The cry comes from someone behind as he wades through the post town's crowds. At first Kaim does not realize that the person is addressing him, and he walks on in search of lodging for the night.
But the cry comes again, all but clinging to him, “Brother, dear! Big Brother!”
This is puzzling.
He last visited the town eighty years ago. There can't be anyone here who knows him.
“Wait, Big Brother! Don't go!”
His puzzlement begins to take on an eerie edge, for the voice addressing him as “Big Brother” can only belong to an old woman.
Without letting his guard down, he turns around slowly.
Just as he thought—it is an old woman.
Dressed in the clothes of a young girl, the tiny old woman is looking straight at Kaim with a bright smile on her face.
“I think you may have the wrong person,” he says, allowing his discomfort to show.
“No I don't,” She says with a big shake of the head and an expanding smile. “You're Big Brother Kaim!”
“What's wrong, Kaim, did you forget me?”
“Uh… well… I mean…”
He can't place her. Even if he were to succeed in doing so, he knows he has no acquaintances in this town. He wonders . . . could this be a chance re-encounter with someone he once met on the road? But no, he is sure he doesn't recognize her, and strangest of all, why would this woman who looks old enough to be his grandmother address him as “Big Brother”?
“Don't pretend you don't know who I am Kaim! You're so mean!”
She yells at him loudly enough that people in the crowd stop and stare at them.
It is not just the fact that she is shouting, of course, People always have to shout to be heard in these crowded streets. That alone would not attract attention. The old woman's voice is different from a normal adult yell. It is like the innocent, unrestrained cry of a little girl who throws her whole body into her scream.
People turn shocked expressions on the old woman and quickly avert their eyes.
Their dismay is understandable. The old woman has her stark white hair up tied up with a colourful ribbon, and her dress has the same floral pattern and floppy sleeves as a little girl's.
Many of the passerby look at the old woman with a mix of sympathy and pity on their faces.
Gradually, Kaim begins to comprehend the situation. This old woman has simply lived too long. This is why the past, locked away in her memory, has become realer to her then the reality before her eyes.
A middle-aged passerby tugs on Kaim's elbow.
“If I were you I would just walk away. Don't get involved with her. She'll be nothing but trouble.”
“It's true.” says the wife by his side, nodding. You're a stranger here, so you don't know, but this old woman is senile. You can ignore her. She'll forget everything in five minutes.”
They may be right, but the fact remains is this old woman knows Kaim's name.
In the little girl part of her mind, she thinks of Kaim as her “Big Brother.”
He tries probing his distant memories.
He spent no more than a few days here so long ago. He got to know very few people, and there can't be any of those left who still remember him.
When Kaim goes on standing before the old woman, the nosy middle age couple becomes indignant. “You try to be helpful and what does it get you?” snorts the husband.
“Let them work it out themselves.” adds the wife. “Let's just go.” Which they proceed to do.
Winding up the voice for maximum shrillness, the old woman calls out to them as they walk off in a huff. “Don't forget me now, you hear?”
In that instant, Kaim's memory makes the connection.
The old woman greets his look of recognition with an expression of joy.
“Do you remember me now?” she cries. “I'm Shushu. It's me—Shushu!”
He does remember her. A little girl he met in this town eighty years ago.
Perhaps five or six years old at the time, she was a precocious little thing whose lack of shyness with strangers came from her being the daughter of the innkeeper.
Somewhere along the way, she had probably picked up a phrase she heard someone using and so whenever a guest would depart after a number of days at the inn, instead of the standard “Goodbye” or “Thank you” she would see the person off with a smile and a cheery “Don't forget me now, you hear?”
Only now is he suddenly able to see the girl beneath the wrinkles, Kaim must avert his gaze from the old woman's face.
“What's wrong Big brother?”
He cannot bring himself to look directly at Shushu's vacant stare.
Eighty year have gone by! What can they talk about when a man who never ages meets a little girl from the distant past who has aged too much?
“Let me through here, please. Sorry, let me through here, please.”
Forcing his way through the crowd, a young man rushes up to where Shushu and Kaim are standing. “Great-grandmother! How often do I have to ask you not to go out without telling me?”
After scolding the old woman, he turns to Kaim with an apologetic bow
“I'm terribly sorry if she's been a bother to you. She's old and getting senile. I hope you can forgive her.”
Shushu herself, however, angrily purses her lips and demands to know, “What are you talking about? I'm just playing with Big Brother Kaim, What's wrong with that?
She peers at the young man and asks, “Who are you?”
The young man turns a sad gaze on Kaim and begins to apologize again.
With a pained smile, Kaim stops him.
Kaim knows that, at times, it can be sadder and more heartbreaking for a life to be prolonged than for it to be cut short. Sad and heartbreaking through a life may be, however, no one has the right to trample on it.
“She just can't seem to get it through her head she's old.” Even if I hold a mirror up to her she asks, “Who's that old lady?” The young man, whose name is Khasche, further explains the situation to Kaim, “she might forget that she ate breakfast, but her memories from childhood can be clear as a bell.”
Kaim nods in silent understanding.
Khasche and Kaim sit on a bench in the town plaza, watching Shushu pick flowers.
She is apparently making a floral wreath for her long-lost “Big Brother.”
“But really sir, do you have time for this? Weren't you in a hurry to get somewhere? ”
“No, I'm fine, don't worry.”
“Thanks very much.”
He smiles for the first time and says, “I haven't seen her this happy in ages.”
The young man seems convinced that his great-grandmother has encountered in Kaim a person who resembles someone she knew as a child. Kaim allows him this. He knows that Khasche cannot, and need not, imagine the existence of a person who never ages.
“Her health has really deteriorated lately. Whenever she runs a fever, we wonder if this is going to be the end for her and we prepare for the worst. But then she springs right back. Sometimes we joke that her mind is so far gone, she's forgotten to die.”
Kaim sees the young man in profile, Khasche has a gentle smile on his face as he speaks of his great-grandmother. No doubt, when he was little, she used to hold him and play with him. Grown up now, Khasche watches over his Great-grandmother like a parent watching his own child.
He calls out to her, “That's nice, Great-Grandmother. I haven't seen you weave flowers together like that for a long time!”
Squatting in the grass with a fistful of flowers, Shushu answers, “That's not true. I made a wreath for him yesterday!”
Then she says to Kaim, “isn't that right, Big Brother? You wore it in your hair for me didn't you?”
Kaim cups his hands around his mouth and calls back to her, “I certainly did, it smelt so nice!”
Shushu's face became as mass of joyful wrinkles. Overcome with emotion, Khasche bows his head.
Kaim asks Khasche, “are you the one who takes care of her?”
“Uh-huh. Me and my wife Cynthia.”
“How about your parents? Or even your grandparents? Are they still living?”
Khasche shrugs and says, “I'm the only other member of my family left alive.”
His grandparents both died in an epidemic twenty years ago.
His father lost his life in the war that enveloped this area ten years ago.
His mother, Shushu's granddaughter, aged more rapidly than her own mother, and the lamp of her life was snuffled out five years ago.
“So my great-grandmother has had to keep holding funeral over the years-for her Children and grandchildren, Before we even noticed, she had become the oldest person in town. It must be lonely living that way…”
“I'm sure.” answers Kaim.
“It might even be a kindness of the gods to let people fade out of mentally when they've lived too long. At least that's how I've come to see it lately. You would think she would feel lonely to be left behind that way, but she's not lonely at all. To live long means you have a lot of memories. Maybe it's not such a bad thing to live in the world of you memories during the last days for your life.”
Shushu stands up, her arms filled with flowers.
“Big Brother Kaim! I'm going to make a floral wreath for you right now! And if I have any flowers left over, I'll make one for this other person too.”
Kaim and Khasche look at each other with bewildered smiles.
Why are you smiling like that? Shushu asks. “Are you two friends now?”
She opens her wrinkle-ringed eyes wide in surprise and gives the two men a joyful smile, and collapses into the grass.
Khasche starts to run for a doctor but Kaim grabs his arm and holds him back, saying, “You'd better stay with her.”
Ironically, Kaim, who can never truly know what it feels like to age, has been present, for that very reason, at countless deaths over the years.
His experience tells him that Shushu will not recover this time.
Shushu is lying on her back where she has fallen, her armload of flowers now spread over her chest.
Her face wear's a smile.
“Wait just a minute, Big Brother Kaim. I'll make your wreath for you right away. . .”
Her mind is still lingering among her memories of the past.
Will she stay like this to the very end?
“Keep fighting Great-Grandmother! Don't let go!”
Khasche clings to her hand, tearfully shouting encouragement, but she may not even realize that this is her own great-grandson.
“It's me, Great-grandmother, it's me, Khasche! You haven't forgotten me, have you? I bathed you last night, you knew who I was then, didn't you?”
Khasche appeals to her with all his might.
But Shushu, a girlish smile on her lips, is departing for that distance world.
I'm going to be a father soon, Great-grandmother! Remember? I told you last night. Cynthia has a baby inside. It's going to make you a Great-great-grandmother! Our Family is going to grow—another person with your flesh and blood.”
Still smiling, Shushu grasps one of the flowers on her chest in her trembling fingers.
She thrusts it towards Khasche and in a voice no more than a whisper, she says, “Don't forget me now, you hear?”
Khasche doesn't understand.
Indeed how could her know the little phrase she always used to speak Long before he was born?
Kaim puts his arm around Khasche's shoulder and says “Answer her.”
“I know what you mean Great-grandmother. I won't forget you. I will absolutely never forget you. How could I forget my own Great grandmother?”
“Don't forget me now, you hear?”
“I won't forget you, Great-grandmother. Believe me. I'll always remember you.”
“Don't forget me now, you hear?”
Shushu closes her eyes and lays her hand on the flowers on her chest as if groping there for something. She seems to be trying to open the door where the memories are sealed.
A soft breeze moves over her.
The flowers adorning her chest dance in the wind along with the memories. Surely among those memories is the Kaim of eighty years ago.
Kaim snatches at one of the petals dancing in the wind, enclosing it in the palm of his hand.
Shushu will never open her eyes again.
She has left on a journey to a world where there is no past or present.
The only ones she has left behind are Kaim, who will go on living forever, and Khasche, who is about to welcome a new life into the world.
Clinging to her corpse, Khasche raises his tear stained face to look at Kaim.
“Thank you so much.” He says to Kaim the traveler. “Thanks to you, my Great-grandmother was so happy to be picking flowers at the very end.
“No. It wasn't thanks to me,” Kaim says.
He closes his fist on the petal in his hand and says to Khasche. “I'm sure if she had made a wreath, she would have given it to your sweet new baby.”
Khasche shyly cocks his head and mutters, “I hope you're right.” But then smiling through his tears, he declares. “I'm sure you are.”
“About that promise you made to her—be good and don't forget her.”
“No, of course not.”
“People go on living as long as they remain in someones memory.” With these words, Kaim begins to walk slowly away. Behind him he hears Shushu's voice.
Don't forget me now, you hear?
It is the voice of the little girl from eighty years ago, ringing ever clear, sweet, and innocent, declaring farewell to the man who will travel life forever.