Let me tell you about my family…
My mother was not very practically-minded, she could barely see things in a logical way. But while she wasn’t deft in terms of logic, she was quite developed with regards to her feelings. I suppose that’s why she could get along with just about anyone. She was loud and unashamed but never in a rude way. She had an amazing trait, that I later learned had been passed on to my sister: she never fully appreciated the seriousness of life’s problems. This mixed with her lack of practicality allowed her to walk through life unafraid of pressing issues. She was the strong housewife, the backbone of our family. Many times I wondered who ruled the household, my father or her.
My father was a numbers man. He was extremely pragmatic, a mechanical engineer by profession. He believed he did things at a level of efficiency that most others could never achieve. He was always criticizing others for their lack of level-headedness, especially my mother. But he never dared criticize her in her presence.
For all their shortcomings my parents never failed to provide for us children. I still remember those faraway days when I had just started school – I would wait with my big sister by the gate of our house in the late afternoon until our father appeared. He would lift me up and put me on his shoulders as we walked towards the house, my sister gladly walking hand in hand by his side. Our mother, busy in the kitchen, waiting for the moment the three of us would come through the front door. Up there – on my father’s shoulders – nothing could trouble me, any worries a child in grade one could have would suddenly disappear. Life seemed perfect then.
Back then, my sister and I were inseparable. We did everything together and I was in complete awe of her. She was curious and brave: two qualities I felt I didn’t possess. When I was in grade two, a boy in my class pulled my pants down during the school assembly. By the time I realized what had happened and managed to pull my pants up, the kids around me were laughing uncontrollably. I told my sister about the incident. The following day during break time she came to my class and forced the boy to apologize in front of my classmates. Ever since then I could barely keep a secret from her. It felt like there was a bond between us that ran deeper than our sibling relationship. Sometimes all we needed to do was to look into each other’s eyes – we could express ourselves with a look so much easier than with words.
Our neighbourhood was one of the safest places to grow up in. Almost all the neighbours knew one another intimately, and the children even more so. Each afternoon, kids would be running up and down the street, riding bicycles, playing games as the setting sun gave the entire scene a golden glow.
My uncle and auntie lived half an hour from where we stayed, so my sister and I spent many of our weekends there. I looked forward to the weekends as I enjoyed being in my auntie’s presence. She was young and beautiful. I was struck by her beauty. She had perfect brown eyes, soft caramel skin and a gentle voice that, to me, seemed angelic. For a while I thought I was in love with her.
One Saturday, when my auntie was in the kitchen, I decided I would tell her just how much I cared for and cherished her. I left my sister, who was watching cartoons in the living room, and walked to the kitchen with all the confidence in the world. I entered the kitchen and walked right up to my auntie as she was washing dishes. She turned around, saw me standing in front of her and smiled gently. I looked into her perfect brown eyes and opened my mouth, but words seemed to fail me as we stood there looking at one another.
I suddenly realized just how awkward the entire situation was, so I turned abruptly and ran out of the kitchen back to my sister, trying to hide the embarrassment written all over my face. My sister gave me a curious look when I returned to the living room, almost as if she knew exactly what I had done or rather what I had failed to do. Luckily enough our uncle arrived just before she could ask me any questions about why I seemed uncomfortable. I was never good at hiding my anxiety when it came to her.
Uncle Kenneth was one of my mother’s younger brothers. In many ways he was just like my mother. He was easy to get along with, one of those people who made you feel appreciated. Like my mother he was loud in a friendly sort of way. He gave his opinions readily and easily though never forcing them on anyone. He was average height, neither tall nor short, although my auntie was slightly taller than him. He had a set of cool black eyes. These gave him a knowing look. Many times, on the weekends that my sister and I visited my uncle and auntie, he would remind me of birds of prey.
Uncle Kenneth came through the door, entered the living room and greeted both of us before settling down in his favourite chair. Almost immediately my anxiety started to fade away, just being around Uncle Kenneth had that effect. My sister quickly changed the channel to something the three of us could all watch – the international news. I tried to follow the lady on the TV but by the time she started talking about shares and the trading of stocks I was completely dumbfounded. It was always like this when I happened to be watching news.
Seated next to me, my sister stared ahead with a frown on her face. At least I wasn’t the only one out of my depth. Uncle Kenneth on the other hand was giving his full attention to the TV. I shifted my weight on the sofa in readiness to ask him a question about stocks but just at the same moment my auntie walked into the living room and all my anxieties came flooding back.
She moved gracefully from the entrance of the living room to the sofa my uncle was on. Immediately the atmosphere around all of us changed. My heart started racing and I imagined the butterflies in my stomach fluttering in every direction. Would she talk about what happened in the kitchen? If she did Uncle Kenneth would undoubtedly be angry. I had never seen him upset before but what man wouldn’t be mad if someone else was in love with his wife? Images of him kicking me out of his house flashed across my mind. In my panic I turned and looked at my auntie and uncle. And like a switch my fears turned into intense curiosity when I understood what had caused the change in the room.
They were doing something that seemed strange to me, not the act itself but doing it so openly in front of my sister and I. They were holding hands.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen them do it but each time felt just as strange. Not that there was anything wrong with it, there was just something about the way they did it. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable. My sister pinched me as she rose and quietly left the room. I followed her lead until we were both outside in the backyard.
“What did you pinch me for? Couldn’t you just have asked me if I wanted to play with you?” I said as I rubbed my thigh.
“If I’d asked, you wouldn’t have come, you were too busy staring at uncle and auntie. Besides, pinching you felt fun too,” Sampah said teasingly.
I glared at her, she was always slightly annoying when she was too cheerful, but she was right. I had been staring at them. But she hadn’t – Sampah was never uncomfortable regardless of what uncle and auntie did.
“Did you see what they were doing? Holding hands?” I asked eagerly.
“Yeah, so what?”
“What do you mean so what? Didn’t it make you feel uncomfortable?”
“No, was I supposed to feel uncomfortable?” Sampah asked.
I looked at her in a frustrated sort of way. Was I the only one who had felt that intense curiosity back in the living room? Then it clicked, I suddenly understood why them holding hands seemed strange to me.
“How come mum and dad don’t do it? Holding their hands like that?” I asked.
Sampah looked at me seriously, as if she had never thought about this before. I couldn’t picture my parents holding hands, it just wouldn’t seem right.
“Well, ” she said, seeming to choose her words carefully. “Mum and dad are older than uncle and auntie, after all Uncle Kenneth is mum’s youngest brother.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I said, after a while.
“So that’s why you were staring at them?”
“Because they were holding hands?”
I nodded again.
“What? Why do you keep asking?”
“It’s just…. you were acting a bit strange even before they were holding hands,” she said.
My heart started racing once again. Though she seemed more interested in some ants that had formed a snake like line on the concrete. I didn’t answer her and after a while I was sure the ants on the concrete had made her forget what she had just said. I breathed more easily and joined her with her ants as the last butterfly in my stomach died away.
The following day went just as quickly as Saturday had. Nothing eventful ever happened on Sunday – apart from church there was hardly much to do. The best cartoons never showed up either, only the really boring ones. I never liked Sundays, they were lazy days and more importantly they were a constant reminder that next came Monday, and it would be back to school (a place I was not so fond of).
By late afternoon it was time for us to go back home. Uncle Kenneth started the car while Auntie Flo gave Sampah a good bye hug. She always did this when we were leaving, our very own parting ritual.
For a brief moment I thought about my parents and what they did the weekends Sampah and I weren’t home. It must be quite boring for them, I thought.
Then auntie Flo pulled my hand and gave me a soft hug, my heart skipped a beat, I inhaled as I hugged her back, a bit more tightly. No matter how boring Sundays were, it was this exact moment that made up for it.
She let go and ushered us into uncle’s car. The car started and as we waved good bye I vowed silently, infatuated as I was, that one of these weekends I’d tell Auntie Flo just how I felt.
My vow quickly faded the moment Uncle Kenneth started talking and by the time we reached home I could barely recall ever making such a promise.
Tell us: What are some of the memorable moments you have ever had with your family?