This is my story, told by my aunt Lulu who knew me from the day I was born.
Babies and young children were bathed in basins in my family. Hot water would be poured into the basin, followed by cold water. You then poured a bit of the mixed water on the soft inner skin of your wrist. That is how you know if it’s not too hot for the baby’s skin. Every woman and young girl in my family knew that.
I remember my nephew as a big-eyed, beautiful baby who rarely cried. Those eyes said a lot and grew to different sizes depending on his need or emotions. I dotted on him and loved looking into those big, expressive eyes. Such a delightful baby! I recall walking into the room one evening when his dada (nanny) was getting him ready for a bath. She cooed at him and sat him in the water basin. The baby immediately looked at me with the biggest, glassy eyes and an unknown feeling forced me to lift him off the basin and onto my chest. Only to notice the red, hot scald spreading on his bottom. Dada had forgotten to cool the bathwater! I held the child while Dada made profuse apologetic sounds to him and tearfully ran off to get the cold water. Standing there holding the child trying to sooth him, I suddenly realized he hadn’t cried or whimpered. The two adults in the room, Dada and I, were in tears and a panic but the baby just clung to my chest without making a sound. Is it strange to wish for a baby to cry?
He was six years old this time. A healthy boy running around with his siblings and friends. He learned well, ate well and behaved well. There was nothing for any sensible parent to worry about, but a small part of me did. He loved mangoes. I called the children in one day for mango slices and they could all pick a piece. I watched him walk towards the plate first staring with longing but not making a move to pick one. I saw him watch his favorite pieces disappear into his sibling’s mouths fast. I saved a piece for him and handed it to him where his mischievous sister grabbed it. He looked at her, his resentment and longing evident in his eyes. He made a move as if to grab his mango back but said nothing. The sister paused for a second as if daring him to say something. I held my breath and silently urged him; “Speak, Child…”
He didn’t, and she swiftly popped the fruit into her mouth.
I watched him go through so much in silence. I am not saying my nephew didn’t speak, he did! my nephew just didn’t speak when it was most important for him to speak. I don’t know why! His silence during these important or urgent moments put him in awkward situations. I silently urged him to speak up for himself, until my age was too advanced for me to hold on to my thoughts. I thus started whispering and later on loudly requesting him to speak up. When his father firmly said he would study Engineering, he stared quietly at the biology leaflet on the table. When his mother introduced him to a good girl, he stared with a frozen smile and threw away letters from his sweetheart. When she later announced their wedding date, he stared long at her sparkling ring. In all these moments, I looked him right in the eye and said,
He did not.
This is my story told by me, who still doesn’t know himself.
A lot of things do not make sense to me. I for example, don’t understand why someone can willingly induce hurt. It doesn’t make sense to me that a parent can hurt a child willingly. Or anyone would take what he doesn’t need to deprive someone of it. I just assumed everyone would share this perspective, but life taught me differently. A very big part of me still believed in fairness. I trusted the universe, the forces, the planet, God, to align life into a perfect balance. I had faith…
It however took me a lifetime of regrets and mishaps to realize that faith alone doesn’t stand time. The faith I have in the love between my siblings and I don’t stop them from grabbing my favorite toy and keep it away from me. Faith doesn’t stop pain and misunderstandings; faith just IS and what we do with it moves life into different paths.
I made the mistake of thinking questioning faith is a direct stab that dissolves it into nothing. So, I lived life with limited choices in the name of keeping faith. I wouldn’t dare to question it out loud. My faith in my parents therefore put me in a study I wasn’t passionate about and paved my entire life career. I hid behind faith and let decisions happen to me instead of taking charge of them. On a time of great decision making, I froze and screamed my desire loud within myself, willing faith to take charge and allow it to happen. It didn’t happen often; my life was therefore a collection of everyone’s and everything’s choice but mine.
Those around me accepted it. When deciding on what to eat in a restaurant for example, my fiancée would simply order what she believed was my most likely choice. She was often wrong, no matter how silently I willed her to pick what I wanted. I ate a lot of things I don’t like, for many times. She accepted my silent nods. So did my family, friends and most who knew me. My aunt Lulu however, did not.
I remember her intense eyes seeking mine out when I got lost in my internal decision battles. When I was younger, she simply looked me straight in the eyes as if waiting, pushing for me to say something. With time, the intense looks turned into gentle whispers, then grew louder with the years always saying the same little sentence. This same sentence was shouted to me on my wedding day as I stood holding the hand of the bride I barely knew. She looked radiant, smiled at me sweetly as the question rang out:
“Do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife….”
I blinked, with my heart willed the universe to understand that I don’t know this beautiful woman and have no idea why we are getting married. I willed the universe to give me time. I willed it with all my heart…
That’s when aunt Lulu’s voice rang out strong and raspy from old age, “Speak, child!”
I turned, looked at those sharp intense eyes as she looked at me from her seat. And I, for once in my life, spoke…