Once as I stood next to my brother, he screamed my name. What is it to be named and have that name called out? Shaped by mouth and tongue of another. His body was small but the sound – back arched, eyes closed and knees bent so loud he called for me to come, felt my name stand tall with his voice and face to the sky and sound rung, rung my ears my bones shook. So loud, I would have come running towards the sound generated by this small body, back arched, knees bent under the weight of that sound.
‘Sisa’ was his first word, ‘sister’. I had arrived here four years before him and had the knowledge of the world in his eyes. I allowed him to follow me around saying my name as it was then – ‘Sisa’, ‘Sisa’. The word ‘rivalry’ naturally follows the word ‘sibling’, or some other mode of comparison: the firstborn and the last, the elder and the younger. And so we become individuals walled off from each other. But I feel porous in relation to my brother, in spite of being the ‘elder’, and more porous and related to the world as we get older.
One quiet morning I heard him shout ‘Yes?’ in his sleep, ripping through the still air, down the corridor, his eyes closed. He was hearing his name called from the outer edges of his psyche. A voice knitted into the slow-running stream where he floated between waking life and that of his dreams. Even there he couldn’t be left alone. And I was laughing from my room, most of the time I wouldn’t let him cross the threshold and would watch him wait patiently outside. An assertion of my separateness, and at night the admission of the opposite as I slept in his room with him.
And how rarely this insistence on our separateness went both ways. How rarely he would bear a grudge. We had a fight over the remote control – which was really about my approaching puberty, my anxieties about my body, the future, my inadequacies, the world’s unfairness as it felt to me, me, and for him? I don’t know, but he was the first to apologise. He came to the room I had stormed into, the contours of his face wearing a maturity he was yet to grow into fully. As we hugged I was proud of him and in equal measure humiliated at my own loss of control, my shouting and screaming, swearing. He is never shy of hugs and kisses and I parse them out tentatively. He has a natural inner calm that for me was hard-won and he called for me to come, back arched his small body, knees bent and he screamed my name. Vanessa.