24 colour pencils was Mum's greatest gift.

My parents were of the working class. They worked all their lives until my mother's health no longer allowed her to work.

I remember how my mother would buy a big bar of Cadbury's chocolate and it would last us a week, as we'd only be given two squares as dessert after dinners. It was a treat I always looked forward to. It was all about savoring and letting it melt while it trickled down your throat. That’s how I made the two squares last as long as possible.

I think it was on my 9th birthday.
A week or so prior to my birthday, my mother asked me what I would like as my birthday present. I had been waiting patiently in anticipation for her to ask me this yearly ritual question, so I answered immediately as I had decided what I wanted months ago.
A set of 24 colour pencils. Most of the girls at school already had it.

My birthday fell on a weekday so when I woke up, my parents had already left for work.

As I walked down the stairs, I saw a gift all wrapped up, along with a card sitting beside it, atop the low white cabinet where my daily pocket money would be placed.

I took the gift and the card in my hands, and sat down.

24 colour pencils and a card that said she loved me.
I started crying uncontrollably. Tears flooded me. I rocked myself to stop the tears. I knew she wanted me to be smiling on my birthday with this gift in my hands. But all I could think of was that she remembered, and that she loved me.

As I write this, three decades later, deep feelings arise for which words fail to describe except with tears.

How simple a present. Yet it meant the world to this little girl, because her mother remembered after only asking her once. A promise kept.

I don't remember any of my other childhood birthdays. This one stands as the sole memory of all my childhood birthdays. Three years later my mother passed away.

I have lots of colour pencils today since I'm an artist. Though I am grateful that I can afford a whole assortment of different types today, they don't mean as much to me. Unlike the first 24 colours I received in my life from the person I miss most.

I learnt the true value and beauty in gifts. That they aren’t in the packaging nor how much they cost. They lie in the thoughtfulness of the person. A letter means as much as a necklace. In fact a letter means more to me.

It’s comforting to know that even after all these years, what a single gift has silently taught me without my mother knowing. I feel these are the best kinds of lessons, when it takes one to realize things on their own.

I love you Mummy more than I ever did those 24 colour pencils.
Nell-Lynn Perera