First memory: A large bedroom. Four beds in a row next to each other. You told stories at night. You always had the sweetest voice. We lied on the bed underneath the mosquito nets listening about the little princesses. There were always three of them, just like us; except it would always be the youngest one who would go home with the prince or gets the love of father. I wondered why there were no stories where the middle daughter gets to win at love, boy, jewels, friendship, something, anything.
Second memory: The three of us crawled from one bed to the next, because our father had rolled up the mosquito net between the beds, pinning it with safety pins, making sure there were no gaps for the mosquitoes to sneak into our beds. He made a tunnel for us so that we could visit each other.
Third memory: You let us draw on the white walls of this house and we went wild with our pencils. I drew house after house, with flowers in the front garden, trees in the backyard, a car, a dog, with the sun smiling above. The university students had left their drums in the living room, and we lined them against each other, making a fort. We played the drums so loud that Tiny, our tiny Dachshund, would go crazy running around the room. Later, I got the idea that we should sneak into the kitchen at night for a late night snack although no one would have stopped us and there was no real need for this covert operation. It seems even then, I liked the sense of mischief and adventures, only if they are safe and sanctioned.
Fourth memory that sticks: I did not get to see you when my father died. Don’t come back, you said to me. What’s the point now? Stay there and finish school, you said. It would be another two years before I’d get to see you and my sister. From the moment I saw you, you could not stop talking about his last day, his last breath, your last interaction with him. You told this story to me, or to anyone who would listen. I understood then that once some things were seen, heard and lived, they cannot be unseen and unremembered. One night, we were visiting a family friend, and you started to sketch the scene again. My sister and I hid in the bathroom trying to unlisten. I knew your heart was in pieces. It was your way of gluing back what’s left knowing there would always be a gaping hole in the middle of it. The missing piece of the love of your life.
Fifth memory I love: It was your 80th birthday and how happy you were surrounded by everyone you love: your daughters, their husbands, their children. Other mothers get to be with their clan as often as every month, if not every weekend. You, on the other hand, get to be in the same room with your whole family once every six year or longer. This would be the last reunion with the full sets of us. Tragedy would strike us again within days and we lost our beloved brother-in-law.
Sixth memory of my picking: The mornings I lied in bed with fever, you’d come to my room, put your cool hand against my hot brows and would say something soothing to
me, like “No school today”. You’d request the kitchen maid to make a chicken soup for me, with detailed instructions of how to make it. You’d make bread custard pudding and store in the fridge. The cool soft taste of this pudding on my fevered tongue tasted like unlike anything. This was something I would yearn for, would die for, when I first left home and there was no one who would make anything for me or lay a finger to feel the temperature of my skin.
Sometimes I think no matter how much love I had received from you, the child in me is never feeling full. When sick, when lonely, when terrified of abandonment, this child seeks you, your touch, your unconditional love, your admiration that she is smart, she is beautiful, she is enough. Then she will remember the cool fingers on her forehead, the cold sweet dessert on her tongue, the warm chicken soup in her belly, the sweet singing at night, the stories of Mae Htwe Lay conquering every evil person and living happily ever after.