Aunt Ahti

Aunt Ahti was an imposing woman who had long ago crowned herself queen of our family. She dressed in mismatched patterns of several flowing layers, a belt of gold discs, hoop earrings big enough to fit a hand through, necklaces of every length, stacks of bangles on each arm, a ring on each finger, and topped with a colourful turban. It was difficult to look at her without drawing back. With as many trinkets as she had on, it was hard for her to move around easily, and she did so with great effort but that did not stop her dressing the same every day. Perhaps she took too seriously the fact that her name meant ‘sun’. You always knew when Aunt Ahti was coming because you could hear her jewellery announcing her arrival, as well as her heavy feet crashing on the ground with every step. She was a large woman too, but only in width – she was actually quite short but you never noticed, because she seemed to stand over people, especially when she was scolding them.

Aunt Ahti scolded people often. She scolded my parents, my siblings, my cousins, my friends, her friends, and even her own parents (my grandparents). When I was younger, I asked my grandfather,

‘Papi, why does Aunt Ahti scold everyone?’

Papi laughed and said ‘My dear, your aunt was born with a talent for scolding. When she was born, she did not cry to take air into her lungs, but to scold your grandmother for putting her through such an ordeal.’

It was clear when someone was about to get a scolding from Aunt Ahti. She would look at them from the side of her eye, purse her lips, and lift her hand in preparation for a few minutes of finger wagging. She would scold people for any number of reasons, perhaps they said something she didn’t like, or said it in a way she didn’t like. Or maybe when she asked them to do something, they didn’t do it fast enough, or didn’t do it to her specific preference. Sometimes she would bounce a scolding from one person to another. Take for example, when I was five, and she asked me what I’d like to be when I grew up. I told her with such joy, hope and confidence that, ‘I’d like to be a cat, Auntie.’

I saw those huge eyes look at me sideways, and those brown lips press together. Next thing I knew I had a finger waggling around in front of my face, and Aunt Ahti was saying,

‘A cat? I never heard anything more ridiculous in my life, and living with this family I’ve heard a lot of things. You know from the moment I first saw you I knew that you were going to be a troublemaker, and I was right! What kind of child disrespects their dear old auntie by giving a silly answer to my questions? The problem is, your parents don’t scold you enough.’

Then she turned to my parents, ‘Do I have to teach you everything? Look at this girl saying she wants to be a cat. Are you not worried? The poor child will have to go to a special school and it will be all your fault for not teaching her enough. Look now, she’s sitting there with her mouth open. Close your mouth girl, you look like a fish.’

Apparently this final statement broke five year-old me completely because I then burst into tears. As quickly as she had turned to tell me off, she gathered me into her bosom and rocked me, saying in the most soothing voice she could manage,

‘There now child, I won’t let you go to a special school, don’t worry. You must understand I have to scold you from time to time so that you turn out well. I do care for all my nieces and nephews, and I want to be sure you don’t embarrass yourself by saying things like that in public. People outside, they’ll just laugh at you, but I will scold you because I love you.’

A quick character sketch for writing practice.