She’s four and I see her for the first time. As my tiny fist curls around her finger, she smiles. I don’t know who she is, but I know she’s good.
She’s six and she picks another flower from the field. With wide eyes I watch her hands doing magic. I’m pulled out of amazement, when she suddenly props the crown of wreathed blossoms onto my head. ‘There you go’, she says. I clap my hand and giggle with appreciation. She presses a soft kiss onto my forehead and smiles back at me.
She’s nine and it’s the only time I have ever seen her cry. It’s not loud, though, rather subtle and calm. The strains of tears mark her pink face. Realizing that I’m watching her, she quickly wipes them away and turns to me. The cold wind blows around us and I’m trembling slightly. ‘Everything’s going to be alright’, she says. Her voice is surprisingly confident and I don’t lose my trust in her for one second. Even now her lips attempt a small smile. She takes my hand and leads me away from the cemetery, leaving our parents’ grave behind.
She’s thirteen and she wraps her arms around me in a tight embrace. I cry into her shoulder, while she doesn’t ask why I just climbed into her bed. Instead, she spreads the blanket over the two of us and I snuggle in. Breathing in, I enjoy the sudden rush of comfort and closure. Her warmth fills me, as my sobs slowly subside. Exhaustion overwhelms me. She keeps caressing my hair and my face carefully. The silence stretches out and takes us in. Feeling secure, I close my eyes and resign myself to some needed sleep. I’m not at peace tonight, but I’ve found a place to rest.
She’s fifteen and she cooks dinner. I watch her washing the salad and putting the potatoes into the boiling water. I know her day must have been hard, because she had to work after school and just came home. Expecting a tired expression, I look at her face to find myself surprised. It doesn’t show any trace of exhaustion. Her gaze meets mine and her eyes shine with happiness. The smile I’ve come to know so well appears on her features. Even in her worn clothes and with an apron tied around her waist she looks absolutely beautiful. Amazed by her, I sit down at the table and begin cutting the vegetables. She turns towards the range again and continues her task of cooking. ‘How was your day?’ she asks light-heartedly, arranging dinner on the table and sitting down across from me. Bright-eyed, I take a deep breath and begin telling.
She’s nineteen and she announces her plans to move out with her boyfriend. I want to be mad at her for leaving me, but can’t bring myself to. Tears slips down my cheeks, despite the fact she’s telling me not to cry. I look to the ground, but she lifts up my chin and gives me one of her flashing smiles. In an instant, my breathing relaxes and I’m at ease. That is exactly what I don’t want to lose, what I’ll always need from her. Even if it’s just for one minute of the day. ‘Don’t be sad’, she says. She promises to keep in touch and she does hold her promise. Every day I hear from her. Sometimes I receive a letter or an email, often I get a quick call and in the course of the day she sends me bunches of short messages telling me ‘I love you’ or ‘Take care’. They’re simple, but they mean the world to me. It’s her way to assure me that I’m still in a corner of her heart and that I’ll always be.
The next time I see her she’s twenty-one. She’s so skinny. Wires and tubes are attached to her fragile body. Her eyes are closed and her skin is shadowed. There is no trace of pink left. Her once shining hair lies around her face in an unruly mess.
‘What have they done to you?’ I whisper as I hurry into the room. Shocked I put my hand on top of her bony one. My gaze lingers onto her foreign form for a breath longer before shooting back to the crowd hovering around the hospital bed. ‘What have you done to her?’ I snap at them. I intend to say more, but my voice is cracking. They stare at me in silence. It’s her boyfriend who finally answers. ‘We were having a party. She fainted’ He sounds empty, almost indifferent. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with her…’, he lamely excuses himself.
‘As if you can’t see it’, I throw back at him. ‘All you had to do was to take care of her, that’s all you needed to do. And look what you have done!’ I suppress an upcoming sob. I mustn’t cry right now, it won’t help her. My grip becomes firmer and it feels as if I’m near to crushing her delicate hand. Instinctively, I loosen it and continue to watch her worriedly. I try to find her in that lifeless shell of skin and bones.
She looks so bitter. Where is her kindness?
She looks so hollow. Where is her beauty?
She looks so weak. Where is her strength?
She looks so…unlike herself.
‘Who are you, anyway?’ One of those people calling themselves her friends speaks up. My eyes don’t leave the broken flower in the hospital bed. I cradle her head in my arms and kiss her hair. I try to hear the weak beating of her heart, visualized on the nearby displays. Without avail. Pressing the cool body close to me, I close my eyes and frown.
‘She’s my fucking sister!’