You know in the movies when they do a flashback to someone’s childhood? There’s a particular lighting and it’s in slow motion. Always in some grass field. There’s a child running around without a care in the world playing with daisies. I always wondered why White people left their children to roam alone in fields like prairie dogs. Where was this magical place? I don’t have any memories like that.
I have a memory of a small house in Mississauga. The front door opens into a kitchen. Fridge on the right. Counter on the left. Small table down the aisle. In that kitchen: my Ranjini Aunty. She’s tall and slim. Curly hair a little like mine. She’s cooking a million things. She sees me and yells “JOJI!” In a pitch that only she can yell my name in. She tells me I’m a little bigger than she last saw me (she’s an aunty, after all…). She greets the whole family and makes sure we’re settled in. As soon as I come back upstairs, she pulls me aside and secretly offers me an icy chalk (ice cream bar). I inhale it before my parents can see. After we all eat, she hands me another one and gives me a little wink. When all the family is together, yelling over one another, each person trying to get a word in, she seeks me out. In all the noise, she asks me to tell her stories. I tell her anything I can think of and she laughs and laughs. She tells me I’m funny. “You’re a very witty girl! So sharp! So quick!”. Over and over again, throughout my life, she tells me how funny I am. How well I write. How I should pursue writing.
I have a memory of Christmas with her. She offers me eggnog for the first time and I decline because it sounds yuck. Later in the day, she offers me “white hot chocolate” and I try it and I love it! She tells me it’s actually eggnog and I should try new things. The next time we come for Christmas, the fridge is STACKED with eggnog because she knows I like it. I have a memory of the family playing music when I was first learning guitar. There aren’t enough guitars for me so I find a corner where I can see the chords and I practice the chord formations with my hand. No one is paying attention to me – except for RanjiMammi. She sees me in the corner of her eye and I see her looking at me. She notices I’m practicing chords on an imaginary guitar and quietly tries to get other family members to notice too. I don’t let on that I know she’s staring at me. I’m just grateful someone sees me and likes what they see.
I have a memory of watching XMen on the ground as she falls asleep on the couch above me. I have a memory of her walking alongside me while I scooter around her neighbourhood because I couldn’t be outside alone. I have a memory of her taking me on a walk to No Frills because I was bored at the house. I wish I had made more memories with her. I wish I had written more of them down and I wish I had written to her more.
Ranjini Aunty and I shared a birthday. August 16th. Just a couple of Leos palling around. Every year she would wish me and say “may God grant the desires of your heart and may you continue to use your special gift” (referring to my writing). I’m not ever going to get that reminder from her again and I am sad. And I miss her. And I know I could have and should have spent more time speaking with her. Even if my writing sometimes bothered her – at least she would read it. One way or another, she saw me and made sure that I knew she could see me. Like really see me. I will never feel seen by her again. Not in this life anyway.
That’s okay. I hope that people can see her through me in different ways. When I encourage someone to try something new. When I pay attention to someone when no one else is. When I offer to take someone on a walk just so they don’t feel alone. When I notice someone’s gifts and encourage them to pursue it.
RIP Ranjini Aunty. Thank you for seeing me and for showing me how to see others.
May your battles end the way they should.
May your bad days prove that God is good.
May your whole life prove that God is good.
– Jonathan McReynolds