The brother I never had
by Peter Tan. Posted on August 16, 2014, Saturday
THE many nooks and crannies away from the oft-trodden paths in the village were perfect playgrounds for my childhood escapades with the neighbourhood kids.
These were also places where unseen hazards lurked. Zinc sheets, glass shards and all sorts of sharp objects thoughtlessly discarded would lie in ambush among tall grass and shallow garbage patches.
It was in one of these nooks that I tripped and fell. Pain instantaneously shot through my left leg. The sharp edge of rusty barbed wire had pierced into my knee. I did not tell my mother for fear of being reprimanded.
By the next morning, my leg was swollen and tender to the touch. I lumbered around with a very apparent limp. The swelling throbbed. I sobbed quietly at the discomfort.
My mother had a look at the wound and decided that it needed immediate attention. I was six years old then, too heavy for her to carry. She got my cousin Peter, who was temporarily staying with us, to help.
He took half day’s leave from work and carried me the entire 1km from the house to the bus terminal. The journey to the medical hall by bus took about 10 minutes. The pain was becoming intolerable. Peter consoled me all the way there.
I cried out loud when the Chinese physician pressed on the area surrounding the wound. He went to the back of the medical hall, came back with a black gooey paste, spread it over my knee and wrapped it in a bandage, oblivious to my protests of pain.
The swelling and pain subsided after a few days. It was a wonder I did not get tetanus for not having the wound properly treated by a doctor. Nevertheless, I was soon scampering all over the village again, my mother’s threat of using the rotan if I ever went playing in those places was conveniently forgotten.
That is the earliest recollection of the length my namesake and favourite cousin would go, to ensure I was safe and well. Peter is the eldest son of my mother’s brother and 14 years older than me.
He became very much a part of my life after that day, a bond borne out of his concern for me and my respect and fondness for him.
As fate would have it, he had to carry me again after I became paralysed. Every Saturday for four years, he physically lifted me from the wheelchair into his car and took me to physiotherapy sessions.
I was not exactly light, although I was emaciated during those initial years after the injury. Moreover I was a head taller than him. It was a challenge manoeuvring me into the narrow confines of the car with my limbs flailing in all directions.
The effort was made especially more difficult by his two bad knees sustained from a serious accident. His superbike crashed and went under a speeding truck on the expressway. It was a miracle he survived.
Peter was always only one phone call away. Anywhere I wanted to go, anything I wanted to do that my parents could not manage, he would be there, rain or shine. Never once did he ever say no to me, or consider doing all those things a burden.
He took me on road trips and adventures I thought I could never get to experience. He instilled confidence in me at a time when I had none, at a time when giving up was the easiest thing to do.
We are as close as cousins can be. When we had to move out from our respective residences, he suggested that we live close to each other. We bought adjacent apartments so that whenever my mother or I needed help from him, he was just a door away.
He has been the tree that provides shade and shelter when I need respite from the elements. He is always there. The times that I felt hopeless, his presence was enough to convince me that all would be well again because he would find ways and means to make it so.
And each time I hear the Hollies’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ playing, there are tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. The song sings our story. It is a reminder of how blessed I am to be Peter’s ‘brother’.
Indeed, the road my life has meandered on has been a long one filled with many uncertainties. He has carried me along anyway, becoming my hands and my legs, neither letting me worry where it would lead to nor how it would end. With him, there is always a sense of hope.
I will never be able to return the generosity that he has unconditionally showered on me for the past 40 odd years. All I can do is pray that he be abundantly blessed with goodness and contentment every day of his life.
Peter is the elder brother I never had.
He is the brother everyone should have.
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