that I never understood although I frequently heard my mother making phone calls with it. Younger people can speak mandarin, but my grandmother couldn’t. Even when she could talk fluently, I could only understand her calling my name. As a kid, when I went there, I played with my cousin, visited the market with my uncle and aunt, but never spent a long time with my grandmother. No chatting, in my memories.

Then I left home for undergrad, then left the country for grad school. Sometimes I recall that she always had a huge expectation on my studying, hoping me to enter the best university for undergrad. I didn’t meet that expectation, but now I am doing something she had never imagined before, and probably could not understand. My mother always set up a video call when she went back and asked me to say something to my grandmother. I have barely anything to say other than greetings with a smile.

Slowly In the video, I saw her becoming older and weaker. Her grey hair was to shoulder, then turned white, then was cut to less than one inch. She once could stand and walk, then she spent more days sitting in the chair, then she couldn’t move without my aunt-in-law’s help. Her face looked like a walnut, or a candle burnt to its end, or whatever an old woman who spends her whole life farming and raising four children should look like. But still, I don’t know what I should talk to her. I don’t know my feeling towards her. She is my grandmother, my mother’s mother, a relative — that’s it.

Last Sunday my mother and my aunt’s family went back to the town again because she fell and broke her leg. Two days later she passed away.

In the WeChat group my uncle-in-law posted videos and pictures of her funeral. I watched those videos after I came back home from work and parked outside my house. Under my grandfather’s portrait, her portrait was added. In the portrait, she has grey hair to shoulder, which is how she was like in my memory. In the countryside the cremation was still not popular, and her coffin was buried together with my grandfather, which was on a hill not far away from the house. Every time I went to the town, I visited my grandfather’s tomb to burn some paper money for him. As a kid, watching the ashes floating in the air was always my favorite part, and I kept running with my cousins in the trails on the hills. After I grew up, I lost the ability to run on those trails — I could not even walk easily in there without losing balance.

I looked into the night sky. It was as clear as what I saw from the balcony of that old house when I was a kid. In China, there is an old saying that after someone who loves you passed away, they would become a star to protect you every night. This tale, of course, does not make sense to me. I just felt that I lost another weak connection to the world, which is, as always, not very strongly connected to me.

Then I stopped gazing at the night sky, grabbed my bookbag, and walked back home.

A quantized wandurluster.