I remember a time when it was my sister’s job to bring me home from school. We went to the same school. Her friends used to call me “Aastha’s Brother” and give me candy. I didn’t know their names- they were, Lollipop Didi, Gummy Bear Didi and Marshmallow Didi to me. It’s funny how I used to call her friends Something Didi but I never called her by her name or even called her Didi. She was just oi to me, equivalent to a Hey.
I used to walk to school with my Dad. I’d ask him all about how many stars there were in the sky and why the sun came up during day while all the other stars during night. Because he didn’t return home till late, it was my sister’s job to bring me back. She’d wait me by the black wrought iron gate, its sword-tips rusty, the accompanying wall covered with moss. And because I didn’t really want to go home, I’d just wait in line for the school bus with my friends, talking about why Charizard was the best Pokemon there was, until they’d all board the bus and then I’d run all across the school before finally going to her. She’d be sitting on a concrete bench, her backpack still across her shoulders, looking tired and mildly annoyed.
“Why can’t you come here directly from your class? You know, you can always talk to your friends tomorrow.”
“I know. I won’t be late from tomorrow, I promise.”
As we walked the mile from school to home, I’d sometimes ask her to buy me a coconut from the street cart that mainly sold watermelons and pineapples. It was a dark green cart, with a galvanized steel roof. There used to be a red, plastic bucket of water, that the vendor, who always wore blue shirt and khaki pants, used to wash the pineapples with after cutting them. I would often just refuse to walk and would sit on the street until she bought me a coconut. And if she did buy me one, I’d walk all good as long as I had the coconut. After that, I’d be bored and need something else to stimulate me.
Because I would have finished my coconut and would have nothing better to do, I’d pick up a stick and get behind my sister and hit her backpack, shouting, “Hah! Walk faster, buffalo. Walk. Hah!”. She’d try to grab the stick from me and throw it away but I’d just run ahead, stop and wait for her to do it all over again.
It used to be particularly difficult for her when it rained. Because I refused to hold my own umbrella or wear a raincoat, she’d have to hold one giant umbrella and hold my hands so that I wouldn’t go out in the rain, jumping in the puddles, brown with all the dirt on the street. Sometimes, I’d just grab the umbrella away from her and close it, forcing both of us to soak in the rain. May to August, as it poured heavily every afternoon, seldom did we reach home, not completely wet.
Now that I think about her, I wonder why she put up with all that. She didn’t have to. Dad suggested, perhaps every week, that maybe I should use the school bus that stopped less than hundred yards from our home.
“The bus is always too crowded and he doesn’t like crowds. It’s okay- it’s not that far any way.”
I liked walking home with her. I sometimes felt bad for making her life miserable, but mostly, I was just too busy grabbing her ponytail, to really self-reflect and feel guilty about it.
I like walking home from school with Aastha. She buys me coconut every day. And she lets me play with her. When i walk with her, i don’t feel bored. I get to pretend like she is a buffalo and i am walking her home after she’s done eating grass. We talk about Moomin. I think Moomin is a girl. She thinks moomin is a boy. I think she is wrong. That is a girl’s voice. Moomin is a girl.
I like doing my homework with her. I don’t like doing homework. They just make us copy stories in the book saying it’s a Handwriting Practice. My teacher says my handwriting is not legible. I asked Aastha what legible meant and she made me look in the dictionary instead of telling me what it means. I do not like her.
I like when we play the homework game. Whoever finishes writing three pages first wins. And gets a piece of coconut. I like coconut. But i do not like coconut water. It tastes bad for water and bad for a coconut. But i like coconut.
I do not like when she goes to village with dad. I also want to go with her. I do not like being in the house without her. I also want to go with her. But dad says i am too young to walk so far. He says when buses will start running, i can go. He says they are making the roads and are almost done. I cannot wait to go to my village with Aastha on a bus. I will ask her to buy me a coconut to eat on the trip. I like coconut. But i do not like coconut water.
I feel happy that Aastha and i go to the same school. All my friends know her. And her friends know me too. They bring me candy everyday. My friends are jealous of me. I share with them only sometimes. Aastha’s friends bring them for me, not for them. Why should they get to eat my candies? But i feel bad for them sometimes. So i give them one candy each. Only sometimes, though. I like candy. I do not like sharing them.
I do not like playing chinese jump rope. I cannot jump high and sometimes when the rubber band breaks, it hurts my leg. But Aastha always makes me play it. She straps one end to a stool and makes me put the other end around my ankles. I sometimes see her playing it with her friends. Maybe she wants to practice and win the game in school. That’s why i play. I want her to win. I do not want her friends to win. They bring me candy but she is my sister. I want her to win. And she buys me coconut. I like coconut.
One day i was playing a game with my friends. I was in the middle of a circle. My friends were holding hands making a big circle. I had to say go through or go over. If they said through, i had to make them leave each other’s hands and go. If they said over i had to jump to get outside. I cannot jump high. I was sad because all my friends are strong. I could not make them break the chain. I cannot jump high. I was sad. Then Aastha came and said she need to talk to me. They allowed me to talk to her and she whispered to me to go from below their arms. I like the chinese whisper game. They always get it wrong. It is so funny. Aastha came and and she whispered that i can go from below their arms. So i said, go through or over and they said over because they know i cannot jump high. So i ran quickly and went from below their arms. They said it was cheating. But we did not make that rule before starting the game. I like when Aastha helps me.
I feel bad for not being able to help her. I sometimes wish i was her big brother so that she would be my little sister. And i would help her. I would help her with her homework. I felt bad for her when last week, she could not finish her math homework. Dad had gone to kathmandu for a meeting about his book. And mum of course could not help her. I do not know how to divide. If i knew i would help her. She said it was a agelbra homework but i would help her if i knew how to divide. I do not know how to divide. But i know how to multiply. I knew it before they taught it in school. Aastha taught me that it is just adding two numbers many times. I like it when she teaches me. That way i can go to school and know things before my friends. I finished the multiplication homework before they gave it to us. But i could not help Aastha with her agelbra homework. I felt bad for her. I would help her if i knew how to divide. I do not know how to divide. I wish i was her big brother. Then she’d be my little sister and i would know how to divide.
I cannot imagine what my life would be like without Aayush. I remember being alone in the house, having nothing to do, dad in school, mum making supper, no lights because of a rolling blackout. I hated the evenings when it’d get darker with every second that passed by. I would just sit on the brown leather couch with my legs on the rectangular glass coffee table with an aluminum edge, perhaps to make sure that I wouldn’t break the edge off while playing. The only sound would be the white, round clock above the big fat, white TV ticking and the occasional pressure cooker whistle from the kitchen. I’d look outside the window, looking at the small lawn and the veranda where there would be mosquitoes flying around the door, eager to get inside. Near one of the corners of the marble veranda, there would be a green spiral mosquito stick, the end orange and white smoke spiraling up slowly. The mosquitoes probably were used to it by then. Sometimes a mosquito would fly by close to the burning incense, before suddenly drifting back, trying again a few seconds later. It looked like the mosquitoes made a game out of it, competing with each other- trying to see who could fly the closest.
And then Aayush was born. I finally had someone to talk to, to play Chinese jump rope with, to make a game out of doing homework. Every time Aayush had a homework to just copy one of the stories in his English book, I felt good about myself. The exercise seemed pointless but I felt good because I had to go through that and now he has to, too. He hated doing his homework unless it was math. So I’d always entice him with a piece of coconut. I wanted him to finish his homework quickly so that we could go outside and play Chinese jump rope. Mum didn’t let us play until late because of the mosquitoes so I would make sure that he finished his homework as soon as possible. He didn’t like playing Chinese jump rope but he’d play any way as I didn’t agree to play anything else.
It was a pain walking him home from school but I felt responsible towards him. He was my little brother and it was my responsibility to bring him home safely every day. He doesn’t like crowds and the school bus gets really crowded so I don’t want him to take the bus. Dad didn’t really understand this and kept insisting but I persisted. When he’d be really stubborn sometimes, I would want to give up and make him take the bus. And then I would feel guilty for thinking that. I was his big sister. I am responsible for him.
Last week, during exam week, one morning, he hid my backpack and didn’t tell me where it was until the last minute. I ran late because of that and while I just made it on time for the exam, I was really mad at him. So that afternoon, I didn’t wait for him and just left for home. He came back that night with Dad. Dad and Mum were really mad at me for being irresponsible.
“You should not have left him there. If you don’t want to walk him home, you know, he can take the bus. But you’ve said clearly that you want to walk him home. What if he was lost?” Mum was very mad at me.
“Lost? In the school he goes everyday?” I thought to myself.
“Look Aastha, you don’t have to wait for him and walk him home if you don’t want to. It’s perfectly alright. But let us know if you’d like that and we’ll arrange him to take the bus. Just don’t make a promise and fail to be responsible towards that,” Dad said.
He took the school bus for around a week after that. But I didn’t feel guilty. There’s a limit to having fun- I nearly missed my exam because he hid my bag. It’s not always funny. Around a week later, he came to me and asked if I could go back to bringing him home. After making him promise that he’d be good, I agreed. Two weeks in, he was back to taking a stick, pretending I was his buffalo that he had to take home.
You know, it’s funny how you say, it’s not my fault and that I should learn to forgive myself. That I was not responsible for all that happened at all. But I don’t feel responsible for what happened. I mean it was an accident, she was hit by a car. I just miss her. I miss her very much and I feel regret for not being a good brother, for not being a good person and for not valuing what we had. I don’t recall a time when I was actually nice to her. Every night, she’d tell me a story before bed. Sometimes I’d just pretend I was asleep; she’d then gently pull on my comforter, turn off the lights and go to bed herself. I’d just keep waiting until I was certain she was asleep. Then I’d go to her room and play the radio loud right by her ears to wake her up. She’d have to come back, tell me another story, wait till I was asleep before she could go back to bed.
I don’t remember this happening. I was probably too small to have any memory of it. But Mum once told me about this. When I was around three years old, Aastha had gone to a wedding of a relative, around half a mile from home because Mum was busy with something else. They make this sweet called kashaar, which is just ground rice made into small balls with hot jaggery, in weddings. So they gave her a couple of those to eat but she decided to bring those to me. So she kept holding on to them. As she was returning home, it started to rain heavily with strong winds and lightning and apparently, a tree fell off couple of yards away from her. As she finally reached home, all the kashaar’s were wet and not edible at all but oblivious to that, she gave them to me, and I apparently just shouted to her face, “I don’t like kashaar. You brought them only because I don’t like them.” I just didn’t care about the fact that that she could have died had the tree fallen just a yard in her direction.
Every morning, she’d polish both of our black leather shoes shining in the yellow, morning sun. As I sat on the flimsy gray plastic chair to put on my shoes, I’d look at hers and think they were shinier than mine and so I’d take some dirt from the lawn and put it on her shoes.
You know, they used to check if our nails are trimmed or not in school, and every time my teacher asked me why my nails were not trimmed, I’d just say, “Because Aastha didn’t trim them.” I don’t remember if that excuse worked or not but my life revolved around her. Even though I was well able to eat dinner on my own, some days, I’d refuse to eat unless she fed me. I’d refuse to go anywhere unless she accompanied me. I’d take orange peels and spray them into her eyes. As she’d run away shouting, “Stop it. I’ll tell dad and he’s going to be very mad at you,” I’d grab her ponytail and jump up and down, making the sound of a horse galloping.
Seeing him bother me so much, my friends sometimes ask me if it’s worth it, having a younger brother. I often ask myself the same question. Do I like my life more now that Aayush is around? For one, I definitely don’t feel lonely any more. I don’t have a lot of friends- just a couple of really close ones but they live really far from our home. So I don’t really have anyone to hang out or play with after school or when school’s off. Sure, he’s far too young for me to really hang out with him and our time spent together is mostly just us playing Chinese jump rope, hopscotch, me telling him a story or him grabbing my hair. But now that he’s around, it feels like there’s someone close to me, someone who’ll pretty soon go through the same thing I went through and soon enough will be grown-up enough for us to talk about things other than coconuts. It’s more of a he will soon grow up than whether he’s mature enough right now. But even more important is the feeling that there is someone younger than me who I have responsibilities towards. He is so tiny, so vulnerable. He cries if he slips and falls even though he’s not hurt. He cries if the food is spicy or if I don’t buy him a coconut. He is so tiny, so vulnerable. And that makes me feel something, it makes me feel a sense of I need to protect him, I need to be accountable for him, I need to make sure he doesn’t trip and bruise himself, I need to make sure he learns from my mistakes, the sense that I am his older sister and he counts on me to be safe and happy, that makes me feel so strongly for him. And it’s a feeling unrivaled by anything else. Perhaps it’s because the same blood runs through our veins and it makes me feel so connected to him. Because I don’t feel the same way for a friend, or a friend’s younger sibling. And when you have this thread connecting yourself to him, things like him pulling your hair or him hiding your backpack don’t really matter. They’re part of who he is, they’re part of his identity, those are the things that make him my littler brother. He doesn’t do all that with say, my friend. He does that because he feels close to me, because he loves me and because he knows that it’s not going to be too bad. Although he might sometimes go too far, that’s just because he just is not mature enough to realize what ramifications certain things can have. Those are his ways of expressing that he loves me. And sure, when he slaps your back for no reason, it hurts a lot, but you kind of grow into it and you learn to realize that he just has a weird way of expression and that expression kind of makes you feel a special bond with him.
Aastha is not here, by the gates, waiting for me. She is always here. Did she get mad again? I did not do anything this time. We had so much fun yesterday. I am very happy that she topped her class. She came first in the last exam. She was so mad that i hid her bag. But she still came first. Mum and dad are very happy. She is very happy. She came first. She topped her class. She was very happy yesterday. We made mo:mos. I love mo:mo, especially when there is chicken inside. I was so happy that we got to eat mo:mo because she came first. I wish she always came first. I love mo:mo.
But why did she not wait for me today? We are all so happy. I did not even bother her yesterday. Why is she mad at me? Maybe she forgot. Why is dad here? Dad never picks me up. Why is he here?
Aayush, we need to go.
Yes dad let’s go. Where is Aastha?
Aastha’s been on an accident. She was hit by a car. Your mum took her to the City Hospital. I’m taking you to your Uncle’s.
Asident? What’s an asident, dad?
It means she’s sick. She’s in the hospital. Let’s go.
Sick? Aastha never gets sick? Why is she sick? She is a strong girl. Ha, I know why she is sick. She ate too much mo:mo yesterday. I told her not to eat so much and give me more instead. Ha, she ate too much mo:mo and her tummy must have hurt today. I told her not to eat so much. I will eat more mo:mo tonight but i will not get sick. I am a strong boy. But Aastha is also a strong girl. Why did she get sick? She never gets sick. She is a strong girl.
But dad, I don’t want to go to Uncle’s home. I want to see Aastha. I want to go to the hospital to see her. No I don’t want a coconut. I want to see Aastha. Where is she? She is a strong girl. Let’s go to the hospital. I want Aastha. Where is Aastha? She never gets sick. She is a strong girl. I don’t want coconut.