It’s May again.
Every May takes me back to May Day 2004. Not as vividly as I would like, but I remember the setting: East Coast Park. The attendees: Maternal extended family. The reason we were there and who organised it – insisted upon it, really: Picnic, and…my mother.
She made nasi lemak. Everyone lamented that the sambal was too hot. “Oops,” she muttered sheepishly. But it didn’t stop anyone from going back for seconds and thirds. I don’t remember the conversations, or whether anyone got in the water. All I remember was the food she made, and how hot but delicious it was, and how we didn’t know that it would be our last ever picnic involving the entire extended family.
A couple of weeks later, we went to ECP again, this time with just Uncle S – her favourite brother – and his family. We ordered a platter of boiled cockles and dipped them in soy sauce infused with bird’s eye chilli. I made her literally feed it to me, because I was too lazy to walk to the sink to wash my hands. She did so repeatedly, without complaining. When we finished, she ordered another platter. Uncle S remarked that she was eating a lot. And she said the words that we would all recall wistfully, months and years later: “Best to enjoy food while I’m healthy. Once I fall sick, even food as good as this will look unappetising.”
Once I fall sick. It was like she knew.
I think of her often in May. There’s Mother’s Day, which is forced down my throat from late April. What are you getting your mum this Mother’s Day? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Her birthday, which falls on the 18th. The age she would have been but she is always 48. Always. And the initial fever that took weeks to go away and, actually, never really did. And all the events that followed and followed and followed and followed…
It all started in May.