My brother and I had built that tree house next to our house with our uncle six years ago. Since then, on summer days, from dawn to dusk, we would sit there and pretend it was the largest, best-fortified castle in the kingdom. Or we would sail it, as if it was a ship taking us to foreign lands in the blink of an eye. Our mother had bought us a collection of fairy tales, as soon as we could read. We had devoured them, and then we endeavored to inhabit them.
We would take turns in playing the heroes and the villains. I was fantastic at playing villains. My all-time favorite was Hook. I played a mean Hook. My brother was a perfect knight, a wicked Pan, and a lousy Evil Queen, but he did his best, and he humored our games, when it was his turn to play devilish souls. It occupied us for a couple of summers, but there were not enough pages to satisfy our hunger, to quench our thirst for experience. So we asked our mum to buy us pencils and notebooks, and we started writing our own. From a playhouse, our little tree house was repurposed as our writing den.
My brother Dean was twelve and I was sixteen. My mother had named me after a character in her favorite story growing up – Wendy. A smart girl she says, with an overactive imagination, but enough sense to distinguish fiction from reality. Dean was named after our great grandfather, on our father’s side. Our father said he was an honorable man. He did not say anything else, and neither Dean nor I dared ask more.
Our father was not a bad man, but he had little patience for children’s games, stories and questions. We were already very lucky our mother had managed to convince him that we had a better chance to make a living by studying at school than by working by their sides. As long as the work was done, he had agreed to let us try it her way for now. Our mother told us she did not get to be as lucky as we were. She had to quit school, when she was only twelve to help her mother take care of her six brothers and sisters.
She did not want the same for us. She wanted her children to become who they were meant to be. She wanted us to bloom, so she worked twice as hard to spare us from her fate. She had learnt how to read, but she never had any time to enjoy it. She said it was up to us to live our lives in a way she never could. She never put any pressure on us whatsoever, but Dean and I both knew we had to honour her gift. So we made it a point to get the best grades we could, and read all the stories that would pass our way.
When Mum needed my help in the kitchen preparing the meals, I would make the most of our time together, and I would tell her about the latest stories I had read. Every Sunday after mass, while our father was having drinks with his friends, she would take us home and we would play for her. Those are the most precious memories I have of my childhood.
She was the best audience any actors could ask for. She was sensitive to the plots, to the lives of the characters. She knew they were fictional, but she did not experience their tribulations as fiction. Stories felt real to her. She knew how to enter them. I could see sparkles in her eyes when we would act or tell her about happiness and love. Tears would never fail to run down her sunburnt cheeks, when we would share lines of death or deep sorrow.
At the end of my stories or at the end of our shows, she would always find something sweet to say. She would clap and cheer, urging us to show her more soon. She was the best audience ever. Though I was not fully aware of it then, she was also the most genuine and generous person I would meet in ninety-five years of life.