My sister always amazed me with her lack of interest in everything. She had asthma as a kid. Every winter, as I dragged myself out of bed to attend school, she would be allowed to sleep in late. She was not expected to perform well in classes — just to pass. She hated eggs, bread, butter, milk, and vegetables. She would get a lunchbox full of fries while I was forced to eat cold white bread with chicken spread. I hated it. Like my best friend, I didn’t have it in me to flush my lunch down the toilet. It was food. Food was sacred and my Qari Sahib had warned me that on the Day of Judgement we would not be allowed to cross The Bridge of Sirat until we had picked each particle of wasted food with our lashes. I had practiced picking rice grains with my lashes and it was not an easy feat. So, I would put out lunch for birds on the windowsills of the toilet in the school. I also knew better than to take untouched lunch back home.
I still remember the day when we had a wrestling match. We were in the lounge and had placed a mattress on the floor for the fight. I was The Rock, and she was Booker T. She complained about his hair, but I assured her he was the best choice for her. After all, Booker T had enviable black hair — just like hers. I told her, in the same way, I ought to be The Rock because my complexion was closer to his smooth, brown skin. But if she is still unhappy, I would let her be The Rock next time.
I was never good at fighting and used to run away from the Karate classes that my father forced me to take. But on that day, I somehow pinned her to the floor. As I began my five moves of doom towards victory, she started to wheeze. Her chest rapidly fell up and down as she struggled to breathe. I panicked and tried to raise her head:
“Caaan’t Breathe. Amma! Call Amma!”
The color drained out of my face. I called out to my mother at the top of my voice. I was so scared. I was afraid my parents would turn me away from their home if my sister died. Or, even worse, hand me over to the police. My mother came rushing and gathered my sister in her arms. After putting her to bed, my mother came back and slapped me:
“Your sister is sick. Don’t you have any shame! Baysharam!”
I was so scared to follow my mother into the room. She tucked my sister in a bed and nebulized her. Our local doctor had taught her how to do the procedure. She was supposed to pour the medicine into the nebulizer, turn it on, and put it over my sister’s mouth. In a matter of minutes, her breathing would become stable. We also had a mini dispensary at home. One could find various kinds of medicines at our place; from over-the-counter pills for your everyday headaches to prescribed sleeping pills. Just one difference. We didn’t really need a prescription. In those days, you could simply walk into a medical store and ask for anything.
As my mother nebulized my sister, I sat on my sofa-cum-bed and watched her from the far end of the room. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I promised God that I won’t ever tackle her to the ground. In fact, I will lose deliberately every time we play. I begged Him to save her life. In fifteen minutes, my sister was stable and safely tucked in a blanket. I thanked God and assured Him I would not break a promise this time since I made it over my sister’s life. How could I possibly do that?
After my mother left the room, I went to sit beside my sister. I ran my fingers through her hair when she opened her eyes and said,
“I don’t lose. It can be a tie but I don’t lose.”
And then smiled at me.
Years later, I moved to another city for college. I graduated and joined a publishing house. Meanwhile, my sister left her education incomplete, got married to a rich guy, and had a baby. She still gets asthma attacks and refuses to cook, clean, or wash, and has an army of servants to take care of everything. And, importantly, she’s still disinterested in everything.
Mariam Dogar is based in Lahore.
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