Those Terrible Memories She Couldn’t Speak Of Finally Broke Her…

You lose your temper with her. She pleads with you like a child, reverting to her noiseless days. “Ambi mama and mami won’t like you being rude,” she says. They have been dead for several years now.

Trigger Warning: This has violence against women and child sexual abuse, and may be triggering for survivors.

Your sister calls you on a busy Tuesday morning. Tuesdays are the worst. A pile of articles that need to be proofread will wait for you at your tiny desk in the office. You hate last minute filers. But you are just a temping sub and you give your broadest grin when reporters throw a nonchalant sorry your way about missing the deadline.

Your sister says, “I lost my way back to our house again, yesterday.”

You are worried. This is the second time this month that she claims she forgot where she lived. The first time, you ignored it as her ploy to make you visit her. You want the newspaper to absorb you, and that would mean giving it all to your temp job, over timing without benefits, bearing indifferent reporters and chiefs with a smile. You cannot shuttle 20 kilometres just because your sister is acting funny. But she is the only relative you have, and you feel obliged to visit her. After all, she has been taking care of you since you were ten, after your parents died in a train accident. You do not want to look ungrateful. You decide to visit her on Saturday.

You like your sister, maybe even love her sometimes. But she reminds you too much about the life you want to forget. Of piercing grief, of sudden changes, of being unwelcome guests in Ambi mama’s house, of food that is never enough, of clothes that are never new. Ambi mama and mami tolerate your sister. After failing in her board exams, your sister stops going to school and becomes an unpaid servant for them. But you, they never liked you. They say you are contemptuous and stubborn. Your calves lined with scars remind you to hate them. But your anger is against your sister. For four years, until your sister becomes a major and has access to the insurance money, you go to sleep many days without food. “Only a hungry stomach will teach her a lesson,” your aunt used to justify. And your sister remains silent, maybe agreeing with her.

On Saturday, you visit her. “You need to consult a doctor,” you say, hardly eating the snack your sister has made for you. Maybe this will scare her to stop putting up an act.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because your apartment security says you attacked a neighbour, and called him a thief.”

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“He is a pathological liar.”

“The security or the neighbour.”

“What?”

Her eyes dart, searching your face. She loses the conversation. You repeat, grating under your breath, what you have heard from her neighbours and the security guard. She is found wandering the streets aimlessly. She forces her way into the opposite apartment, claiming it is her’s. She even tries to assault the security who intervened. But she denies everything to you.

“Did they ask you to come here and sort me out? How meddlesome they are,” she says, forgetting she is the one who had called you.

You come back to your hostel, frustrated and hungry. Is she sick or is it just an attention-seeking gimmick, this sudden change in her behaviour? There is no trace of the shy sister, who does not raise her voice and blends with submission into the background. Instead, here is a woman, loud-mouthed and conspicuous. You are reminded of an article you edited last week about Alzheimer’s. But she is far too young for the disease. You call up the health and fitness editor of your newspaper, an annoyingly optimistic woman, who thinks all diseases can be cured by green tea and exercise.

“I read that there are links between PTSD and early onset. But with supervision and medication, I am sure it is manageable.” You thank her exaggeratedly and curse her in your mind for a textbook positive response.

You move in with your sister the following month after neighbours threaten to report her to the police. There has been an incident. Your sister has tried to strangle a servant, calling her a murderer.

You commute an hour to work every day. You are tired, always. Often, you find your sister engaged in fights with vegetable vendors, milkman and neighbours. You come home to a barrage of complaints. You lose your temper with her. She pleads with you like a child, reverting to her noiseless days. “Ambi mama and mami won’t like you being rude,” she says. They have been dead for several years now.

You see her deteriorating and it only increases your anger towards her. For failing her exams, for being meek, for not fighting for her, for not fighting the disease. There is not enough money to treat her expensive condition. You are screaming at her. You do not realize you were crying.

“When we lost our parents, I looked up to you. For taking care of me, for being a mother to me. Because that is what sisters do. Instead, you let them get away with hitting me and calling me names.”

She is cowering in the corner of the room, eyes wide with terror. You are changing her sheets. She has soiled it.

“Isn’t it high time you got over your grief? You just cannot use it as an excuse to pee in the bed and make a nuisance of yourself.”

You turn around to face her and recognize those eyes. You have seen them once when you both had lived under Ambi mama’s roof. Of a day when you return from school and see her balled in a corner. She has a rattling fever the next day. You remember Ambi mama and mami fussing about her. It looks odd because they are unusually kind towards her and you. Your aunty asks if your sister has said something to you. And when you say no, she seems relieved. You remember, over the next few days, your sister growing paler and paler, half of what she is, soul and body. You remember telling your sister about the question mami asked you. First, your sister is startled. Then she hesitates. Suddenly, she cries, slides into your thin lap to muffle her sobs. After being spent in this manner, she raises, sighs and warns me never to be caught with Ambi mama alone in the house. It is a strange thing about old conversations. Sometimes, you remember the pauses in between sentences more, the sighs, even the expressions, even if you cannot see them.

Your stomach flips now. Then, as a 10-year-old, you think your sister is warning you about behaving yourself or risk being hit. Now, you go near your sister and crouch down to her. She shivers. You hug her tight and say nobody is going to hurt her anymore. You smother your helplessness.

She has been strong, as strong as she could be, until one day her mind splintered into a thousand pieces under the weight of untold secrets, memories lost with no past and no present. Now, it is your turn to be a mother to your sister.

This story had been shortlisted for our November 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. The author-juror Anuradha Kumar said about this story, “This one is about sisters, and the enduring bonds between them. The unspoken demands and love unasked for and willingly given make this a moving read.” 

Image source: a still from the film Chandni Bar

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About the Author

Sarves

A brief introduction to the writer Sarveswari Saikrishna is a short story writer, currently working towards her MFA Creative Writing degree from Writer’s Village University. Two of her works have appeared in the Literary read more...

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