An expression of love
I just finished reading a book by the Chinese-Malaysian author Tash Aw. He writes about the experiences of his grandparents: immigrants from China to Malaysia who often had to separate from their children to work in another part of the country to give them a better life. He described this separation as an expression of love.
I thought of Nabila, a young woman I met in my hotel in Kuala Lumpur a couple of months ago. She worked in room service and when she brought me my meal one evening, we got talking. Nabila told me that she had to leave her two children behind with her mother in Langkawi, an island four hundred kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, because she couldn’t afford day care for them in the capital.
She talked about this in a matter-of-fact way. With a bright smile and a sparkle in her eyes, she explained that through her hard work her children would in the future have opportunities she was deprived of. It was as though she was living vicariously in the future of her children, whom she hoped would never have to separate from their children. Still, I could imagine the heart ache she must feel when saying goodbye to her children, who she only saw twice a year.
A little later she brought me a piece of cake in appreciation for our conversation; I was the only guest that day who had acknowledged her presence.
When later that evening she came to retrieve my tray, she pointed at the books on the desk and asked me what my profession was. I told her that I was a writer and signed one of my books with a dedication to her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she asked if she could give me a hug.
There we stood in the room of a luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur, two complete strangers embracing each other.
A couple of days later I found a card in my room on which she had written how much she had enjoyed my book and that she wanted to give me a gift. Next to the card was a small box with a purple bow, containing two pins. I was again touched by her warmth and kindness. At the same time, her gesture made me painfully aware of how privileged I am. A privilege bestowed upon me by the sheer fact that I was born in the right place and into the right family.
Back home I put the card on my desk next to the small box with her gift. They are a token of the expression of love that Nabila and millions of others make to provide their children with a better future.
At the same time, they are a reminder that a connection between people from vastly different backgrounds is possible.