408: only because all your stars are out

It always amazes me how quickly time passes, and nothing marks it more clearly than family coming and going, and then all coming back. It was the first time in a long time that we’d all been together, crowding around a table eating steamboat. We huddled over, fighting over the same food, talking about (almost) the same things: life, love, relationships, business. How young people these days are going to the dogs. How inconsiderate people must be shot. Australian wine, prawn allergies, who wants to eat beef, please pass me the vegetables, etc. The conversation spanned everything and nothing. These days as I get older there are few big revelations, only small realisations. And it was this way I identified joy, from two men over a (n almost) silent clink of beer. There were many 干杯s after that, but it started with the first, joyful meeting of eyes, a spark that rekindled. My uncle hadn’t seen or talked to my father over a steamboat dinner in seven years. It was as long for all of us. But what we missed was a space my father filled. He was an uncle, a husband, my father, which was not to say that none of these was worth remembering. But to my uncle he was one of the few he could really talk to, perhaps barred by a generation gap and lack of heartfelt conversation. Business friends don’t make good confidantes — relatives, especially once-removed ones, perhaps even more so. But there is something oddly joyful, oddly peaceful (and vaguely comforting) about seeing two men step out into the backyard with two cans of beer in their hands. Two chairs, under the mango tree. I cherished the scene for all of two minutes, when the rest of the family started inching in, eroding their conversation time bit by bit.

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