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I grabbed the ribbon from her frail hands and pulled it in close to me. Now I had my very own piece of her to remember always. This piece of her was my own object to claim. I caressed the pink and gold lines on the ribbon and twirled them curiously around my finger.
“You are so beautiful.” Nana murmured, gently running the back of her hand down my childish face.
I pulled away slightly, afraid of the older women who I had been destined to love my whole life, my namesake. How could you love someone you didn’t know? In her wrinkly skin, I saw only age and death. In her withered eyes, I found only wistful memories. Respect was for the war heroes who kept our homeland safe. It was for Father who worked in the rice fields all day so Mother and I could have a decent meal. There wasn’t a place for respect in someone who had been a coward all their life.
I tried to read the lines of Nana’s face but there were too many. I wondered why her skin had gone baggy and lifeless, if it had grown tired of living on such an ancient women. Did skin fall asleep or get bored? Just like I did in lessons when I was being taught things I found uninteresting. Perhaps Nana’s face had grown weary of her slowness and feeble movements.
I didn’t want to grow old if it meant I couldn’t move fast and run and play with the other children. I didn’t want to watch from the window as my friends ran by. I couldn’t understand how Nana bared it.
My hair was hanging limply from the bun Mother had tied it in this morning. I barely gave it a second glance after it was finished. But now Nana tugged the wispy black tendrils free and ran them through her shaking fingers.
“And your mother’s hair.” Nana cooed softly.
I tried to ignore her as she petted my hair like a dog. I turned my attention instead to the shafts of light brightening the room from a window up above. I wanted to climb to the ceiling and take the sun into my arms. I thought that I could grab it out of the sky if I could only reach that window sill.
“You look like a princess, Haui.” Nana’s aged voice sounded like brittle bamboo shafts falling to the floor. It hurt my ears and made me want to flee the room.
I pushed the ends of the ribbon together and examined the tiny ridges on it that looked like miniature mountains. Someday I would climb mountains like those, but bigger! And I would see the sun up close and I could hold it in my arms like a toy doll. But Nana never would. She couldn’t even climb the front steps without falling. And when she did fall, I wanted to laugh at her weakness. She could barely hold herself up.
“Haui, Nana, time for dinner.” Mother entered the room and brought with her the sweet scent of lotus blossoms and rice. I breathed her in and smiled. Mother was strong and brave. She could climb the mountain with me.
I leaped to my feet and ran to the door, leaving Nana on the floor. I turned to wait for her before I went to find Mother. Nana was as slow as she usually was in getting off the floor. She had only made it halfway across the room when I decided I could meet her at the table. I didn’t have time to wait for Nana anymore. If I didn’t hurry, my rice would be cold and then I would go to bed with a hollow feeling in my stomach. Nana could walk to the table on her own.