When I was a kid, and my brother still a baby, my mother would bring us both to a place called Mount Vernon every weekend. With my brother safely tucked in one arm, and my little hand on the other, we would walk a winding path lined with trees, up and down little green knolls, and finally up a rather steep slope - a wet grassy hill which always muddied my toes. On top of the slope were rows and rows of long, white walls. The walls were tall - taller than my mother - but narrow, with a small, black number on the edge. On the both sides of each wall were very neat rows of squares. The squares were small, about the size of my textbook, and on each square there was a picture of somebody - some old, some young, some as little as I, and some babies too. Some squares had fresh, colourful flowers, some had flowers that were dying, but many had none - empty, longish aluminium containers, sharp at the corners, a sad excuse for a vase.
My father always had flowers. Yellow and purple orchids adorned with ferns. Orchids last longer, I was told. I don’t remember ever seeing our orchids brown.
My mother would hold the flowers in her hand, eyes on my father, and engage in quiet conversation. Sometimes, she would cry. But always, she would wish for me and my brother to grow up well.
Then, she would hold my hand, and we would bow three times. She would hoist me up with her free arm, and look at my father for a long time.
I remember the hills like yesterday. I remember the green and the smell of mud. I remember the flowers, and I remember his face - a handsome face, slightly chubby, hair neatly combed and parted on the side, laughing eyes behind thick frames, and a very kind smile. I was too young to know how to cry. I didn’t remember feeling sad, even by his bed. Even now, the tears won’t come. But I carry a heavy emptiness for many years. I do not know what it is.
Mount Vernon is no more, relocated by authorities juggling our limited land. Paths closed, hills shut, white walls left to grey. All that was left was wilderness, a barricade, and a wild untended sidewalk, close to the hills I once walked with my mother - my brother safely tucked in her arm, my little hand on the other.
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