December 25, 1995. I remember. I was six years old and you were ten, and we were happy. We hoped it would last forever. I remember that day, it was a Monday; I refused to take off my new clothes that I wore to Christmas mass that morning. You were upset when I soiled my shirt with stew as I struggled with the big piece of chicken Mama put in my plate of food. You wanted to beat me but I ran to her, and she told you to leave me alone. She said I could wear my clothes for as long as I wanted, because it was “a day of joy and no one should have to cry on Christmas day.” You were more upset but you didn’t beat me.
I remember, later that night we sat by the fire and listened with alternating expressions on our faces as Papa told us tales from his childhood days. We stared at the red hot flames and the burning pieces of wood. We watched cinders and smoke rise from the flames. The smoke rose so high and then disappeared before our eyes. Thinking of the smoke now reminds me of rapture and the gathering of souls as explained by Christian faith and teaching.
I still remember the fire and burning wood. I remember how we tried to guess what tree the burning wood came from, by perceiving the scent from the smoke; then you told me that you had seen Mama sprinkling something on the pieces of wood before lighting them up. It was incense. She had bought a bag of it from the parish store after mass that morning. It smelt really nice when burnt with the wood. I remember I told you not to mix it with your food. You did, and you warned me not to mention it to Mama. I should not have listened to you.
Papa went inside, but we remained by the fire. We were there alone when you told me that your stomach was paining you. I remember you holding your stomach tightly but I didn’t say anything. Then you started calling for Mama, and I just stood still. You were screaming and rolling on the floor, holding your stomach. When she finally came you were lying still on the floor and there was foam at the side of your mouth. She started screaming and crying at the same time. Then Papa came and I just stood by the fire watching.
The doctor eventually confirmed it was food poisoning, but it was too late. Some of your organs had been damaged because there was nobody at the general hospital on Christmas night to attend to you immediately. They had to take you to a private hospital far away from home.
It was late in the night when they returned, you were not with them. I heard Mama crying in my sleep. I woke up and remembered when she said, “It was a day of joy and no one should have to cry on Christmas day.” I didn’t cry.
Since then, the shadows are long when I wake every Christmas day. They say seek to live, remembrance is for the old. But time, I think, has lost its potency, only memories and dreams exist. I guess sixteen years after, I am old enough to remember that night, that cold night we sat by the fire, enjoying the scent of burning wood mixed with incense. I will always remember the darkness of that Christmas night. I knew I would tell this story someday before my time. I was there with you. I remember.