Before the pandemic began, my nephew left for another country and I wrote a little tribute to him soon after. This is an edited version of two previous posts.
My nephew is aged two years and a bit. Sometimes he speaks little sentences, sometimes Frenchy jibberish.
When a plane flies overhead, he hears its far away howl no matter the commotion in the room. Ears perked up and eyes locked with yours—he gasps: ‘Awat? Kouki!’
They both mean ‘airplane’. In my nephew’s toddler language, ‘awat’ is short for pesawat and ‘kouki’ is short for hikouki. The first is in Indonesian, his parent’s language, and the second is in Japanese, his grandmother’s language
So, we pick him up and dash outside to the backyard chasing the sound.
Sometimes we see nothing, and we just wait until the howl drowns out. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the flying steel as it goes across the sky from behind the roof to behind the clouds.
At times like this, his arm is raised high and his little finger points at the sky. Still sitting in your arms, again, he gasps: ‘Kouki!’
One day last month, he fell asleep and woke up at the airport just after daybreak in another country. He and his parents were on their way to move across the Pacific Ocean. He looked out the big windows—and oh, the delight! So many airplanes, so close to him.
Auntie wasn’t there, but I could hear him squeal from across the seas.
It’s now been a couple of weeks since my nephew left Indonesia. It broke my parents’ heart and mine. We were the ones who had been left behind, not him, but we didn’t think he’d understand.
The other day, we video called him. ‘Jiiji! Baaba! Auntie!’ squealed my nephew as he called out to his grandpa and grandma in Japanese. As for me, he calls me ‘auntie’ because the Japanese version—obachan—is one too many syllables for a two-year old.
In his broken, toddler Indonesian, he told his grandparents that he wanted to come over to their house the next day. My sister, who was sitting next to him, explained that it was too far. We agreed with her.
So, my nephew asked us to come over instead. His eyes sparkled at his own brilliant solution to the problem.
But still we told him that we couldn’t. ‘Why?’ he demanded. It was still too far, we said. We would need to take an ‘Awat’ or ‘Kouki’, we explained.
He told us to take that airplane. We explained again. My sister tried too. My brother-in-law also chimed in to help.
Then, my usually hyperactive nephew fell silent. He continued to sit there, squeezed between his mother and father, on the new sofa in the new apartment. But his eyes were on the floor. He didn’t look at the phone screen again or say another word for the rest of the call.
At two and a bit, he understood neither distance nor time. What he understood was that he was there but we were not.
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