Calamine lotion mapping white continents on my skin.
As I dabbed calamine-soaked cotton balls on the irritating tiny red bumps all over my hands and arms, I remembered a story of three years ago. The feelings are familiar: discomfort, irritation and bad temper. Only three years ago, they were much intense:
I had chickenpox.
I was granted two weeks off school, which would’ve sent me jumping happily on any other occasions but. Two weeks stuck in my room with little contact and knowledge of the outside world did not make the weeks off worth at all. The rashes were totally different from the usual tiny little rashes I’d get from food allergies; they were big and red and ugly and I was horrified they’d leave scars – which they didn’t, thank God, due to the pills I swallowed. The itch they gave – oh god the freaking itch – was hell.
I took advice from the elderly, covering the mattress with bright red bedspread and wearing red almost all the time. It was said that the colour red would reduce the itch, and as skeptical as I was, the itch was unbearable, and desperate people equals desperate measures, no?
The itch taught me something, too.
One morning before going to work, dad saw me going half-crazy trying to bear with the pesky itch. Settling himself beside me on my bed – “No biggie, I’ve had this before, I won’t get infected again,” he said -, he told me about his own experience with this particular curse-inducing strain of virus. Was it grandma, or was it grandpa who bathed him with neem leaves? Or perhaps they put the leaves under his bed sheet. Dad rambled on how neem leaves are scarce now, nowhere to be seen, and somehow after all these years he’d forgotten how the leaves look like.
But that very evening, all tired from work, he went looking for neem leaves.
Dad teamed up with mum, who asked around the neighbourhood if they knew anyone with neem grown near their homes. They searched the nearby villages, taking bumpy roads so small they could only fit one car at a time. They found a few trees after much searching: big, old ones with branches wide. I remember, from the backseat of the car, watching them asking permission from a lady whose house was an immediate next to the trees. I remember watching them asking for a plastic chair. Dad, with a big knife or perhaps a parang in his grip, climbed on the chair and tried gripping on the lowest branch. Mum, gathering the leaves and getting them into the car.
And me, learning one lesson from pesky chickenpox itch.
That the most honest and heartfelt feelings, words are insufficient to describe them. That the most honest and heartfelt feelings, only actions could convey what words could not.
It was love when, though tired from work, mum and dad still went looking for neem leaves.
It was love when dad let me turn on the air-conditioner 24/7, knowing coldness would lessen the itch.
It was love when mum blended the leaves for me to bathe with.
It was love when dad exempted me from house chores and cooked my favourite dish,
and it was very much love when mum put calamine on the parts of my body I couldn’t reach.
They didn’t say they love me. Their lips did not utter sweet words or promises that they’d be there for me. They didn’t say they cherish me like a treasure and worried sick to the pits of their stomachs when illness befell me. They simple showed love, and actions were powerful in ways words couldn’t and weren’t.
Often when I reflect on my interaction with people, I focus on their actions. Some spew words sugarcoated with sweetened promises, but when it comes to proving their honesty and intention, they body languages, their actions simply betray the diabetes-inducing sweetness.
And some, though mum in their promises, actually do care. When their feelings could not be translated into languages, into sounds or writings, they show it instead. Silent confessions of they care, they love, they’d never leave, they’d be those you could fall on, they’d be your pillar of strength through what they do to you.
Because the most honest and heartfelt of feelings, they can’t be explained with words.
That’s a lesson from rashes, and leaves.