I shoved the sweet candy she gave me into my mouth; I can taste its bitterness still. Years after, I realize that I traded it for my sweet memories with a person I’d always admired. It was my dad. Not my birth dad but the dad I spent my whole childhood with, and he was the only dad in my heart and in my memory. The only dad who piggybacked me all the way from home to my elementary school even though I had two healthy legs. My birth mother went to America to earn money to support the whole family when I was little, and my birth dad… I wish I knew more about.
Evenings were always my favorite part of the day. Everyone would be home from work and we would play our traditional Tibetan Music on our DVD player and watch the music videos on the tiny screen of our old-fashioned Sony television. I was the dancer. Right before dinner I would do Tibetan dance moves that I learned in school to the music. My dad always joined me, eventually. When he got up, I always asked him to throw me up in the sky and catch me. Those few milliseconds when I was in the air felt heavenly. I would also insist that I wanted to “ride the airplane” and he would lie on his back with his feet up so that I could balance my body flat on the soles of his feet while holding his big hands, and he would swing his legs back and forth gently. After dinner, my cousins and I would sit around the small rectangular table listening to my aunt, who I called Mom, tell stories, which never bored me. However, when Mom didn’t do her storytelling, I would bring out the board game with “Ludo” on the front side and “Snakes and Ladders” on the backside. “Okay, whoever wins the game, I will give that person twenty rupees,” my dad would say before we got engaged in the intense game. Often I would win and my dad would give me the twenty rupees with a kiss, plus a bonus five rupees just because I was the youngest amongst the players. My dad’s body was always warm, and when I cuddled with him at night, I could feel the heat embrace me. He would sometimes rub the stubbles on his chin on my face because I liked the tingling sensation, and sometimes he tickled me with it. I would push the pillow away and use his arm as a pillow. It was more comfortable.
For a few months, Anila (Ani translates to a nun, and “la” is an honorifics Tibetans use for someone who is higher) had been coming to our house frequently. My mom respected her because she was a nun and they had known each other for many years. Every Tibetan New Year we made sure to visit the nunnery with lots of fruits and beverages to celebrate with all the other nuns. Anila would visit our home once in awhile too. She would bring milk and fruit like any other guest would to show courtesy.
One winter, before my two-month-long winter break from school, Anila started visiting us more often. When I got home after school with my two younger cousins, Anila would already be there. Her bald head did not look bad with her dark round face that perfectly complemented her red-clad robe that Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns wear. Once after school, I got home and she was already there. She was sitting on the corner of the bed that was against the wall where my mom slept.
“Hello guys, come here, I brought sweets that you guys like,” Anila said as she rubbed her head in a circular motion with one hand, something that I noticed most of the monks or nuns did, and gestured with the other hand. My younger cousins ran towards her and opened the small plastic bag on the table in front of the bed. The younger one took out the sweets and giggled. It was just a bag of candy with different colored wrappers that tempted our young, innocent minds. I walked to the table and opened the wrapper. “Can we eat it now?” I asked Dad.
“Why don’t you guys take your toys and the candy in the front yard and play,” Dad replied.
“Okay,” I said and went outside with my little cousins, ready to play family like we always did. I was always the mom and they were my children.
“Who will be the dad?” The younger cousin asked as she unwrapped a candy and bit it with her decaying teeth.
“Let’s just say the dad went on vacation,” I told her. “You will be my daughter, and right now you are in your class.” She went to get her actual school bag from inside the house, but the door was locked. I walked to the door and knocked on it, hard. There was no response. I didn’t want to disturb the adults with their adult conversations, so we just played without our usual props and bag for the student. Time flew. It was starting to get dark, and we decided to head back in. I knocked on the door. No response. I knocked again and then I kicked it. There was no response. I walked to the front yard, where I was before, to look through the living room window from the outside. The curtains were closed. We had no choice but to stay out and play by ourselves for a little longer until the door opened when Anila had to leave.
We had been doing this for a few weeks getting home, grabbing the sweets she brought, go outside, and waiting for the doors to open and the curtains to let some light outside where we played. She would leave thirty minutes before Mom got home, but sometimes Mom came home early before Anila got the chance to leave. They greeted each other, and Mom would ask her to stay and eat dinner together. She usually rubbed her head and agreed to stay longer, which now I am starting to realize might have been her nervous habit.
Our winter break started, and my cousins and I were playing outside longer. No matter how much I knocked and kicked on the door, Dad did not open it. I peeked through the window, but the curtains covered every corner and I couldn’t see anything. I went inside our garden which the other window overlooked. The curtains were always closed without leaving any peep holes. I kept knocking on the windows and door every few minutes. Once in awhile, he would open after several knocks, and when I ask him what they were doing, he would say, “Don’t worry about it. Just go get what you need and play outside.”
Mom and Dad had their first big argument that winter. It was a weekend, and Mom stayed home.
“These days Anila is visiting us constantly. Is anything going on between you two?” She asked, calmly trying to avoid looking at him as she poured water into the small glass bowl on the altar.
“What nonsense. She’s just visiting us.” He responded, and took a puff on his Marlboro cigarette that gone to buy him from the grocery store. Mom told us to go to the guest room next to the living room. We did. I hushed my cousins and leaned my ear against the wall. They started arguing, but all I could hear were muffled noises in the next room. I heard the front door bang and I ran out of the room. Dad was gone.
It had been several weeks since the last time I played Ludo, and I couldn’t play family in the yard.
One day Dad got really mad and grabbed the small brass butter lamp from the altar and threw it towards the door where Mom was standing. It hit the wooden door and made a dent. Mom started crying again and told us to beg our dad to stay. My tears naturally came out. My cousins cried for a while. I got down on my knees and started begging. I couldn’t think of what I should say or how to react. Dad got up and came towards the door to leave. Right then, my arms clung around his leg and held it tight. “Don’t go,” I plead. “Please don’t go.”
“Even if you don’t think about me, at least think about the girls,” Mom cried. “How can you do this to us?”
He put both his hands on my face and wiped the tears as he said, “Don’t cry.” I could see his eyes were teary. My tears didn’t stop, but my arms loosened. He left. He didn’t come home that night and came back late the next day. Mom kept begging him to stay every night that he returned home late. And then, he stopped coming home. He was really gone.
Mom rushed to the nunnery the next day to beg Anila to let him go, but she had left the nunnery as well. Mom wept for days and I couldn’t do anything but feel angry and dejected that my little cousins, who were only three and six, had to witness this, and suffer through this because of the nun.
After ten years, I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone outside to play and if I hadn’t given in to those naїve temptations.