There was a screeching wail, and a tiny alien appeared in my parent’s bedroom. I was three years old when my younger sister was born. I remember holding her and couldn’t wrap my hands all round, and nearly dropping her. Still, I insisted.
“Momma let me carry her,” I said.
The alien had these alert beautiful brown eyes that seemed to say, “wait till I can get my hands and legs moving, and you will see,” Those independent eyes burned through my small skull. Maybe, that’s me trying to simplify years of interacting with her.
I was there when she first crawled, there when she staggered and then stood, and there when she walked. Then held my breath, remembering her burning eyes as I held her when she was younger.
I forgot the reason she did all these in quick succession was to keep up with her inquisitive, troublesome older brother. For three years, she silently watched, listened, and soaked it all in. Now she trailed me everywhere. She would release a shrill if I dared leave her behind.
“Where did she get that voice,” I wondered. She was so strange. She would start making noises when I was in a conversation with my friends, or start talking unintelligible jabber when she was ignored. She startled me mostly. But the little alien grew on me. Even in her layers of clothing, despite us living in Nanyuki, a town that lay on the equator.
My little sister was a favorite of the nannies—a bundle of joy, quiet, without drama, unlike an older brother. She was a consummate copycat of mine too. I regularly raised my hands in exasperation, and she would fling her hands up, copying my actions as she followed me everywhere I went. It was annoying, and I made an art of losing her. The best time was when she was being fed or asleep.
I would quietly wear my slippers, creep slowly through the corridor, across the verandah, open the creaky gate, and be out and dry. Almost.
If Mom was around, I would dash out, running faster than the speed of sound, to avoid hearing my mother say, “Edwin! Take your sister along.”
I would heave, raise my shoulder, and grunt. My playtime officially ruined. The little alien would join every game we played, and be the center of attention. Forcing us to teach her a game, over and over again, or warn to tell mommy about it.
I came to this ‘exciting’ discovery. The further away we played, the more likely I couldn’t bring my sister along. We tested this theory a couple of times.
“Momma! I am leaving to play with my friends,”
“Please, take your…”
“Mom,” I would stop, turn and look her in the eyes and say.
“We have a running game, from here to the next estate, and we will be running with our homemade wire toys,”
My mother would look at me, suspiciously.
“I am telling you the truth,” I would insist.
What I failed to tell mother, fifteen boys, my age met and decided we needed to free ourselves from the tyranny of our younger siblings. During the meeting, a couple of suggestions were shared, including taking the babies back to the baby hospital. Since we believed they were manufactured in hospitals.
We realized the Safari Rally was coming up in a few months and decided we would be our local heroes and race. The running track covered the perimeter of a private hospital, through a bush and farmland. I had to push my wire car and run as fast as the other boys. Unfortunately, at that age, I was plumb, round and prone to rolling along the ground rather than walking. It was safe to say, I was dead last in the competition, but I could smell freedom. Free from my younger sister, who I left behind in the house. After this game, we decided we needed more independence. And our adventures became bolder as we went further away from our homes into unsanctioned places.
As my younger sister grew older, she discovered my flaws. And started following me less. I would sometimes look back and find she was not behind me. She read me so well and realized I had a weakness for our father, who came home every Friday and left on Sunday.
I wanted so much to be like dad, copying his gestures, and imitating his pauses. When Dad sat down to read a paper, and he usually did it in silence, I would sit a short distance away, and read a paper upside down.
Eventually, I did fall in love with newspapers. Through them, I saw a different world of complicated words and pictures. My father realized this and brought along papers for me to dig in. He would carry the Daily Nation, Kenya Times, and The Standard. As I turned six, I learned how to put my nose down for an hour, flipping newspaper pages, taking in pictures and bold letters, and little else. My sister would be right beside me, trying her best to turn pages and end up with a scrambled mess.
“Daddy, she is disturbing me,” I would say. No reply.
“Mommy, please help me here,” no reply.
In the end, I had to coexist with her. As she grew older, she became more aware of her rights demanding justice with a cry that paralyzed quickly and numbed any opposition.
Father had a weak spot for his younger daughter, in no part motivated by her powerful shrill. She had a way of raising a squeal, which became more pronounced when dad was around. After he left, she would go back to her squeal-less self. It was then that I knew this little alien with a sweet innocent face had learned earthly ways, and I would need to be careful around her.
It was at the same time, when we were shipped into one bed- a ginormous 5x6 feet bed. At first, I was disturbed by the arrangement, given we each had a bed before. This was until I realized the brilliant plan my mother hatched. We were both consummate bed wetters. Daily our bed-sheets would be cleaned and dried. Why not put them in one bed and save water and soap. At night, my sister would have her feet on my head or push me out of bed. I would be in a dream, and suddenly it would start raining or I would be wadding in a river. Ahem! Bed wetting.
I remember the first time we went to the moon, having tucked both sides of our bed, to avoid falling out, and then crawling into the straitjacket of a bed. We would crawl to the bottom of the bed, where the moon existed. We had a vibrant imagination, brought by watching ‘Button Moon’ and other kids’ programs from the 80s. My little sister became my best friend during this time, and at least for a few years before I grew into an introverted book worm. In that small bed, we laughed, bonding as siblings telling each other fantastical stories as the years passed by quickly.