She’s travelling to Malaysia to visit her family. It will involve constant outings to eat and shopping trips and overloaded baggage with presents for the kids. She started packing for the trip about a three weeks ago.
She will see her two sisters. They are the only two sisters she has left with whom she grew up. Another two have already died: one from breast cancer many decades ago, the other from an aneurysm about a decade ago. This accounts for four sisters.
She comes from a family of five sisters.
One of the sisters was given away as a baby to my grandfather’s brother, whose family had no daughters. We didn’t find this out until we were in our late teens and, when she told us, I think my mother was a bit sad about it and always has been; she remembers her mother not wanting to do it.
It was only on a recent trip back to Malaysia, in the past couple of years, that she re-met this ‘given away’ sister. They hadn’t seen each other for many years. My mother took many photos. I wondered if they found anything familiar in each other.
I remember looking at the photos very closely, studying this woman’s face. My other aunties’ faces are so known to me, even though I don’t see them very often. I know them because of the constancy of their presence in our lives, and the 100s of photographs that my mother insists on collecting. I wish I could meet this unknown aunt and get to know the contours of her face. There would be no constancy, however, as we will never be in closer touch. We have no common past or, indeed, present.
It’s hardly the case that I feel bereft of a relationship that I never had; that would be melodramatic and dishonest.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve had all good memories of the aunties who are my mother’s sisters. They have always been immediately close even though we’ve lived in separate countries since 1977.