When I was eight years old my childhood friend abandoned our union on the bum-poking carpet floor of Auntie’s home. In a piercing wail, she accused me of keeping an invisible companion as a best friend. My stillness told her that my companion would be around for my lifetime but our span was uncertain. Her lament made me hurriedly vacate myself – terrified that she would turn herself into shards if she didn’t escape to take refuge in my emptied shell. I believed this is how you protect those you adore; by running out on your own skin to make space for them or covering them with your breathless spirit so when they explode, they only scatter into you. Mine was too tiny; pieces of her flew over my head and under my armpits. Eventually she gathered her fragments from the roof, curtains and carpeted floor. She left my bedroom door ajar as if meaning she was coming back after fetching translations for the looks and emotions she charged at me during our playdate. It was only when Auntie called me to wipe the plates before she dished out on them that I realised that I had remained in the exact same position with a mouth glued with spit since the beginning of our playdate.
Months went by. I grew closer to silence.
My aunt, who had an array of black handkerchiefs, asked me to be a braver mourner at her husband’s burial. She told me it was healthy for family members to torment each other with their agony. At the graveyard under the B3 tent, I concentrated really hard as the skinny strong men lowered the shiny casket. I dodged blinking when particles dived into my eyes. It helped. As Auntie took me by my nine year old hand so we could pour an insignificant amount of soil into the big hole, I tipped over the single teardrop I’d built right over my dry cheek. Auntie seemed satisfied as she dabbed us both with the least moist corner of her hankie.
Performing grief for Auntie over the years was exhausting.
The dusk before Auntie’s own funeral, eleven years later, I snuck into her room, into her pine wardrobe, to get one of those hankies. I toiled intently under the garage spotlight motivated to construct the most august sets of tears to send off Auntie. I scrapped my palms with a peeler, carefully cut my fingers while chopping veggies and later balanced the drie-voet with my bear forearm during my stirs. Auntie’s daughter, my sister-cousin, mistook how I wiped away gratings, bloody droplets, steam and pus – with her mother’s hankie – for crying. She even thanked me for sharing of myself so courageously saying that I had now grown into a real member of a family that raised me. But the departed cannot be persuaded without sentiment. Auntie has been known to drop-in on the dreams of relatives who wept wildly at her funeral. She has never come back to visit me.