sisters, essay about siblings, sister
OR, ALONE TOGETHER

Today is Mphiwe's Birthday. This is one of the few things I wrote in 2015. The pictures are from her martric dance day. We are still here.

My little sister was born when I was five years old and a bit. I wouldn't meet her for many months. Of that first meeting, I remember my mother visiting me at my grandparents' (my father's people) home and me meeting the baby. I was mostly surprised but it was whatever. My next memory of my sister is from around the time I was seven, and I visited them where they lived. As much as I liked the baby, to me she still wasn’t more than just a baby my mother had. 
When I was nine years old, I came to live with my mother. That year my sister would turn four and we haven't really been apart since. After only a month of all of us living together, we moved to a different city. Away from everything I’d grown up knowing, and so, my second life began.
Growing up together, while our mother was the centre of our universe, we had a wobbly relationship. We played too long and came in too late and my mother would come down on me. I played too much and forgot to fetch her from day care and a neighbour would be the only reason I only received a long talking to. She was also my minion: asking for more chips, scratching my back where I couldn't reach, calling for backup when playing on the street got too hardcore. (Horrible little boys did tend to suck all the fun out of play.) I also carried her a lot when we were younger. Games included her sitting on my shoulders; me picking her up by the armpits and spinning us to dizziness; me lying on my back and her lying on my bent legs so could lift her. 
We made each other cry too. We said mean, petty, childish things; we made too much noise while Mum slept so we got smacks that instantly put us to sleep. We leapt from corners arms outstretched, and hands bent gruesome. We watched TV and she, six or seven years old, cried pitifully about the funeral scene and the little boy mourning his mother. My mother yelled and made me switch the TV off and go to bed.
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When our cousin sister (my mother's brother's child) came to live with us I had to be the one to make space for her. I volunteered my section of the cupboard because I hated having to fold my clothes and keep the space neat. She got my side of the bed and I, in return, gained my own world of a portable bed I made every night on the floor. Sometimes, my sister would sleep with me on Freedom Island and we’d whisper until we fell asleep. 
Soon we moved to a bigger place and were eventually able to get a second bed. My cousin slept with Mum and I slept with my sister. My sister and I have shared a bed since I was 14. Around this time, I folded into myself and basked in the feels of being a teen; I stopped playing on the streets. Sometimes -- just a few years ago when things were going well with my employment and a bigger place was a possibility -- I would become anxious thinking about what that would mean. As a child, during the era I lived with my grandparents, I was terrified of darkness and sleeping alone. I was afraid of being alone. But with my sister, I haven’t been alone.
When I was 17 years old, our mother died. With the cousin sister long gone, it was just my sister and I. In the six years we've lived together, alone, our relationship has changed. I’ve especially been aware of this change when things haven’t been going well. Like this past year of me being unemployed, where rent and food have been a struggle -- forget pocket money or treats. It gets frustrating because I can sometimes feel this life closing in tight around us and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Sometimes, my sister says things or looks at me and I resent both the said thing and the look. I want to remind her we're in this together, that I'm doing my best. I want to selfishly remind her that my mother is just as dead as hers; that we both lost the same security and what little peace of mind we had when she died. I want to point out that while our mother is dead, my sister has me to say things to and give looks to. I want to point out that I resent that she has that one last barrier of security. Me. One more than I do. She has me and I have no one. 
These are usually the worst days. The days on which I don’t understand how we’ve made it this long. The days I’m afraid I’m not good enough to keep her safe and sane and happy. How can I when I can’t do it for myself? On the worst days, I’m convinced this will be our life forever -- constantly scrambling to get to the next day. I believe that I will never feel better or get us out of this low and, worst of all, that I have fucked her up irreversibly. It’s on these days that I feel bitter about the state of our relationship and the load I have to carry to fulfil my part. When this cycle passes, and I’m feeling better, I work on reminding myself that as much as it’s not my sister’s fault that our relationship has changed in this way, it’s not mine either. As much as I love her, I don’t think it’s right to deny myself my feelings or invalidate the frustration I feel at our situation.
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From the outside it might seem as though she’s the lucky one to have me because I take care of her but, in all honesty, I have her as much as she has me. And am I glad. It's always a good feeling to come out of the fog and remember this. 
I'm very good at being alone. It's always been a thing I cultivated from when I was a child: I stopped sitting with certain friends in primary school, I changed walking routes at the drop of a hat in high school and I mostly chose subjects because all my friends and classmates were choosing the same stream and I wanted to breakaway. Changing everything is my meditation. I don't have any friends because I haven't gotten around to meeting people. 
My sister is the opposite: she does things and meets people. She enjoys people and I always feel lucky to be one of her people. She will leave me alone and go do things with her friends and come back saying she missed me, saying she saw it my face that I needed a minute alone so she gave it to me.
We are Team Us now. Above all else it's us. I've got her back and I know she's got mine. There are weird older people around us: parents of her friends, teachers, land people and other randoms. Most of them know not to come for my sister because I will call them out on it. They know not to make comments about body stuff or try to shame her or make her feel like she should in anyway be apologetic about the space she takes up as a black girl. My sister is the one studio you must not touch me in. I will ruin you. As Drake says, “my team good, we don’t need a mascot.” She still sometimes bullies me like when we were kids so we can watch or listen to what she wants, and I let her.
Sometimes I wonder how our relationship would have worked itself out had our mother not died. Would we have been Team Us starting at home when I finally came out of the angst of teenhood? I even wonder if we would have been as close. 
A few weeks ago we were listening to Adele’s cover of “Make You Feel my Love*” and I said to her, “this is high-key about us. This is how I feel about you. ‘I could make you happy/make your dreams come true/there’s nothing I wouldn’t do/got to the ends of the earth for you’”. The life we live is far from ideal but regardless of what happens going forward, this is my team.

*When Lemonade came out last year, I jokingly said "Hold up" is our song.