please turn autoplay on if you are submerged in silence.
"Since you're the eldest daughter," my grandfather says, "you have to be the son. I'm going to call you grandson. You have to act more like one, too. You have to swallow your timid behaviour and eat more bowls of rice. Eat more red meat. You need to have a strong voice to lead your younger sister and brother."
It's early morning in Shanghai. He had returned from the hospital a few days earlier (that day sent everyone into a panic, despite the fact it was the third time he had been hospitalized suddenly that year), and was sitting placidly by the dusty window as the television blared on. Instead of birds, there was the pandemonium of construction a few roads down, and the noise of the neighbours as they chased down toddlers in the narrow alleys of the slums. However, my grandfather was not distracted by the commotion.
"Grandson, where is your father?"
I look down at my lap. "He went out to buy breakfast."
My grandfather then tells me about my dad's oldest brother, and how successful and rich and great and older-brother-like he was. "You should be like him," he says.
"I can't do that," I say, my Chinese shaky and slow.
He shakes his head. "You have to be! You can. I know you can be a good eldest son."
My dad suddenly comes in through the open doors with plastic bags stuffed full of oily street food, and smiles. "What have you guys been talking about? Nothing bad about me, I hope," he jokes as he puts the food down. My siblings traipse in with bowls and chopsticks, and we have lunch.
The afternoon sun raises the temperature to 39C, and my dad wheels his father to the small garden just outside. My grandmother is in the kitchen, cutting open fish and gutting them quickly, perfuming the room with blood. "Come outside," my dad calls. "Bring your camera!"
I follow outside, reluctantly leaving the air-conditioned tenement behind. My dad waves me closer, where he reveals a single creamy white flower extending from the messy vines of my grandfather's garden. The flower remains upright despite the heat wave, a solitary gem amongst the weeds.
"Take a picture quickly, this flower lives only for a few days," my grandfather says. I position the camera and take a few pictures, from different angles. "It took so many months to bloom."
Barely two days later, I am back in the garden, watching over my siblings and my grandmother as my dad, once again, accompanies my grandfather to the hospital. "Where did they go?" my baby brother asks me. I pick him up and walk to where the flower used to be, but instead of a pearl-coloured blossom, only a scorched stalk stands. "To the hospital," I reply.
"Will they come back?"
I look up at the vibrant blue summer sky, and watch the warm breeze blow dry leaves into the air. My grandmother calls for us to come inside for ice-cream. I smooth back my brother's hair, and he looks at me expectantly. Although I am not sure of the answer, I remember my grandfather's words.
"Yes, they will come back."