If I could, I would press and hold your hands until the warmth would morph and melt our fingerprints into an identical anomaly for security checkpoints and official papers. I would look at you for so long that yellow walls would be a surface for an optical illusion of you, and the illusion wouldn’t be enough.
I want to collapse on you like a raindrop on unstepped soil,
motes of dust (not sparkling) in hopeful rainbow light.
Lon(v)ely poets will call us their favourite smell,
and I’ll waft and seep through your grainy wholeness, enrich your colour and wrap myself tight around your earth, learn and remember the taste of your dryness and how you look in the dark.
Drifting vapour, I want to condense again, even though it hurts to fall.
Steady there, let me fight the wind for you, steady steady.
Wait for the rain.
It was a well-thought out setup, when I turned to see you sitting on the sofa, watching a documentary about a farrier. “Do you know you can’t really tell when they’re in pain? Horses, they don’t neigh or groan or fidget or, well, you know.”
I nodded, and set down the coffee. That evening, we spoke of Penguin book covers, the difference between shrews and mice, Alfred Noyes, and our favourite Sufi poets.
Quietly, we were mourning our equestrian paced countdown,
and we knew,
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.
a little too long for you, gathered together on staircases in a tight fist.
I passed you by as you caught the train,
tucked yourself into your shoulders and tried not to brush against the crowd.
You sleep like a foetus, I can tell, but you wore primary colours and flowed through the clean crusty lines of the platform,
I lingered around to see if you’d look back to note who was following the traipsing tramped trails of your garb,
you know, whether it was all a well charted ploy.
I can diagram all the elements of your story;
your title, shadowed in a curvy font, the drop-cap first letter of your beginning, the flippant absence of any footers or chapter breaks.
You run barefoot, all the conflict in your subtext, tears smudged against the bulky glass panes of the window.
I have read between your lines.
That’s when I began thinking of losing you. This isn’t the first time I am writing of loss and best friends and bits of my heart and people going away. It’s just that, with you, the deep sad sorrow I chose to immerse myself in and all the parallel universes I conjure for these words, for my sanity, it came true. And we are sad about that, which is good, isn’t it, because deep sad sorrow is the appropriate emotion for situations like this?
My point though, in writing this to you, and these words come after I sat nibbling my fingers for a moment, is that loss isn’t romantic. As much as I vindictively wish that our painful parting of ways provided fiery fodder to the flaccid fuels (fools) of my imagination, there is no such thing happening – and we can see that here, can’t we? I can employ no wordplay and I shall join you in laughing at all the obvious attempts at making this seem literary.
I am always hiding, and my words are no miraculous insight into my truth. They are the closest I shall come to surface, and that’s the best I can do. You know that, don’t you? You loved my lies, and my fiction loved you back.
Loss hasn’t matured me. It has not suffered me, and it has left me precisely where it found me (that was a reference to a quote you loved from Chicken Soup for the Soul, it was the only book you ever read in the library). I don’t think either of us value or miss each other more than we ever did, so really, what is loss if it isn’t pillow tears, sad poetry and nearly dialing a number? My inventive what-ifs are so much more realistic than this pathetic reality.
Because this then, is what loss is. It is awkward words and a verbose mind running astray, too much thought and too much reflection. It’s waking up one day and realizing he doesn’t matter anymore (he is so ridiculous anyway), you could kiss him and hold him and marry him and have three children with him; we are all selfish people, and there is nothing we crave more than everything which makes us happy, and if we have to pick between two, you pick whichever one you can keep around more often, and his address was nearer. How can I blame you (except when I did)?
Loss is when you can thrive happily without everything which made your days and who you’ve had breakfast with for years. It’s when I realize it’s just one story less, and really, these things don’t matter that much. People come, people go. I shall too.
This is me, taking a deep breath, and breaking out to the surface. Just for a moment, just long enough to say you can love him and love me too.
My key-ring is a sterling silver bear, a tiny clock dial his stomach,
It’s an odd Weasley world of locks and tick tocks,
a fascinating timer to going away and coming back.
It’s an interesting fact, like the ones they compile in colourful middle school books,
comic sans in jagged edged yellow boxes,
exclamation mark ended did you know my favourite cup is mud red saying cats love milk,
or how fluorescent shades make me twisty mountain drive queasy.
You’ve left this thick paperback book, earmarked and cunningly dog-eared on its spine,
I can glance around this room and win the invisible treasure hunt of all your bullet lists;
the pillow covers will always be a shade of blue,
the secret safe for cheque books and passports is the worn squash racquet case on the doornail.
Let’s play this serendipity game of truth and dare,
tell me my favourite font, or whether I like chandeliers.
There are mounds of glittering pirate loot in your mind,
if you could tell me now, please,
bears and pillow covers are decisive,
and I need to know if this is a lie.
The awkward moment when you dig into old documents to find something to post on your blog. Sourced right there.
It’s been seven years of resentful Mondays.
You’re standing on the pavement, squinting at apartment numbers,
how easily my eyes superimpose upon you your youth,
cleverly blurring, sharpening, the black formals turning into faded sneakers,
In a whirl, the face turns, the same persistent cowlick and embarassing feminine eyelashes,
the city snaps playfully, a lazy canine, these streets are an adventure again.
old and new cartons, stiff and frayed, peeling brown tape crust on their edges,
I delve into this familiar and forgotten pile of neatly stacked books,
A painted box set of fairytales, the pages of Little Mermaid scrawled with two triangle hearts of five year old dexterity,
How enticing it is to be land ahoy with the pulse of this glorious city,
and how vital it is to ease into scales and fins again,
deep sea glitters of ma’s deep embrace,
resurface, yes, and tread lightly far from the shore and beyond,
but the salt seashell sounds of the sea, just like these doodled illustrations and birthday novels, and the missing of swimming,
this home shall wait for you again.