Thursday, August 13, 2009

He was only 10

Thrusday, 13 August 2009 @ 5.18pm

He was always vague about the actual month or year of his mother’s death. I was just told she had cancer, it was too late when they found it and there was nothing more that they could do about it. Whenever I asked how old he was, he always said he was still in primary. I’d always assumed he was around his early teens.

The other day, I suggested we go visit his mother’s grave. I thought it was better to go before puasa, Raya, and definitely before we got engaged. To me, it was a sort of sign of respect before we went to that next level. His sister wanted to follow.

When we arrived, he was already looking a little anxious. Losing his mother was the defining moment in his life. It set his character. It hardened him and it made him stronger. He was the eldest and was immediately expected to ensure his siblings are taken care of. He made that his last promise to his mother.

We arrived first. He led me the way. The grave had white stone around it, with white pebbles placed neatly on top of it. It was placed under a tree. Eddie started brushing away the leaves and the dirt. I took a moment to stand and tried to digest the fact that this grave belonged to Eddie’s mother. The person who had nurtured and raised him, even to her very last days. The person whom Eddie adored and still misses to this day.

The lump in my throat was forming. I brushed it away and started picking off dirt from between the pebbles. Eddie then sat next to the grave. His mouth was already moving in hush tones of Al-Fatihah. He motioned for me to sit next to him and I did.

His sister arrived with her husband in tow. She was already holding back the tears. She immediately squatted by the grave and prayed, tears rolling down her cheeks while her hands were busy picking off the tiny bits I’d missed. Eddie got up and salam her husband, then kissed his sister’s head. She’s a year younger than he, and was always being told that she was the splitting image of her late mother.

I saw through his sunglasses that Eddie was holding back his tears too. He moved one grave away. Also white stone, also under the tree. His mother’s mother. His grandmother. She passed a year after his mother did. Again, he busied himself cleaning her grave. I followed suit. I glanced over and saw that Ijah’s tears were continuous, as were her prayers and her hands.

Eddie and I prayed for his grandmother. As we got up, Ijah moved over to us. Eddie and I went back to his mother’s grave to pour water over it. It was then that I finally saw the headstone. I didn’t understand most of it because it was written in Jawi. The only thing I understood was the date. 5.6.1991. He lost her when he was ten years old. I looked up at him. He was scrubbing the headstone and mumbling that he wants to come back more often – maybe plant something.

My heart broke. He had just turned ten years old when his mother passed away. Which means he was eight and a half when they found her cancer. He tells me stories about her all the time. Sometimes he guesses how tall he is if he were to stand next to her now. He tells me she liked to make handicraft. And keep the house clean. His fondest memory was of his last Raya with her. He had had a fever and was home alone with her while everyone else had gone to visit relative’s homes.

He said he was lying with a blanket wrapped around him. His mother came up to him and asked if he wanted her to cook bihun sup for him since he didn’t have an appetite for Raya food. He did. He told me even in her ill health, she made him bihun sup. And that was the last dish she ever cooked for him.