I have a special niece.
My niece was born prematurely at 7 months. She was a regular baby, cuddly and cute. She was a regular toddler, huggable and happy. It was only noticed that she was special when she reached the age when she was supposed to talk and she didn’t.
My brother and his family migrated to the US when she was around two years old. She was already attending a special school for kids when we met again when I visited the US. She smiled at me when we met. I stayed at my brother’s house so we had time to bond. Sometimes she would come near me , smiling and sometimes hugged me. The indication that she remembered me was when she wrote my name on her small notebook which she always carried at that time and showed it to me.
Their family visited the Philippines over the years. They maintained a house in the Philippines so our meetings were short, when they visited us /we visited them or we met in a restaurant.
In between , we received pictures of her as she grew up from a school child, to a teenager, into a woman.
Our next meeting was when her older sister got married and I, with another brother based in the Philippines, went to the US to attend. We stayed in the house of my niece about to get married where my special niece also stayed a few days prior to the wedding. My special niece gave us her usual smile, a smile that is addressed to everyone and to no one in particular. One afternoon while I was lying on bed, my special niece came to my room, lied next to me and cuddled me. We stayed that way for some time just exchanging smiles, cuddling each other, enjoying each other’s company, silently.
We had a prolonged bonding when she and my brother were stranded in my home in the Philippines during the pandemic, from March 15, 2020 to June 27, 2020. She would always be smiling most of the time. As always ,she exuded an air of innocence and inner peace. She joined me when attending TV mass. When she saw me playing Candy Crash Soda Saga in my computer she touched a few keys and laughed happily when we made a hit and said Yes! , one of the few words she could say. From then on, she would always join me when she saw me in front of the computer. She always stayed indoors but in the latter part of their stay she sometimes followed me outside when I tended the garden. She wanted to play with our cat but I always saw to it that she didn’t touch it. She disagreed occasionally. I helped her in her daily bath/shower and there were times that she didn’t want to initially, but she would agree eventually. This daily activity probably brought us closer or at least made me a more familiar, comfortable person to her. At night I’m the one who closed the windows and doors prior to retiring for the night. During the latter nights she would wait for me and at one time was the one who closed the main door. She smiled when she did it, this time, a knowing smile, a proud smile. I still was the one who locked it because the door still wasn’t fully closed but I understood her gesture of helping me. One night before she entered their room, she kissed me good night. I was so touched because she doesn’t usually display such emotion or courtesy unless instructed.
Then it was time for them to leave. They were leaving early in the morning and when I woke up, she was already dressed. My brother said his goodbyes. When he instructed my niece to go to the service car waiting for them to take them to the airport, she turned to me and kissed me goodbye. I hugged her. I was teary eyed as I watched the car leave.
I see her now as her mother posts pictures of her in social media. She looks happy, contented and loved.
I don’t know when we will be together again but she remains in my heart. I can’t be sure if I am in hers but it’s said that the mind forgets but the heart doesn’t.
She gave us a special love, a love beyond words. In return she was loved back. She gave a chance to us her family and other people around her to feel and experience unconditional love, a love that doesn’t expect anything in return because we all know that she could only love us in her special way.
When I see her kind of love and the love she receives in return I think of agapé.