“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver
Memories, I’ve always thought, make for really good hiding places. And to make things better, you can take them with you everywhere! In the toilet, maybe the dining table or just another boring Chemical Engineering course that makes your mind numb.
The lecturer was droning on again about a chemical process with a name that twisted my tongue and as my friend drank yoghurt beside me, the white liquid reminded me of a time when things were simpler.
To an observer, my eyes were glued to the lecture, studying intensely the mechanics of a Batch process but I was long gone.
We were younger then, my sister and I, I was maybe 8 and she, 6. Our eyes still wide and our minds less experienced. Every day in our house with both of us in it was a full-blown WWE match. From the television to who was taller, everything had the hidden potential to turn into an argument and then a full-scale fight.
My mother was tired that day and had left us to get a well-deserved nap while our father took care of us downstairs. Even then, moments with him at home were rare and therefore treasured, so my sister and I tried to behave ourselves, reducing our bitter war to a battle fought with passive aggression.
Going to get the remote, she’d manage to step on my foot as I sat on the floor playing with my Action Man figures. To get her back, I ‘accidentally’ tripped and spilt my water on her clothes.
We went on like this for some time while my father read the newspaper on the red sofa. It came to the point that she pinched me for changing the channel from Disney to Nickelodeon and so I flicked her ear.
With Oscar tier acting, tears suddenly erupted from her eyes as she bobbled to my father, her voice slurred with the crying. “Da — Daddy, Tony — Tony be–beat me.”
“She hit me first,” I cried out. Trying to get some tears of my own out but Rita seemed to have taken all the acting genes.
Now, if it were my mother Rita had reported to, we were both, hopelessly screwed. To her, any argument or fight had occurred with both of us chipping in equally and so we’d both get punished. Though, sometimes she’d take sides, most times to play the mediator, she found it was easier to just let both of us get it.
My father, though, was tired and anyone could tell that, really, sorting out fights between the both of us wasn’t on his plan for that day but still he stood up sharply and asked if were thirsty as he rubbed Rita’s head, the little witch sticking her tongue out at me.
He took us to the kitchen and while Rita strolled around, moving like a restless mite, I looked at my father as he opened cupboards, boiled water and got out two plastic cups, a blue one for me and a pink one for Rita.
“Both of you should come and take.” His voice, even when he wasn’t shouting was always deep and could fill any room without him even trying, his presence was always felt. Rita and I took each warm cup in hand and we gave each other a curious look as we observed the white liquid in the cups.
“What’s this?” I asked, the sweet scent filling my nose.
“Is it tea, daddy?” Rita asked, her eyes wide. We always wanted to try tea but our parents never allowed us, something about us needing to be older but nevertheless our curiosity stayed true and we always tried to look for a way to taste it.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. “It’s tea but this is a different kind of tea. It’s, uhm, white tea. Yes, white tea.”
I don’t know what Rita was thinking but I had watched a lot of Africa Magic with my mum at that age so my imagination was a different thing entirely. Was this how my father wanted to sort out the fight?
Snuffing us out permanently?
But Rita took a sip first and I followed, the sweet warm taste filling my mouth, and I smiled, it tasted amazing! I looked at Rita and laughed, she had a white moustache now and as she pointed at me almost spilling her drink in laughter, I realised that I must’ve had one too.
As we stood there, laughing at each other, my father just shook his head and walked back to the living room we were in as we followed, our moods suddenly better.
Evening began to come, my eyelids started to feel heavy and I looked over to Rita and found she was already sleeping. My father till today still calls us restless because well, we hated to sleep.
But that day, we felt drowsy and when you’re young, time moves in a murky way, it seems to shift and bend in a way you can’t really understand.
I remember waking up a few hours later in my father’s arms with Rita on the other side. It was night time then and my father, still awake as fathers always were, staring at the ceiling, must’ve noticed my erratic movements and so he began to sing.
It’s a song I’ve long since forgotten, one he sang in a deep baritone about Jesus on one of his travels. It was one he always sang to us when the dark of the night just wasn’t enough to get us to sleep. I nestled my head in the crook of his arm and let the night take me.
I still remember the feeling though, of warmth, of safety, of family.
Memories are good hiding places, for sure. But they’re also great at changing the narrative a little, distorting reality. Sometimes, they don’t really capture the whole, big story. Like a father, who in an effort to make his children just a little happier and calm, gave them warm milk and honey allowing them to rest, singing them to sleep.
To fight, their long aged war, another day.