No. 7

No. 7

I seem to favour the number seven. It was the number of people in my family whilst growing up. And it was the number of our house, the second house that I lived in since I was born. The first was a rented bungalow and even then, my grandmother, aunt and uncle lived with us. And when we moved into No. 7, they moved in with us as well.

During a trip back home several years ago, I was conversing with my cousin over the telephone and I actually said, "You can't go home again." And it was true. Or I felt it was true. Each homecoming felt odd at first as it was not only leaving one country for another but also leaving behind one culture for another. But once I was home, it was as if I had never left. But of course I had. There were faces that were new to me, my brother's friends that I had never met before. There were new or renewed interests. Maybe even a new addition to the family in the form of a newborn baby or a new sister-in-law.

My mother no longer lives in No. 7. But still I remember that home for it was very much a part of my childhood. It was the home I left behind when I moved away to get married. It was the home where I would answer the telephone politely and then shout to whichever brother it was - and they were usually upstairs in their bedroom - that there was a call for him. It was the home where I had a coughing fit in the middle of the night and the night was so still that I wondered if my neighbours could hear me. When I realised that they probably could, I not only felt self-conscious but also a little guilty about disturbing their sleep.

From my bedroom window, there was a star that I would look out to sometimes and recite the rhyme, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight." And then I would make my wish, actually hoping it would come true. Some time later, I realised that I was wishing upon the tip of a television antenna that was on my neighbour's roof. The two rows of houses faced each other and in the darkness, I couldn't see the antenna but mistook the glinting tip for one of the stars against the night sky. Well, I later thought, no wonder my wishes never came true. No doubt my eyesight was also partly to blame as I'd been short-sighted since I was twelve. But still I managed to laugh at myself for such silliness.

Along the wire fence in our small backyard, the morning glory opened up each morning and closed in the evening. I remember the purple morning glory and I think they were wild. If someone had actually planted them there, I don't recall who it was.

So much happened in No. 7. Even the time when my father came home and I realised he had been drinking as I could smell the alcohol on his breath as I opened the door for him.

And it was in No. 7 that he suffered his first massive heart attack. He didn't pass away in No. 7 but at the hospital. They later brought his body, in a casket, to No. 7 where we had several days of prayers. And where they finally closed the casket before he was brought to the crematorium.

It was also during one of those days when I asked my uncle - who had already moved out by then - about helping us to decorate the tree for Christmas like he usually did. He was my favourite uncle and I didn't want him to forget us.

And there was also my aunt who gripped my forearm as I hid my face in the wall and sobbed after kissing my father goodbye. That was the only consolation I received.

I sometimes feel as if I am retracing my steps, revisiting my past, in order to better understand it. It is not that I want to re-live it. But I want to understand it. I want to understand him. But I know it is too late and perhaps it's even wasted energy. If there are people who write history books, why can't I write my own family's history? And in order to do that, I need to go back now and then. Making a conscious effort doesn't always yield results. And sometimes a memory takes you by surprise.

It is true: I can't go home again. I know sometimes I want to. Where is that girl that I once was? She is here. She is me. If I were busy raising children of my own, maybe I wouldn't have all this free time to speculate and daydream. Or would I still daydream whenever I could?

I like the number seven. I like the way it looks and the way it sounds.

There were seven people in my family, in the house I grew up in. There were also my maternal grandmother, aunt and uncle. They were also my family. That would be ten then, wouldn't it? An extended family, yes. But still I think of seven.




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