I yawn loudly, not even trying to suppress it.
Aunt Lucinda looks at me with mock anger, only for a second. Her familiar smile comes back on her face, the ends of her mouth curving upwards, and the area around her hazel eyes crinkling.
The grass under me is still wet after yesterday’s downpour. If it had been up to Mother, she would have locked me inside, telling me that I would get sick.
But I am at Aunt Lucinda’s for the weekend.
Which means that I can do everything that is considered illegal in my own house, with Aunt leading the way.
This is the precise reason why I am awake at six o’clock in the morning, still in my purple pyjamas, sitting on wet grass, my right-hand making ripples in the water of the lake, waiting for the sun to rise.
Aunt lives in a secluded part of the town, with a huge backyard and a lake right behind her house.
I don’t understand why Mother won’t let me move in with Aunt.
Every time I even bring it up, Mother and Father exchange a glance, and then Mother begins her explanation about how Aunt likes to live alone, and how I would be difficult to handle and how I would disturb her peace.
I ask Aunt every time I visit whether she would be disturbed if I lived with her.
She always ruffles my hair and says that her house is my house, and if it were up to her, she would hug me close and never let me go back to my parents.
But it wasn’t up to her.
Nothing was ever up to her.
I’m jolted out of my thoughts by Aunt shaking my shoulder and pointing to the horizon.
The sun is slowly appearing from its hiding place under the lake, its rays quickly falling over every inch of my surroundings.
The sky is beautiful, the yellow rays spanning the entirety of the sky, appearing orange and red at some places.
Its reflection makes a rainbow of colours on the lake, its still water a perfect mirror.
Heat falls on our bodies, invigorating us and leaving us in awe of the simple beauty of this phenomenon.
Soon the spell is broken when the sun completely rises, and the sky goes back to its usual uniform of blue.
Aunt says, “Wasn’t this worth waking up so early in the morning for?”
I just nod, still unable to believe how quickly the sun returned to its position in the sky as if it had never been in the water at all.
The doorbell rings.
Screaming ‘I’ll get it’ to Aunt Lucinda, I stand on my tiptoes to look through the peephole.
A tall woman with straight black hair stands on the other side, waiting patiently for someone to open the door.
By this time, Aunt has already come behind me, and I describe the woman to her.
Aunt smiles at my words and asks me to let her in.
I open the door and smile at the pretty lady.
She returns the smile with a genuine smile of her own, not adopting the condescending look of most adults when they see me.
Aunt grabs her by her hand with familiarity and leads her inside.
“Alfie, this is my friend Naomi. Naomi, meet Alfie, my favourite nephew.”
I giggle at her last words, even though I’ve heard them many times.
“Pleasure to meet you, Alfie. How old are you love?” she says, extending her hand for me to shake.
Shaking her hand with vigour and surprising her for a second, I say, “I’m turning ten in a few months.”
“Yay! I hope that I’m invited.”
“Of course you are, Naomi. And so is Aunt Lucinda and my parents and all my classmates too.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.”
“Alfie, I’ll be in my room talking to Naomi. You can watch TV, and if you want, there’s some ice cream in the freezer calling your name right now.”
“Ice cream!” I run to the kitchen, opening the freezer, and finding butterscotch ice cream there.
“You’re welcome, Alfie.”
I sit in front of the TV, perusing the channels to find a program that interests me.
Aunt and Naomi walk up the stairs, quietly speaking to each other, never letting go of each other’s hand.
I used to stay at Aunt Lucinda’s house for the entirety of the summer, and even on some weekends when my parents had business trips and couldn’t leave me alone at home.
But now I seldom visit her, and I’ve gotten used to just talking to her on the telephone and conversing through text and email.
She respects my space, and always understands whenever I tell her the reason I can’t come over, ranging from studies to swimming practice to parties.
Soon, unintentionally, we begin to grow apart.
She still talks to me as she talked to me when I was younger, and when we have a conversation, I feel like a ten-year-old stuck in a fifteen-year-old’s body.
The weekends and summers I am free, my parents don’t let me go.
When I ask them why they don’t try to sugarcoat it like they would when I was a child.
They tell me loud and clear that she is a bad influence and that spending too much time with her would ruin me for life.
I yell at my parents when they say this, telling them that they don’t know Aunt Lucinda as well as I do. Mother says that she knows her better than I would think, and then I retort saying that she would if she even talked to her.
Mother always leaves the room in tears, and Father runs behind her, glaring at me.
I don’t understand how such a sweet and understanding woman could ever be a bad influence. She is my best friend since childhood, and I know for sure that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t met her.
There is something my parents aren’t telling me.
I’m leaving for university.
Sending Aunt Lucinda a text telling her that I’m boarding the aeroplane, I look forward to this new phase of my life.
When the plane begins to land, I see the sun through the window, just beginning its ascent to the sky.
I remember a day many years ago, sitting on wet grass, watching the very same sun rise over me, leaving me speechless.
I wish I could go back to that time, at that time where I was happy and free.
That time where the rise of the sun awed me.
I’m working in an insignificant corporate job, hating every second of it.
The only respite from the boredom is my view from the office window, and seeing the sun rise and set every day, only to be replaced by the moon, gives me comfort and a sudden urge to pick up the phone and call Aunt Lucinda.
But I stop myself each time, not knowing why.
Maybe it’s because I’m afraid.
Afraid that maybe my childhood best friend has changed, just like I have.
“She would have wanted you to come.”
I numbly reply, telling Naomi that I am boarding the next plane.
Hanging up from the call, I hold on to the table before I can faint.
My head in my hands, I silently sit on the chair in my office and cry.
She is dead.
Aunt Lucinda is dead.
As if on cue, the orange light of the sun pours through the cracks between my fingers, almost forcing me to notice it.
“Aunt Lucinda was my best friend. She was always kind to me, and always ready to take part in any of my childish activities, just to make me happy. Every summer when I came over to visit, I would watch the sunrise with her every morning. It was our thing. I loved her. We started to see less of each other through the passing years, although I still thought of her and missed her every day. Hopefully, she missed me too. But I was too late. I still wish that I could have seen her one last time before she died, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t see her.”
Mother catches me before my knees buckle and leads me back to my seat in the church, next to Naomi.
Naomi puts her head on my shoulder.
I watch as Mother walks up to the front to give her eulogy.
“Lucinda was my sister. We grew up together and used to do everything together. Then we grew apart, mainly when she came out to me. I admit to being a homophobic person. I didn’t support her; I didn’t even try. I told my parents about her being a lesbian, and she was thrown out of the house. Good riddance, I thought. She lived alone for most of her life. Then she met Naomi and they fell in love. I stopped allowing my son to see her too, thinking that she would affect Alfie badly. I was wrong. I am a bad sister and a bad mother. Lucinda was always kind to Alfie, always made him happy, in a way I couldn’t. I was bad to both of them, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry Lucy and Alfie, I’m so sorry.”
I embrace Mother, finally understanding why she had hated Aunt.
She keeps whispering ‘I’m sorry’, and I just rub her back in an effort to comfort her.
Naomi walks over to Mother, and they talk to each other in soft tones, finally understanding the other.
Father squeezes my shoulder.
We are in Aunt’s house now.
Naomi hands me a letter, addressed to me in familiar handwriting.
I sit down at the dining table and open the letter, ignoring my shaking hands.
It’s Aunt Lucinda here. I miss our fun times together, and I enjoyed every second I spent with you as much as you did. When you were younger, I didn’t tell you about who Naomi really was, and for that, I apologise. I was afraid that you would leave me like Jacinta and my parents did when they found out. You probably know now, and I hope that doesn’t change how you see me.
I know that at this moment, you are sad and angry at me for leaving you at such short notice, and I’m sorry for not telling you sooner that I was dying. I didn’t want to torture you.
Even though I may not be visibly there with you right now, know that I’m there with you always. I am in every ray of the rising sun, in every particle of the moon and in every star in this universe. I will always be with you.
Naomi comforts me as I cry.
The moon shines bright in the sky, its reflection clear on the lake’s water.
Every star calls out to me, having Aunt Lucinda’s voice.
All I have to do is listen.