I am Aho Kiangan
Chapter 2: Nana Munti
I knew her as an old woman of 35. Without telling me in specific terms, she communicated the fact that she was not my mother. That she was my aunt and that she had taken the responsibility of caring for me until I was ready to be on my own.
She used to be a handsome woman devastated by hard work and poverty. Her demeanor was stoic but not benumbed. Of all the years I have known her, there was never a time I had seen her cry nor breakdown but once. Through hard times and tragedy, she yielded not to excuses and the luxury of self pity. Life was tough but it must be lived. On both feet.
I started going to school soon as I could walk. Nana Munti would take me with her and, like the other school kids, I would sit on the wooden floor and pay attention to all the lessons she taught. I did not need to take notes nor take the tests nor answer her questions. I was privileged to be the teacher’s nephew. More, I knew the answers. She took pride in that and those times were when her rare half smiles would appear but vanish soon as she realized the glee on her face.
The school principal was an elderly gentleman from the next town about twice as old as Nana Munti. He wore a buri hat, a white long sleeved shirt and a perfectly ironed pair of trousers that showed age and constant use. He spoke gently, especially with Nana Munti. I realized his niceness went beyond the usual principal-school teacher banter. That the glances he took on her were more than admiration and respect. He loved her.
Nana Munti fell in love with him but never showed such. Her life’s purpose was to take care of me, nothing else. I took an evil satisfaction in this arrangement and proudly paraded like a peacock full of confidence and grandiosity, thinking that she lived just to serve and love me. That with her, I would never have to worry about not being loved or being alone. That yes, I was an orphan but I had Nana Munti and that was the best! My life could not be more perfect.
Until I saw her reading his letter, neatly folding it back and crying the whole night. That silent cry, so lonely it could not be shared. The woman who sacrificed her life for me was so unhappy she might as well die. She might even find happiness in death denied to her in life. Could I stop someone from being happy? From tasting the sweetness of honey and the fulfillment of desires? Did I have the heart to cast to oblivion the only woman who offered her life to me? What kind of an animal would I be? What kind of evil?
I was fifteen when I said my good bye to Nana Munti. She did not question my leaving nor protested my decision. I was a man who must chart the fate written on my palms. And that she must live her life for her as she deserved. I hugged her, not wanting to let go, knowing the life I had lived at that point was over. That the boy I knew as me was dead. That I would never see Nana Munti again.
It was still dark when I started my trek by the river bank. The cold water invited me for one last taste. By the time I got on the main road, the roosters were starting to crow. I took a long look back at my town and imprinted that image in the deepest recesses of my mind. I must remember everything with all the clarity of the breaking dawn. Slowly, the tears fogged up my vision as uncertainty and fear descended on my being. I started to run.
There was no turning back.