There were times when I shuddered to think what it would be like to sit at the “VIP” table during a wedding dinner. I thought it to be uncomfortable sitting with the in-laws who were, technically speaking, not my close relations, and having to address them the same way as the married couple instead of the usual “aunty” or “uncle”.
The ex-sarong kebaya girl now has a new surname. The last I heard, they had landed in the land of the siestas and tapas somewhere in Southern Europe. It would be November before they return with sunburn on their faces and start getting used to their new marital status.
Back to that important day of theirs, the maternal parental unit was embarrassed when she had to follow the custom of hanging a pair of trousers above the door to our home. Just because the elder brother of the bride was far from being a married man. For me, I wasn’t fazed that much simply because it was a fact (a real damning one) that I was still a bumbling (read: not swinging) single.
Perhaps for the last time, we shared the room we grew up in. Except for a two-year break when I studied overseas, I watched her transformation – firstly, as an infant and a rather unwelcome addition that had usurped my position as the only child in the family; and then, a fine woman (enough to pass the test to become a sarong kebaya girl). That included those awkward teenaged years of ours (she is five years’ younger than I am), those fights and arguments as kids, and the times when I had to carry her luggage downstairs during her stint as the sarong kebaya girl. Despite the cramped room (filled mostly by her humongous collection of bags and clothes) we shared, we managed to find some space for ourselves.
And it didn’t quite occur to me until recently that the sole sibling that I have is a strong-willed and immensely independent woman. So, I didn’t play that big a role in her life (as I would have liked) as an older sibling. I would have liked to have a closer relationship with her. For over 30 years, we developed a healthy distance in respecting each other’s “turf” and “living space” – physically, mentally and emotionally.
No wedding dinner would be complete without the obligatory slideshow of the couple – starting from their near-nude photos when they were infants or toddlers. The few that she chose for the slideshow (and having seen it for the first time in years) were enough for me to reminisce the days when we were much closer as siblings. The things we did as kids, the times when she needed to hold my hand at night after we watched a horror show on the telly, and I, as the older brother, guiding her as we crossed the road to get to school.
Those photos were memories. Good ones, I must add. For almost every photo up to the time when she left her job as a sarong kebaya girl, I could remember when and where they were taken, e.g., the T-shirts she wore as a teenager and the time when she went fishing every weekend.
So, there was a surge of emotions when the slideshow came to the part when her husband appeared and featured photos of the things they did together. Collectively, they represented a rite of passage that she would be taking.
And then, the last photo came on – of her smiling as she looked into the eyes of her husband. While she might have a new surname and had moved out of our home, I realised that our presence in each other’s lives during the growing up years were bonds that would never be broken. While her sojourn continues now with the love of her life, every piece of those bonds would remind us of our relationship as brother and sister. This is notwithstanding our arguments, our warts and our little idiosyncrasies as separate individuals.
While the family was doing the rounds at each table for phototaking, I slipped out quietly to the reception (which was by then deserted). I picked up the guestbook and flipped to the last page. On it, I wrote words that would never be spoken directly – wishing both of them well and that the husband now is charged with taking care of the sole sibling that I have on this world.