After a few weeks came his long letters, with his pictures from Japan and all about the new food and culture and how much he missed us. I always re-read his letters when everyone else went to sleep. Always rushed home to ask if he had called and cried for hours if I missed his call. I even started taking more care of my little sister, knowing how much papa would want me to be responsible, but the wait was too long. We no longer went out to the park during the weekends, as mummy had to get groceries. She took the bus because getting groceries on papa’s scooter would be impossible, and we didn’t have a car. It always amazed me how my parents got groceries every Saturday laden on that scooter, perfectly fitting every square inch of the space, mummy holding all bags from every angle while managing to sit sideways while papa rode.
One day, like all the other days , I returned from school, ate lunch and finished my homework. This was usually the time mummy came back from work and picked up my sister from day school. She would bring her home, bathe her and then we would play while mummy cooked dinner. It got awfully late and I kept waiting till it was almost dark. I couldn’t imagine why mummy had not returned. I wiped away my streaming tears and like a pendulum, ran from the balcony to the main door looking for any sign of them returning. We didn’t have a phone on the house, and I didn’t want to go to the neighbors because obviously they wouldn’t know. Looking back, I think this was the scariest I had ever left in my entire life.
Mummy opened the door at nine and saw me lying on the floor. She shook my head to wake me and gestured me to keep my voice down. I saw my sister was sleeping in her arms but she had a bandage on her wrist. I closed the door and followed her in the bedroom where she put her to sleep. I ran out to get a glass of water for mummy.
She explained that my sister felt unwell and she had to take her to the hospital. They had given her injections and a drip on her tiny wrist and had diagnosed her with typhoid and jaundice, a terrible combination. She wasn’t allowed to eat most foods and would have to be taken to the doctor everyday to get injections. Shock and disbelief gripped my whole body as I hugged my mother. I didn’t know what to say or ask her and how to help her or my sister, I just stood there crying and helpless waiting for the bad dream to be over.
I wanted to call papa and ask him to leave everything and come home. Mummy took leave from office and was with my sister for weeks as she saw her lose weight and grow pale – her once cute and chubby baby. Everyday, she wrapped my sister in an array of blankets and took her to the hospital. Even that one day when there was a transport strike, and she had to walk five kilometers with the baby in her arms in the middle of traffic before our neighbor saw and helped her out. I overheard her talking to papa on the phone at night and saying things are getting better, but I knew it was the opposite. She prayed, got toys to make my baby sister happy, we sang for her as mummy tried to make her eat. She walked many miles to get fresh oranges for her and juiced them by hand. She sat beside her bed waiting, praying and just looking at her baby for hours.
When I look back today, I think it was mummy’s prayers and determination that brought life back in my sister. It was papa’s love and prayers from across the seas that worked their magic. And it was then I understood what true love was. A marriage doesn’t need dates, or gifts to sustain. It’s the faith in each other. The ability to stand tall in the most harrowing circumstances, and have each other’s back. To keep the family going.
I wish them many more years of togetherness and celebrating the special bond they built for themselves and for us. Happy anniversary mummy and papa!