Nell-Lynn Perera

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