“Why don’t you both try to understand me for once? Really? I am a human being too. For God’s sake! I have my needs too. It doesn’t feel good being treated as an outcast all the time. I just hate you both,” I heard my brother, Caleb, shout at the doorway and then there was a loud slam. He was out again for the night.
I lay on my bed, under the sheets, slowly crying and whispering to myself. I hated these nights. In the background, I could hear the incoherent sobs of my mother and my father’s hushed voice. Probably he was trying to soothe her.
It was mid-winter and it was snowing heavily in Alaska. The whole family had gathered around the fireplace, waiting for my brother to come home. It was his eighteenth birthday and my parents were ecstatic. He was finally going to be an adult. It all went perfectly well until his friend called him to throw a party at the pub two blocks down the street. He asked mom and dad for their permission but they obviously denied.
My brother wasn’t among those who went against the will of their parents but he was no saint either. He had anger issues. He cursed a lot when he was angry and it was catastrophic when someone tried to disagree with him. It hurt us a lot, especially mom, but my father seemed almost unaffected by it. Being a doctor, he lamely attributed his behaviour to teen-hormones. However, for me, I did miss the loving and affectionate Caleb.
I slowly got up from my bed and slipped on my pullover. I tiptoed to the hallway and went near the kitchen counter. I was hungry. I had lost my appetite in the heated atmosphere a few hours ago. I opened the refrigerator and found a bowl of lasagna left over from dinner. I hurriedly rushed to my room with the bowl. On my way, I sneaked into my parents’ room and found them fast asleep. Good!
Sitting by the window sill, I hurriedly finished my lasagna and kept the dishes on my table.
I looked around myself. Weirdly, I felt my surroundings oddly quiet and calm tonight. It was not like that was the first time when I was up at night, all alone but I never felt like that. The shrill and the quietness was making me restless and edgy. Was it because my brother was not home? No, because that wasn’t the first time he did that too. Moreover, I knew he was at his friend’s house next door.
“Hey Atrivia! Calm down. You are just hallucinating. Its past midnight. You should sleep. Caleb will be fine. Everything is fine,” I whispered to myself.
I got inside my blanket and uttered a short prayer and closed my eyes. Five minutes... 10 minutes... 15 minutes.....
“Urgh! I just can’t sleep. Am I getting Insomnia?” I sat up leaning against the headboard. I pulled the drawer of the bedside table and took out the medicine basket. I opened it and searched for my sleeping tablets. I popped out one. But as I was going to pour myself a glass of water, I felt something in my head denying me to take it. Frustrated, I threw the pill in the dustbin and sighed heavily.
Caleb and I shared two different rooms which were connected through a door. I decided to go to his room and watch a movie. I wished he was here. I opened the door and went inside.
Caleb’s room had a combination of grey and white background with a bed in the middle, two bedside tables, a bookshelf and a table on the left, a TV and an Xbox. There was glass slider which opened to the balcony.
I sat on the bed and searched for the remote under the duvet and on the bedside tables. It wasn’t there. I opened the drawer. Under the stack of what looked like old medical reports, was an album. Yes, I remembered it. I gave it to him on his sixteenth birthday. I smiled nostalgically.
As I passed through the pictures one by one, I stopped at one photo. It was when we were on a summer camp to a countryside in Miami. Gosh! Caleb and me tried to climb a mango tree and I was about to slip when he held my waist tightly with one arm and steadied me. We took out our catapult and shot four mangoes. I quietly chuckled. Again, there was another, it was clicked on my sixteenth birthday a few months ago. I found a gift on my table in the morning with Caleb scribbled on it. I tore the wrapper to find the Yin pendant. Later, he confirmed the Yang part was with him. I smiled at how he tried to wear it as a bracelet rather than around his neck. Unconsciously, I touched mine. Yes! It was there.
I felt my eyes drooping and I slowly laid my head on the soft pillow.
“Ari! Ari!” I heard someone whispering. I groggily replied, “Yes?”
Was I hearing voices? Or was I dreaming? Was it my brother’s voice?
From the periphery of my eyes, I saw a silhouette sitting on the edge of the bed. Alarmed, I instantly sat up. As I squinted my eyes, I saw that it was really my brother. How was he here? How did he come?
“What are you doing here? I mean how are you here? Where were you?.......”
“Shh!! Wear your cloak. Fast! I am taking you somewhere.”
“But where? And in the middle of the night?”
“Yes. Don’t question. Trust me and come with me.”
Making a quick decision, I put on my red cloak, a pair of gloves and my boots. It was snowing outside. He was waiting for me in the balcony. God! I will be freezing here.
“Hold this and come down after me.” He pulled out a rope, tied to one of the poles.
“Geez! Are you joking? If I fall?”
“Then I am going to catch you, simple”, he gave me the boyish grin that I had longed to see for months.
In a jiffy, he was down. Wow! I pulled up the rope and clung to it for dear life. I slowly slid down the rope and after what seemed like an eternity, my feet finally touched the snow.
“Shh! Just follow me. Come to the garage. We will take our bicycles.”
“But where are we going? If mom comes to know about it, she will be furious.”
“I know. But I also know that she is a heavy sleeper and won’t wake until 4 a.m.. So we have one and a half hour till then.”
I nodded and he stealthily pulled out our bicycles from the garage.
“Follow me,” he ordered.
We sped our bicycles through the driveway and reached the main road. God! Everything was so silent. Then suddenly I saw my brother turning to a dark alley. The road was muddy and the undergrowth made it difficult to ride my cycle steadily.
“Bro? What on earth are you planning to do here?”
What? Why is he laughing?
“Are you planning to kill me?” I jumped at the mere thought of it.
“I am far from the kill.”
I finally released my breath, I didn’t even know I was holding.
After a continuous ride of 20 minutes, he finally brought his cycle to a halt and I brought mine too. He held my hand and pulled me through the bushes until we were standing near a brook. The water was glistening in the moonlight.
“Wow! It’s beautiful,” I grasped.
“See! I told you. It was worth the ride.”
“But why did you bring me here?”
“Maybe to show you the place I have been visiting lately for a while and maybe also to celebrate my birthday with my dear sister,” he smiled and sat comfortably on the grass.
“Why do I feel you are sick?”
“Really? I am being good to you means I need a charlatan?” He faked a grasp.
I rolled my eyes. Drama!
“Hey! Why this change of mood again? I mean you have been quite ignoring for nearly a year and all of a suddenly on your birthday you bring me here and speak so nicely? Are you drunk? Or did you smoke weed?”
He turned his head abruptly and pointedly looked at me. I knew he was trying to control his anger. He was fisting his hands and I lightly rubbed his knuckles.
“Sorry, I know I have been nothing but a complete jerk to you all. Sorry, I can’t undo what I have already done. Please,” he replied with a hint of sadness in his voice.
“So, you are going back to that hey-sis-we-are-the-best-in-the-world days?”
“You and your smart mouth. Yup, maybe.”
“Really? Love you bro.”
“Are you done with the lovey-dovey talks? Can we talk about something else?”
“Umm! So where did you go tonight? How did you come home?”
“You know where I go. I came back the same way we came here,” he replied monotonously.
“So tell me bro, why were you acting so weirdly these months?”
“I don’t know myself. Maybe teen hormones.”
“Urgh! I don’t know what to ask? I just want us to forget everything and be the best brother and sister in the world.”
He gave me a side grin. He slowly laid on the ground and I laid beside him too. We gazed at the stars as snow flakes settled on our noses.
“Please don’t hurt mom and dad when you grow up like me,” he started all of a sudden, “I have already done the worst and I know it won’t be easy for them to forgive me. But you are a good girl and be like that. I will have to move out very soon and you will be with them. Don’t be like me.”
“Hey! Hey! When did you become St. Pope?”
“No, Ari. I am serious. I will try my best to be the good boy and you too. Become a great person one day. Things will get better between me and mom and dad with space and time. I hope so.”
“Huh! Will you stop talking nonsense? Are you going to go away tomorrow? As if. Try saying it to mom and dad and they will lock you up and mind it; no one is angry with you.”
I slightly shivered from the cold. He saw me and wrapped his scarf around my neck.
He smiled and brought up his hand that had the Yang bracelet. He unhooked it and lifted my Ying pendant and attached the other half. Now, it was complete. The lost pieces have found each other.
“Take it”, he said.
“I always keep it somewhere I can’t find and then I have to find it again. If it is with you, it will be safe.”
I wore it and fiddled with it for sometime.
“Let’s go. Otherwise we would be late for college tomorrow.”
He held my hand and we rushed through the bushes again. After fifteen minutes of our ride back home, we finally jumped on our beds and went to sleep.
It was the alarm clock. Can I sleep for some more time? I saw at the clock and it was 7 A.M. already. I jumped from my bed and rushed to my brother’s room to wake him up.
I pulled the duvet. But he was not there.
Where was he? Did he leave earlier than me?
Then I heard the rush of water from the bathroom.
“Hey brother, come out! We are late.”
No answer. Maybe he fell asleep in the tub.
I slightly opened the door and saw him relaxedly leaning and sleeping in all his night clothes.
“Caleb! Can’t you hear me?”
I pushed him and his head fell down, drooping dangerously. I saw his knuckles had turned blue and there was a pool of blood near the tub.
I screamed at the top of my lungs.
My mom and dad came rushing inside his room.
Thy both went inside and my mom screamed in horror.
“Boy! Boy! Wake up......,” my father’s voice broke, “He is....no more.....my boy”.
And my world broke. All the other screams in the house died. All I can see and hear is him.
“Caleb? Please come back.”
Suddenly, I saw a paper tightly held in his hands. I pulled it and open it. It read:
You will get this paper probably after I have long gone. I am sorry but there was no other way for me. I am not your real brother. Your parents adopted me two years before you were born. Yeh! No one told you this. Last year, I came to know I was suffering from lung cancer because I became a chain-smoker. I was a victim of peer pressure and did not know how to deal with it. I wanted to tell mom and dad about it but I was afraid they will hate me because I wasn’t able to deal with a few kids of my own age. Moreover, I knew, last year, they were having a hard time financially. So, I didn’t want them to waste their money on a street child.
As for you, baby girl, you are the best person one could ever have as a sister. I thank God for the small amount of time he had given me to spend with you. Again, I am sorry! So sorry!
I will always love you. Be good. Be happy.
Your dearest brother,
Caleb, the virus.”