My brother turned a year older a couple of days ago. Truth be told, that I was so wrapped up with my own life that I didn’t realise until the eve of his birthday, that the 15th of January had come around already.
He did an interesting thing, he sent the family watsapp group a picture of a Hamilton watch he was wearing. It was a watch we had given him 10 years ago on his 21st birthday. He hadn’t worn it in years because the strap had disintegrated or broken or something along those lines. For whatever reason he got it fixed this year and was thrilled that the watch was still in great condition.
I remember that day we bought the watch. I don’t remember where he was. Perhaps in NS, but it was a weekend morning, my parents had brought us to have breakfast in Little India and we had gone to Mustafa to pick a watch. We chose the Hamilton. I knew he would love it. And he did.
I realised I remember a lot of things, that maybe he doesn’t know or maybe he’s forgotten. This year, growing increasingly sentimental, he had asked for gifts that can last. Something he can treasure in years to come. So I’ve decided to share with him some my memories of him.
Most of my earliest memories of him are kinda muddled with photos and stories that my parents had shared with us. Like him insisting on wearing my underwear, when he was 2 and I was 5. We had watched it on the video, so i am unclear now whether it was my very own memory or one that I had just adopted as my own.
But some that I remember are my very very own.
I remember climbing onto mattresses with billowing, cloudy pink mosquito nets hanging above them, at my grandparent’s kampung house at Jalan Eunos. We slept there when my parents were overseas in Europe. I remember missing my parents but I never felt alone. Ewan was there. And I had to take care of him. I remember he’d cry for my mum. Grandma and I would try and cheer him up by distracting him or telling him that mum and dad would be home soon. It always upset me when he cried because all the postcards my parents sent reminded me in one way or the other that I had to watch over him and take care of my little brother.
I remember how proud and protective I felt when Ewan first went to primary school. He would sit at the front of the bus and I would watch from behind to make sure that none of the boys were bullying him. Once, I had to engage in a battle with an older boy from his school so that my brother could have the window, where he sat on the bus, be open. You know, it either could slide to one side or the other. When you fought over the window, you fought to keep it pushed open by each party pushing from either sides. It helped that I was quite big sized and certainly very very fierce. Noone would mess with my little brother when i was around!
I remember when I was, maybe in primary 2 or 3 and we were spending afternoons at my grandmother’s flat in Tampines. There was, well there still is the same, Indian Mamak shop which sold titbits, groceries and other things at the void-deck. Ewan and I would always look longingly at the toys on display. He always wanted an army set, which had a plastic grenade among other things. I’m not proud of what I did. But I did it. I knew my grandfather kept crisp two dollar notes, probably left over notes from Hari Raya, in the pants he slung over a chair in his room. One day, I decided to pick those pockets. I counted exactly the number of notes I needed. Five two dollar notes. Enough to buy my brother the toy-set he wanted and a little pink jewellery play set for me. I really shouldn’t have bothered to get him anything. Oblivious to the crime I had commit, he played with his newly acquired toys openly. It only ended up exposing my crime.
I remember many things about that incident- how difficult it was to confess to my late grandfather that I had stolen his money, how disappointed my mother looked when she realised I had stolen money, how embarassing it was to face my aunts and uncles who instantly learnt about the incident from my very indiscrete grandmother. But I also remember how my little brother’s face lit up when I lifted that plastic packet of army toys off the hanging rack, handed $4.50 to the mamak and then put the toy in his hands.
I remember, when he was in NS, specifically when he was doing his BMT in Tekong and wasn’t back home for a long long stretch of time, I would sit on his bed after returning from uni classes. I would be wishing he was back home because there was something I had to tell him, and only him.
I also remember driving from our home in Upper Thomson to SAFTI MI or was it MINDEF to send him home-cooked food for iftar during fasting month. It was always a crazy rush, cos mum wouldn’t cook the food too early, in case it got cold, and I’d have to rush back to make it back before the azan would indicate it was time to break fast. I never ever felt that it was a chore. That drive meant the my little brother had something from home to keep him going and it meant I had a chance to see him, even if it was for that 1 minute as I pass him the tupperware before I sped back home.
I remember some years ago when a guy I was seeing had done something quite shitty and basically broke it off with me, my brother asked me, “Do you want me to beat him up? Or at least scratch his car”. I was so touched by the offer but turned it down. I also remembered thinking, “When did the little scrawny boy who needed my protection in the school bus, become this tall Mat who had his sister’s back?”
This was very recent so he’d remember this. When I learnt I was pregnant, the 2nd time around, I was in an utter state of panic. It wasn’t planned, just the day before I was using a 3M spray and my colleague had said,’Remember not to use this spray when you’re pregnant ok. It’s really not good for the baby.’ I was also afraid that I’d have a repeat of my first pregnancy- a non viable one. The first person I called was my brother. I burst into tears and asked if he’d bring me to see my gynae, but made him promise not to tell anyone about it, except maybe my sis-in-law. When he agreed, I called my gynae to make an appt and then i called my husband. Ewan was probably sleep deprived as he had a 2-3 week newborn baby then. But still he came, picked me up, drove me to the hospital, sat with me, talked just enough that he didn’t pry too much but still managed to cheer me up all at once. No words can explain how important his presence was to me that day.
All great memories? Obviously he’s driven me crazy and, truth be told, I have, more than once, taken deep breaths visualising myself bashing his head into the wall, especially when we have our epic arguments, cos we both have the same we-are-never-wrong attitude! He will never forget about how he used to drive me crazy when we were little when he refused to help me, especially when we were walking home from my grandma’s. But those instances were very few and far, in between.
We were and still continue to be very close. He’s grown to be an amazing person. It’s an indescribable feeling, watching this scrawny little thing you used to guard over, grow up to be a wonderful husband, a doting and fun-loving father and a dutiful son.
So bro…Happy Birthday! May we always cherish the memories of our childhood together and may our children grow up to be as close as we were. Here’s to many many more memories to come. I look forward to spending our old age, looking back at them and laughing, wondering how quickly those years had sped by and being thankful that we always had and will always have each other!
With much love, your kakak!