Today is the saddest day of my life. My mother, my strong pillar, is no more. "Dutiful wife and loving mother who gave her everything to ensure the well-being of her loved ones" is what I said to the group of mourning relatives who gathered at out house today. My sister however, silently glared at me from across the room as I spoke the words.
We both performed the last rites together, as is tradition. But every time our hands touched, I felt her being physically repulsed by me. Never once did we hug and cry, as sisters do. Never once did I see her shed a tear. How I wish I could hug her and pour my heart out. How I wish I could talk to her about our shared loss. If only we both felt the same pain at losing someone who was ours to share. If only the three of us, mother and daughters, realised this before it was too late.
I grew up thinking that I was less privileged than her because of my complexion. My sister could have anything she wanted because of her fair skin. The teachers admired her more because she was always the pretty one. Try as I may, my academic triumphs were always overshadowed by her stage performances. And at home, Mother made it a point to favour me more than her, thus proving to me that I was the indisposed, ugly kid in the family. I love Mother for the endless times she stood up for me and made sure that I had everything I ever wanted. But was that what I needed? I wish we both realised that what my sister and I truly needed was companionship, and not competition. At school, I had to compete with her looks for attention and at home, she had to compete with me for Mother's affection. Neither the school nor the people in it managed to make a difference to my life. My mother and I however, made a huge difference to my sister's life.
It all started and ended with the same emotion - hate. Mother's hatred for Aunty Maya, which found it's way to her treatment of her daughter who closely resembled the latter, my hatred for my fair skinned sister and finally, my sister's hatred for everyone around her. It took me more than 40 years to realise that hate had replaced everything in my relationship with my sister. Love, if there was any, had been completely forgotten. And nobody can blame her for that.
30 years later, I still think about the incident from school when she came crying to my classroom during lunch-break. I got out of class early because I knew Mother would be waiting outside. I told her everything that happened and whined while I was at it. I may have even exaggerated a little bit. And then, Mother hatched the perfect plan to "correct" her. "So that she'll think twice before throwing another tantrum", she said. Ever since that incident, my sister distanced herself from both me and our mother. I now realise how miserable we made her feel in that black faux leather back-seat of our white car. A car that Mother later compared her to - white on the outside, pure black on the inside. That was never true. She was just a child. And so was I.
Mother taught me how to love fiercely. She also taught me how to hate with every fibre of my being. She taught me what I thought was courage. But I wish she'd taught me how to be brave. Because at her funeral, when I missed her and felt starved and desperate for affection, I turned to the only other person in the room who was as close a substitute as possible. I walked up to my little sister and tapped her on the shoulder with the intention of begging for forgiveness and asking for permission to mourn together. But when my tear-brimmed eyes met her cold gaze, all I could say was that she should stay for dinner. She didn't.
Today was indeed a day of loss.