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The Lotus Angel by Robin Lim

An extract from Ibu Robin Lim’s book Butterfly People

Our mother loved lotus flowers. She loved the smell of them, the way they opened for the day and put themselves to bed for the night. She loved them for rising out of the mud, pink and pale blue and unashamed.

Before leaving for the war, our father called our mother, Baby. Everyone else in America called her Chris. She had begged and pleaded and finally threatened, until my father put-in to have us transferred to the Philippines. He went to Vietnam, and the rest of our family went home to Baguio for that year. At last we would know our mommy’s country, her family. Finally, we had come to a place where our mother’s name was always Baby, Baby Lim.

At long last we reached the Philippines. Our house in Baguio was very near a lotus pond. The water was deep, and we were small. We five children were warned to never go there alone. From the sari-sari store where, for a few centavos, we could buy purple ube candy made from giant, gnarled root purple yams, we could see the lotus pond. One day, the temptation to pick a flower for our mother was irresistible. My sister and I went.

We usually called my little sister Christine, Sissy; even though she had the most beautiful given name, the name that means ‘Christ’. I was always jealous of that Jesus name. Sissy was the one who could sing like a bird, the one who was sensitive.

We never discussed it, there wasn’t any need to. It just happened. We looked at each other and we knew we were going to the forbidden pond.

On the way, we saw the orange and burnt colored Everlasting flowers. “Why don’t we just pick some of these for Mommy? I mean, she likes them a lot,” I suggested, feeling the weight of my responsibility as the eldest child. Sissy only laughed and ran faster towards the muddy pond.

Standing there on the edge, I wanted to abandon our plan. There were no lotus blossoms near the shore. Only out there, where the water was deep, languished the beauties of our temptation. More than even we could desire. We became light headed and giddy. We were drunk on the scent.

Leaving our blue rubber sandals on the grassy bank, we giggled as we waded out. The mud sucked at our feet.

“Walk on the tangles of roots and stems,” Sissy suggested. She was right, the lotus plants held us up and took us, giggling, on a muddy carpet ride to the center of the pond.

Together, we leaned forward to touch the first flower. Almost touching… time slowed as we lost our footing. I looked into my sweet sister’s eyes, memorizing her ten-year-old face, knowing we would drown.

The water was almost warm. We held hands and I thought not to struggle, as that pulled us down faster. Our clothes were heavy. We had never been so afraid.

I knew Sissy was praying, and she knew that I was. I saw us in our school uniforms. I saw our First Holy Communion. I saw Sissy a baby. I saw my mother’s face, again, for the first time. I heard my own first scream with newborn ears as we slipped down.

The water was all about us now. Sissy dropped my hand and reached behind her, where she seemed to know help would be waiting. I followed her lead and found a hand. Swiftly and gently, we were pulled out of the pond. We hugged and cried there on the grassy bank. We were most definitely alive. And we were afraid to look behind us to see who it was who had saved us. In the moment we were being pulled to safety, I remember only flashing white and warm.

Scattered by our dusty slippers were lotus blossoms, five of them, pink and pale blue. Silently, we gathered these up and walked home all wet, wondering if our mother would spank us for going to the pond.

We left the lotus flowers by the kitchen sink, and we were quiet all day. Mommy, who never missed a thing, arranged them in a vase and put them on the table, but never mentioned the gift.

Every night the lotus blossoms would close tight. With the warmth of the morning sun, the flowers would slowly open and fill our house with their scent. Our Lola wondered at these flowers, for they lasted nearly four weeks in the vase. Never had flowers stayed perfectly fresh, for so long.

Christine lived to be only thirty-two years old. She died in her sleep, a complication of pregnancy. That first night after her death I dreamed about our lotus pond adventure, which we had never discussed. Perhaps it was too scary and too wonderful to want to talk about. I dreamed of Sissy and me, children again, as real as that day at the lotus pond in Baguio twenty years earlier. This time, when we sat wet and shivering on the grassy bank, I dared to look behind me. He was white, and made out of light and music. I saw two pretty young half-Filipino girls, dripping wet, gathering up the flowers and quickly putting on their slippers. I saw him walking behind us, guiding us over the hill to home. This time, however, when we came to the road, he took my sister Christine by the hand. And I went with lotus blossoms, back to mother, alone.   §

About Robin Lim

Robin Lim is a mother, grandmother, author, poet, midwife and educator who lives in Bali with her husband and their family. She is a Certified Professional Midwife, with the North American Registry of Midwives and Ikatan Bidan Indonesia.

Robin founded The Bumi Sehat Foundation, a non profit organisation which has two by-donation clinics located in Bali and Aceh that provide health and peaceful midwifery services to those in need. The clinic in Bali has been running for almost six years to a community that was economically devastated by the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2004. The Aceh clinic was established in early 2005 in direct response to the December 2004 Asian Tsunami to provide for tsunami survivors and their families. A third clinic has more recently been set up in Haiti in response to the devastating earthquake experienced there in January 2010.

Further Reading

Read an article within STEPS online magazine about Robin Lim and the Bumi Sehat Foundation and find out how you can help their valuable work continue.

Visit the Bumi Sehat Foundation website