Looking back on the warped path I’ve threaded, I’m obliged to deaden my sore cuticles in preparation for more inescapable lashes of life, or wail my frustrations at the unfairness, or better still, give up, muscles sagged, and dig myself into the earth till its crude granules violate my tongue. But I refuse to do all that, for in your eyes, I see love strong enough to defuse the tartness of my soul. Maybe I am overly sanguine but it’s nothing but a speck compared to the many flaws I’m yoked with.
Years ago, on the doctor’s bed, our mother, completely drenched in sweat, pain, and the prospective cushioning memories of nestling beautiful healthy twins, birthed you and about six hours later, me. The doctor and the nurses, confused and worried themselves, thinking I was dead, contemplated cutting me bit by bit to create room so I could be yanked out as my head, stuck in mother’s cervix, threatened to kill her. Mother staunchly refused and gave one final determined push that coated her entire body in crimson. I popped out and landed in the hands of the doctor, silent and heavy like a slab of frozen beef. I was slapped and spanked for minutes before I finally let out a weak cry. All the while, you were puncturing the tensed atmosphere with your relentless screech as your lungs accustomed to the foreign air.
The early auguries I showed refused to dislodge the relief gripping the minds of everybody in the room but seven months later, when my neck refused to attain stability, my face an emotionless mask and my entire body as flaccid as rubber, eyes brows were raised and worry lines appeared. To further intensify the magnitude of the conundrum, you, on the other hand, were perfect. You smiled beautifully and responded to everything like a normal child should, you sucked at Mother’s breast with wanton abandon and were starting to master the art of creeping.
Mother riddled the doctor with questions. She wanted to know why God didn’t bless her wholeheartedly; he stopped halfway, displayed unwavering tokenism, and lumped her life with a vessel of burden. The doctor explained in detail, dancing labourioiusly between medical jargons and layman phraseology. You caused it all. You were selfish. You took all the nutrients for yourself and robbed me of even the slightest minimum to stay whole. To top that, you took all the space and squeezed me to a corner, thrusting me into the hands of death. But I lived. The doctor claimed that my survival was a miracle but it did nothing to douse the melancholy. Who knows, Mother probably wished I had died and while that could be tagged abominable, I would forgive her if she did venture down that road. Carpeted before the poor woman was a lifetime of pain and sorrow.
For years, I was with the physiotherapists and the enthusiasm and optimism they had resonated when I was a fresh patient, steadily, diluted into frustration and an acquiescence to the fact that I was resigned to a life devoid of meaningful social interaction- the elusive leap beyond blabbers and gibbers. The few times you came with Mother and me— days when you were on holidays—, you endeared yourself to the therapists and every single person around. Your intelligence, way beyond your years, astounded them. Your robust physique and the rich coiling field of hair capping your large head attracted all sorts of mushy nicknames. Every time you walked in, the focus was shifted from me, the patient, to you, the healthy one. In spite of Mother’s protests, they would get you snacks and drinks, give you the sack of building blocks and watch you construct all sorts with them, and all the while, I would be on the plinth, the gloved hand of a therapist trying to overcome the stiffness my muscles and joints presented with.
The visit to the hospital stopped the day one of the therapists told Mother that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. There were only two realistic options for me: remain the same or regression. Any form of improvement was restricted to the distant clouds of divine intervention. Mother wept that day and her tears silenced the entire clinic, thrusting into the hearts of everyone within, a rush of bile and sadness at the iniquitousness of life. You should have seen her that day; you were busy in school. But I know if you were there, you would cry too, like I did. They all thought I was up to my usual antics, crying for nothing, but they didn’t know that, somehow, the glumness of the situation had gripped my tender heart.
While you advanced through school, your cute shorts becoming trousers, I was in my special room, belted to my wooden chair, a bag of cheese balls or Choco pops erected before me, my eyes fixed on a blue cat (who I now know is Tom), surviving all sorts of accidents while chasing a small brown rat called Jerry. All the while, I had caregivers come and go like the seasons; I was never without one. No matter how hard they tried to endure the rigours of caring for me, there was always something I did that broke the tensed rope. For one of them, it was my incessant crying at night, she complained it gave her headaches that set her head on fire. Another claimed I gave her a strange infection that caused blisters all over her face and thighs. There was also the issue of my sudden retches, watery stools and pungent urine. Mother tried to pitch in, as much as she could, in spite of the manacles of her banking job, but all that changed when she started producing more babies.
I haven’t seen you since that day you walked into my room and gave me your superman doll. You were dressed in a white short-sleeved shirt neatly tucked into black pants. Your combed hair glistened beneath the glare of the while fluorescent and the acne scars pocked all over your face were poorly camouflaged with the Vaseline you’d rubbed. You didn’t say a word. You smiled at me and then turned to watch Tom and Jerry for a moment. The scene where Tom ingested a dynamite instead of a carrot made you laugh and I laughed too. You turned to me again, smiled once more and walked out. That little sequence didn’t mean anything until I didn’t see you again. It was your goodbye.
I still think about you sometimes, those fleeting moments when I am detached from my cartoons, my eyes concocting images of you superimposing a constellation of white clouds pocking the blue sky, smiling, both hands waving vigorously. Mother’s new kids come in sometimes and I don’t like the way they look at me, like I’m some miscreation, a blight discolouring their perfect world. You never looked at me that way. The times you did walk into my room, I saw –in your eyes—, love shrouded with the fear of not knowing what to do to correct me. You touched me thrice and on those occasions, it was a gentle immersion into a sea of joy, the same kind of joy I got from Mother when she still had my time, before the new kids took her away.
Last night, I had the strangest of dreams. It had the configuration of stark reality. I was in my chair gaping at the television when the door opened to reveal a tall man in a shiny dark suit. He had a round face chiseled with eyes capped by a thick black bush of hair. I thought it was an angel—or God, who had finally realized I needed a miracle but when the man smiled, I saw something familiar. The joy, the love, the hankering. It was you brother. You rushed towards me, yanked off the straps and pulled me into your arms. Your sobs tore the awkward silence to shreds and I could feel your warm tears drop on my cheeks, rolling into my mouth to dole out the saltiness. The last time I was hugged with so much emotion was the time I hoisted a spoon of rice into my mouth for the first time. Mother was happy but there’s been nothing more to be happy about since then.
“I am sorry for everything brother”. You blurted, “I shouldn’t have left you alone. I am sorry for everything. I am so sorry, I am never leaving you again.”
You burst into tears again, the word ‘sorry’ still sneaking its way into the lengthy emotional bawl. I started weeping myself, blabbing in tongues I’m sure you don’t understand.
When my eyes opened back to reality, my sweaty body strapped tightly to my bed, I looked around for you but I was alone, like I am most of the time. It was my first dream ever and you were in it, and that brought unexplainable joy to my soul. It was more than an imagery or sequence developed in the realms of slumber, it was a message. A message that you aren’t gone forever. You are coming back to never leave me again and I am holding on to that with my life, for we belong together.