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In 1999, a hit was released by Destiny’s Child called Shemaney. If you didn’t know this, don’t worry, neither did I.

My sister insisted it was a hit but days later when the song played on the radio the lyrics were, ‘Say my name, say My Name’ , and not ‘Shemaney, Shemaney’! However, she sang with such conviction that we allowed her her truth, jokingly calling her Shemaney from that point on.

Shemaney was our family’s keeper. She kept us financially secure, morally intact and spiritually aware. I could do neither of these and as the unruly last child most days were spent accruing mileage running away from her ‘sasa’ (broom). Years later we made our peace and I forgave her for running after my life and she forgave me for making her run after my life in the first place.

She had a hoarse croaky voice which miraculously fluctuated from a high-pitched croak when she was angry or happy at her Biology students; then descending to a deep rumble when serious. All the while her neatly arranged ‘buiniga’ (afro) would bob subtly in synch with the metre ruler in her hand as she made her point to her students.

Her petite frame was always clothed in beautiful tropical prints and while she preferred muted colours she always bought bright ones just in case she felt bold enough to wear them one day. That rarely happened allowing me to take liberties with her bright clothes. I often resembled a brightly adorned Christmas tree and she the respectable adult who held the switch.

A few months after I left Fiji, she skyped me as usual to say hello. We talked at length about things I do not now remember. After a while I begged, “Other news buj?”.

She looked ready to abruptly end the conversation, so I quickly prompted her again.

Then her pitch went low.

Looking anywhere but the camera, she quietly whispered that she just got back from seeing the doctor and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

I looked out my first world window and hated everything I saw. I hated the latitudes and longitudes that circled earth, I hated time that would not stand still and above all I hated myself for being inaccessible in her time of need.

She fought a valiant fight but sadly lost her battle with cancer on Boxing day 2014. The big sister who could fight anything, found herself having to battle against her collapsing lungs which had breathed life into our family.

We buried her in the presence of her students who gave up their school break, colleagues and our friends and families. The assortment of people that assembled on our front yard properly represented the type of person she was – accepting without question and loyal without fail.

After all the formalities but still unable to sleep at three in the morning my nieces and I put on our flip flops for a visit to our neighbour’s lemon tree for ‘draunimoli’ (Lemon leaves). As we did, we were chased by dogs; not the fluffy, snuggly and fall-in-love with me British types; but Fijian ones which were trained to kill, eat and destroy!

We all ran for our lives, but I fell and scraped my knee. The dogs were closing in and they sensed victory. I closed my eyes and resigned myself to being eaten alive. After all, what’s a few gnawed limbs when you’ve lost your heart?

I then heard Shemaney’s daughter with her mother’s serious bass tone commanding me to get back up on my feet. Her face was so sincere with her mother’s quiet confidence and her mouth curving at the same places her mother’s did. Through her pain, Shemaney had prepared and conditioned her daughter well. Her purpose complete, she knew it was time to leave. When all I saw was hate, all she did was love.

I stretched out my arms to hug my niece Tieri and as we hugged the lemon branches we held made grotesque shapes in the dark. The dogs stopped their pursuit and ran off in fright.

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Tieri (Middle) with her cousins scanning the horizon.

I cried all the way back home and it wasn’t from the pain of the scraped knee. A familiar feeling of love now settled somewhere where my heart used to be, it was only a matter of time and it would fully heal.

So Shemaney had told the truth till the very end. She hadn’t died as they said, she lived. She lived in her beautiful confident daughter who had just lost a mother but found peace still and she lived in the many students whom she had taught and are now accomplishing great feats.

She lived in every good thing I see.

She was my Real Thing.

Her name is Salanieta Lalagavesi and I miss her every day.

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To everyone who have lost loved ones to cancer there’s too many of us to count- we will all heal one day.

M.S

17 Comments

  1. Mili Tawake says:

    Miri,
    This is such a beautiful piece.. I love it! RIP Sala..isa

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Isa Mili thank you.

      Hope you are all well. Loloma levu vei kemudou.

  2. Faye Searell says:

    This is beautiful Aunty Miri.

    Missing her so much.

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Thanks Faye. That lemon tree adventure is one of my favourite memories.

  3. Leonie says:

    This actually brought tears and laughter all at the same time. You couldn’t have said it any better than this aunty Miri. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed every word. 💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖💖

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Thank you Leo.

      Yes Sala with her dodgy ears wanting to sing all the cool songs on the radio😊

      Love,
      X

  4. Faye says:

    I still have photos of our adventure 😍😍

  5. Miri, what a beautiful tribute. I enjoyed reading this. You have such a gift with your writing, thank you for sharing it and for sharing your love for your sister with us x

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Yadra Bella and thank you.
      Your blog also actually gave me the confidence to put my writings out there. So for that I am grateful.
      Vinaka vakalevu.
      Miri

  6. Elenoa Tawake says:

    Miri, Bula vinaka, I am Mili’s mom.I just read your tribute to your beloved sister. Your sister Sala surely left an impack in in those she encounted in this life. The reassuring part you will see her one day. Your writing has got such beauty, possession,& qualities to it. It gives me pleasure, delights my mind & brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. God bless . Thank you.

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Bula Mrs. Tawake,

      Thank you for your kind words. Mili and my classmates had always been supportive back in primary school but it took me so long to believe it and have the confidence to show it to the world.

      Thank you for your encouraging words. I believe I will see Sala again, even if all she does is chase me around heaven again with her taufale, that will be enough for me!

      Loloma levu,
      Miri.

  7. Rini Saro says:

    I remember her classes so vividly – always with a chalk or ruler in hand pointing to drive the lesson home! She was a wonderful teacher to many of us in Natabua – my thoughts are with you Miri and your family. We truly never know what a good thing we have until it is gone. Loloma levu, Rini x

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Isa Natabua! Thank you Rini. ..i used to spy her standing with her ruler and run😊

      Loloma levu to you as well.

      X

  8. Flutterfly says:

    Beautiful Sala, forever missed. Your stories of her always brings me to tears. When I remember her, it is always that she exuded aura of a strong, humble lady. You were blessed to have had her as a big sis xxx

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      She was a fan of yours you know! So I know the feeling there was mutual.

      X

  9. Irene says:

    I went to high school with Sala and actually was trying to track her down and upon searching Facebook came across a post for her thanksgiving service and was really saddened and shocked. Sala and I spent every school break time together along with a few other friends. We had Lots of fun and also remember going to her home some times. She was such a beautiful person and fun to be with. Also so hardworking and diligent in her studies. I still remember visiting her during my first trip back to Fiji many years ago. Thanks so much for sharing this lovely write up – so sweet and touching.

    Lolomas to family. 🌻
    Irene

    1. MiriamaSuraki says:

      Bula vinaka Irene,

      Thank you so much for your lovely message. Sala talked her friend Irene as well so thank you for remembering Sala so well and being a great friend to her.

      Loloma levu
      Miri.

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