I remember we lived in the city of a perpetually hot summer back then. It is an odd neighbourhood in my five year old memory, populated with an old painter who lived in a house across the terrace, a gangly boy who had a stepmother (something that made the mole on her face evil), a girl who could climb down the staircase on roller-skates. All these things I remember: the dog with one ear who never went hungry, the heroic boy who cycled whirling dust the evenings, the ice-cream store across the road my toddler-outgrown feet could still not cross.
As hard as I might try, as tightly as I clench my eyes shut, no picture of hospital trips with my mother leap across this well-mapped landscape of my childhood - no hints of vitamin supplement bottles, baggy sweaters, hot chicken soup. All traces of your seven months are cleanly repressed, sister. I want to bring back a glimpse of the first knee-jerk reaction to your soft kicking in my mother’s womb, because I heard you were always restless. You made her eat cucumber, chili and chocolate - a foetal sense of alliteration.
If I cannot picture any of this then, I shall sketch you into my atlas and make your childhood last as long as mine. Because I already know your ending, I shall fake pretend to grudge you possession of my Boogey Bear and Rapunzel doll. We shall work on teaching you the ABCs as soon as we can, so that we can read out ‘Mirror mirror, who’s the fairest of them all?’ together. I think you have a beautiful voice, come waltzing into my macabre imagination and hear how our voices sound together, (a duet to whatever music you like best). The old whiteboard would have permanent marker remains of our grammar lessons; for once, I would be good with numbers. Such fun it would be to rote learn the multiplication tables together - “nine nine zaaa eighty one!”
If I have to pick how we are different, it’s in the way your nose is slightly crooked like mamma’s, and how you never fell in love with Harry Potter. A voice like yours is in my head right now; it whispers how you never liked all the animals on the road that much either, but I choose this moment to be the elder sister with more important things on her mind.
Memories of you crowd around - suddenly, the old painter and the girl on the rollerskates fade away. It’s you and me and mamma, dancing to Rasputin and Sexy Eyes in the room with all the cardboard boxes. One hot evening, we grumbled together through the sweat and no electricity, and baba emptied a bottle of water on each of us, laughing. They were those plastic bottles, the one litre ones for pepsi. And yes, thankfully, you never thought much of orange flavoured fizzy drinks either.
How do I bring your years to double digits, sister? How do I pick you a name to shape your childhood with? I shall write you all my best stories, give you all my best memories. Take my favourite fairytales, and those nights nana read me Shakespeare. You can name our first cat, she was grey and tiny when we rescued her from the garage and I loved her to death, but I shall let her sleep in the crook of your arms instead, as long as we can share the blanket. I shall let you ride shotgun in the blue Maruti and you can be the one who stands in front of baba on the scooter when we go to buy grocery, so much fun it will be to share cornettos on our way back. I would never shoot you an ‘annoying little sister’ expression; we could be the oddball pair, the ones who are evil to Cinderella and then never find true love and grow old together.
Will this keep you here? Wouldn’t you rather live in changing addresses and overrated teenage, than in mamma’s quiet tears every year on a beautiful day in September? Our father never speaks of you, but I know he had thought of a beautiful name for you - he knew you would be a girl. Nana was excited to induct you into our exclusive duo of mammal and letter loving; the copy of The Crossbreed he kept for you is exactly the same edition as he bought me, it’s wrapped in paper which still shines.
I cannot ask you why you left, sister, when you never came at all. It is not a pretty world sometimes, but we all find our own medicines. You would have too. You would have been strong, and I would have loved you as fiercely as I love you now. I will swap these words and the entertaining company of my mind for you. Take my double digits; like your favourite fairytale, I will take my turn to bite into the apple if you promise to take me up on this exchange.My enchanted slumber will be peaceful; as you can see, I inevitably build castles in the air.
Like our grandmother, I talk to myself sometimes too, and just like I was the impish eavesdropper to her words, I know you are of mine.
Tell me your name, because I cannot say sister one more time and then open my eyes to not ever having you (t)here.