My mother cries whenever she enters a supermarket. Her hands hold on tightly to the cart handle and while she walks with her head bent down through the milk aisle, she claims to hear you singing. A song tumbling from your lips like spring water. She remembers you when she gets honey flavoured cereal that no one but you likes and when her fingers skim across the skin of your favourite fruits. When she’s at the billing counter, she mumbles that your voice is one like the angels and subsequently turns around hoping to catch a glimpse of your warm smile.
Six years ago after I killed you, I took out all of your pink ribbons that you wore everyday and laid them neatly on your bed. There were twenty-three in total including the black one I gifted to you. When every time Momma grabbed my hands and pushed my fingers through the fire of the stove, I begged her to stop but then she would say, ‘the pain she felt was much more’. So afterwards I walked back up to your room and with quivering fingers bandaged clumsily by myself, I cut a ribbon into tiny pieces and blew them out your window. I foolishly believed that maybe once all your ribbons were nothing but pink dust, Momma would stop hurting me.
Do you remember the time when you told me that you weren’t afraid of death anymore, and that all you were afraid of was to live life the way I was ?. Truthfully, I haven’t changed. My story is born of frustration and the fear of living in a continuous loop of guilt. Before your death, I felt guilt over the fact that my birth would have been a reason why my mother started to hate the people who didn’t live as perfectly as she did. And after your death, I started to feel remorseful for almost everything I’m doing. So you see, I’m still living as a ghost. Sometimes I don’t even feel the rhythmic beat in my chest. When I begin to try and push life back into me, that’s when I would constantly be reminded of the time my house caught on fire and I left my eight-year-old sister amid the flames while I stood outside and watched her burn.
I admit I didn’t love you as a sister should have. I was covered deep in envy for the way Momma took care of you the way she never did with me. When she used to wrap her arms around you and press her cheeks to yours, as a little girl I ached to be held like that and that made me wonder how it would be like to feel her fingers softly brushing through my hair instead of yours. But you need to understand that the lack of healthy motherly love wasn’t why I didn’t run into the house to save you. It was because I was terrified. I was so scared to lose you and that made my entire body freeze. And ironically that’s exactly what happened, I lost you. At first, I heard your screams that stilled my insides and then I heard your heartbeat pulsing through the ground, through the smoke-filled thick air. Once I heard it getting slower I knew I didn’t have time to save you and when it stopped, I knew that was the end.
I tried to explain it to Momma one night. As we sat down for dinner – she dressed with fastidious care and I with a simple brown sundress – I said , “You look at me lot less than you did before she died”. My fingernails dug deeper into my palm when her eyes fell on me.
“When I look at you Amila, I’m reminded of how much suffering your sister went through before she passed and I can’t bare to feel that pain over and over whenever I think of it.”
“I tried to get her out, Ma”, I replied with a voice filled with desperation.
“No, you did not”
“I was scared”
“And you think she wasn’t ?”, Momma scoffed.
That was the last time I tried to get her to love me. She kept burning my hands to find solace, the people kept talking of my psychotic behaviours and I kept dreaming of you. With a black ribbon tied in your hair, you’re standing in a field full of wild flowers and the sky has no shine. You smile childishly while you say, “Amila, I never see the light anymore but I always feel it on my skin”.
Written by Amaani Sadiq
Illustration by DRG