Twenty-four hours have passed. The usually rousing thunderstorms seem like a cantankerous inconvenience tonight. On any other night, the electrifying lightning splashing across the horizon, visible from the panoramic vantage afforded by the terrace of our beloved habitat, would have resurrected the poet in me, quivering to burst forth a couplet; all lethargy would turn into a jumble of electrons pretending they are Super Sonic. Tonight, I want to invent a rewind button, an undo option, for the first time ever in the twenty-seven years of unnecessary existence.
Twenty-four hours ago, the midnight arrived stealthily, just like any other Friday night. The city’s intimate and sparse networks were hosting another of their fraternizing foibles, like always a bit of work, a bit of play. The fortified ‘High Commissions’ occupying space right in the heart of the capital, making you feel like an intruder in your own damn country, were hosting another of the ‘evenings’ and I begrudgingly did find my way to it, pathetically trying to google map a location, I knew a bit too well, but modestly trying to err on the safe side. The irony about these privileged social interactions in the capital of the land is, that time does seem to fly, even when you are having the conversation about Pakistan’s geo-strategic importance in the global economy for the seven thousand, three hundred and eighty seventh time.
Twenty-four hours ago, I too stealthily arrived in my habitat’s garage, failing at my attempt to minimize the noise to an acceptable level. But it was eerily quiet this weekend. My predictable midnight entry was not met by a predictable, ‘oh you are late again, you’. The usual frenetic leap into my lap and the lascivious licking my feet by the miniature Husky, who enjoys the title of my father’s 4th daughter: was missing. My usual annoyance with her over enthusiastic displays of affection was replaced by a raised eye-brow and then a rapid abatement of the heart-beat. Each hair on my body had suddenly lost all its sleep and all the pores of my skin, from the gazillion holding the hair on my head to the ones on the tips of my fingers and toes, were instantaneously radiating alacrity. Something was dreadfully wrong. I gently shut my car’s door, locked it noiselessly, propped my handbag and laptop against the front door and plopped down on the steps. Oreo lazily inched into my lap. Her food and water remained untouched, and did I mention it was midnight already? My usual star of acrobats did not have it in her to even wag her tail or even lick my hands. The balance in the universe was off. And yet, this was not it. With Oreo still in my lap, I turned around at the sound of the key turning in the door. I find Mata Jee standing in the door way, with zero of her characteristic annoyance upon my arrival at the ‘ungodly hour’ but a look of eagerness and even anticipation (if I read that right). The goofy smirk I reserve for such encounters, which automatically surfaces from my reservoir of ‘obnoxious expressions’ was wiped clean and my carefully combed eyebrows were arching oppressively; half reluctant to indicate the question forming in my brain, half betraying the panic that had begun to galvanize in my bowels.
Hurriedly gathering my things from near the door, I entered the house silently with my mother. The living room was devoid of its usual population and the dining table looked deserted. No remnants of the usual treats from dinner time remained, almost as if there was no dinner time today. I walked straight into the master bedroom on the ground floor. My father’s 3rd daughter lay there as un-animated as his 4th. She also did not greet me with her usual vigour. No comment upon my deviation from a ‘normal’ weird sibling, no judgmental looks on my lack of ‘womanly ways’ and misinformation about the use of highlighters and concealers. The universe was obviously way off- balance.
She kissed me with her parched lips (they are almost always well moisturized with a gloss or coloured with a lipstick), clutching her stomach underneath her rag-like t-shirt (almost always dressed in her well-cut blouses), hugged me in a meaningful pleading way. Every inch of my body was now on red alert. “What happened?”, I implored. “What happened to these two?” I first pointed my head at the teenager almost collapsing in my arms and then at the door that led outside. A part of me really did not want to hear the truth, imagining it could be worse than I thought, while a part of me wanted to learn of it as soon as possible, hoping that it is not as worse as I thought. “They both got diarrhoea!”, mom answered.
The teen in my arms, a slender tall body of an eighteen-year-old girl, delicate features but a ferocious soul, is my own flesh and blood, my kin, my baby. A decade apart, we have shared a complex relationship over the years. At the age of ten, when I held her in my arms for the first time, I was oddly repulsed and acutely aware of my jealousy for the new born. I had not needed another sibling, but my already existent sibling had insisted that she did, for she was getting tired of our role plays, where she was always the student, and I was always the teacher. Her, the assistant and I, the boss. She needed a play thing for herself and I had no desire for my position to be challenged. But seeds of dissent had been sown, the voice of the revolutionary had arrived. The voice was first audible to us in the incessant crying, indiscriminate of the time of the day. The first-hand independent experience involved sleepless nights and then missing school for the entire month, accompanied by a meticulous note, sent diligently to the class teacher, through the minion sibling (who now enjoyed the Dictator experience odd emotions resulting in kissing the baby at times). There was no compulsion as such of staying awake with the baby while the parents were away for the month, for a set of grandparents and an aunt were present. Nonetheless, the tendencies to control and micromanage had resulted in a complete lack of faith in the ability of the adults who resided in the same place but did not hold the certification of the baby’s parenthood. It was therefore, deemed appropriate that those of a certain mental ability (a diligent ten-year-old was the best candidate of course) was designated to fulfil the task of caring for the baby. No one else really knew how mom would care for the baby so everyone else was disqualified. Next time the revolutionary was vocal was before she even learnt to speak. Her cackles came before her sentences or her first word. Rooms would boom with her hearty laughter and strangers would approach us with beaming faces in search of the owner of the reverberating chortles. At eight months, before she even took her first steps, she’d shake her booty to upbeat music holding the side of a centre table for propping herself up- the first hint at her love for dancing she would grow up to identify with. Her first steps were more like a sprint into my arms. The only one of kin who witnessed those tiny feet hold their ground and the beaming one-toothed smile. I feel like someone pours warm chocolate all over my being, every time I reminisce her first steps.
The next twelve years were nothing less of a battlefield where punches were rampant, screams common, knives drawn occasionally. Then there was the exile to other lands for “higher education”. I had left behind an adolescent and came back to a teenager, complete with her share of tantrums and irritability, a full spectrum of relationships with complex interaction rules that were beyond the ambit of my limited adult mind. In our initial few years of co-existence, we discovered she looked exactly the same as I did at her age. In her teenage years, the resemblance became evident in even in the same frame in photos. The similarity in the brain frequency and emotional wavelength, however, was even more startling than the obvious facial features. Each day I was surprised at how much more of her I could understand now, but the real shocker was how much she understood me. In the twenty plus years of existence, the set of parents could not decipher or predict emotional responses as much as this nifty teenager around me could.
In all fairness though, she is a finer, better version of the same genetic combination I possess. More emotionally aware, more clarity and wit and more resilience than I could ever muster. It takes a very resilient teenager to take all those pins piercing her body many times a day to check blood sugar levels. It takes iron nerves to watch out for meal times and injecting insulin three times a day, when all your classmates would wake up, sleep and eat at will, with no danger to their mortality. But it takes a super teenager to battle weak kidneys which don’t clean the system in time and renders the effect of insulin useless, while preparing for board exams. I am at a loss for adjectives to describe a 45kg teenage girl, with diabetes, who falls prey to a bad case of diarrhoea, is forced to throw up incessantly along with the exhausting trips to the loo, has no more energy to breathe midst all the vomiting, stomach cramps and soaring blood sugar levels, and yet manages to put up a brave smiling face in the emergency room with a long pin attached to a cannula, thrust into her veins to administer a saline solution entering her body. She lies down on a hospital bed that has faint blood stains on it, without complaint. She sits patiently while the doctor checks her blood pressure. Even in her half unconscious state, she has it in her heart to tell her mother to not worry for she is fine. She stays all night in the emergency room, medicines for stopping the vomiting don’t work, blood sugar keeps soaring more and more, body is not absorbing insulin fast enough. And yet this beautiful soul trapped painfully in a flimsy teen body has the strength to acknowledge the pain around her and tend to it. Her dog has also lost all appetite and squirms with pain, and scoots off to a corner, patiently enduring it, for she really does not have a language to communicate. But the girl too is silent and the only words that come out of her mouth apart from timid requests for water, are her coos to her mother and demands to talk to the sibling that is away.
These last twenty-four hours have drained her off life. She lies in my parent’s bedroom, pale and stationary. Not a single morsel of food has stayed in her body. What diabetes could not accomplish, diarrhoea did. Both the Husky and the Girl versus the damned diarrhoea. This helpless heartbeat. Another sleepless night awaits. Another critical twenty-four hours. If only Rowling’s time turner was real, I’d go back just these past twenty- four hours, ditch that useless, frivolous fraternizing and take that filthy PIZZA HUT pasta from her hand and chuck it down the drain.
My girls are fighting though. Them versus the Diarrhoea. I am rooting for the diabetic and the dog. You?