By the time I turned four, something had changed in my mother. A thrumming of insect-wings, a pulse kick-starting to life. Her stomach stretched and dimpled, crisscrossed with red veins, becoming a pouch of warm soil for seeds to take root, for tendrils to wrap around the hollows of her bones before sprouting out of her mouth and into the sun.
My sister, Appu, was born on my fourth birthday, and from the moment I heard of her arrival, I planned on hating her with a passion – the nerve of her, stealing my day like it was her birthright! However, as I leaned over the edge of her newborn cot, her face tiny and lost under a hat with a bobble the size of her head, wrinkles frozen in bird-formations on her forehead, I couldn’t help but smile. Her mouth twitched at the corners, as if in response, and, although my father told me that it wasn’t yet a true smile, just instinct, I knew better. She was my sister, and she was grinning back at me.
From then on, Appu stole her way into every facet of my life. Together, we fumbled our way through our first dance and piano recitals. Together, we wrote Santa pleas for puppies and cried when we realized Santa was our mother. Together, we watched helplessly as our grandmother’s memory slowly faded away, darkness blooming on CT scans where white should have been; we know how words become precious when there is still so much left to say. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we tie our karate belts across our waists so tightly that our chests constrict – same curled fists, same dry throats; we are fighters, the Verghese sisters.
But while I’m struggling to perfect my weapon hook-kick, she idly toys with her nunchakus, contemplating their design or their history. While my limbs are trembling from rigidly holding our kathak poses, she has her eyes closed, her head swaying to the pulsating rhythms that dictate the poses. There is a peculiar wide-eyed innocence about her, the sort that can only come from someone who is at ease with herself and the world, who is not perfect and does not strive to be. She may not be a “hero” in the traditional sense, but if a hero is someone who animates and inspires, who influences me to be the best ‘me’ I can possibly be, Appu is definitely mine.
Her inexhaustible curiosity has caused me to question the taken-for-granted world around me; more often than not, my attempts to teach her algebra would end in musings on the meaning of life. Thanks to her pouts over ‘x’, I’ve learned to ask “why?” to questions without straight answers, to approach problems at slanted angles and find solutions in surprising places.
Her unwavering faith in me has helped me trust in myself a little more-and, to a greater extent, in the world as she sees it. When I’m with her, I feel free to be a girl who squeezes her eyes shut for dandelion wishes, who creates elaborate brunch menus consisting of nothing but cereal and toast, who can’t bake a cake and instead eats all the batter. With her, I find joy in hidden places, in simple things: the last piece of chocolate, the sharpened nib of a Prismacolor pencil. She taught me to color trees pink because “they’re prettier that way,” to call grapes “juice balloons” but actual balloons “plastic bags of breath,” to cry when I need to because “it’s always darkest before Daylight Savings Time.”
Last year, during a nighttime power outage in India, we lit a candle and placed it in our bedroom. Under its flickering glow, we acted out shadow-puppet plays and giggled at nothing until the velvet sky became veined with morning gold, until crows began cawing in the humid air outside. At some point, we must have fallen asleep, because we woke up to the noise of TV static and running water. The power was back, but the candle was still burning.
Namrata Verghese is a second-year undergraduate student and Robert W. Woodruff Scholar at Emory University, pursuing a double major in English/Creative Writing and Psychology/Linguistics. A modern-day nomad, she was born in India, raised in England, and currently lives in the U.S. Her work has been published in Litro Magazine, Paper Darts, The Tempest, Alloy Literary Magazine, Kitchen Drawer, Her Campus, and Teen Ink Magazine.