Published on January 8th, 2013 | by Marilyn Eshikena21
Giving Her Away
The organ’s music heightens and the mellifluous harmony gradually reach a crescendo as the shuffle of about a thousand people rising joins the song trapped in this grandiose cathedral. The butterflies in my stomach seem to have travelled to my head and now, their fluttering is beginning to make my eyes water. I hear the sound of a bell and then another and as if it had been rehearsed, heads turn in unison towards the carved mahogany doors at the far entrance. I am almost certain that if I peep into heaven this moment, the angels are still and teary-eyed. In one swift motion, I faintly hear the doors open and I see her. My heart begins to race. I wonder how chaotic it must look inside her. She takes one soft step in Uncle Andrew’s arms, then another and stops. But for stubborn tradition, I should be next to her right now; walking her forward in my arms… giving her away. I can sense that I am not the only person taking her in. I strongly doubt that any creature, living or spiritual is capable of ignoring or only glancing at the glaring beauty before me.
It was probably the first thing I learnt about her. Her hair… Long fibrous dark brown stream with strong grey highlights at perfectly spaced intervals. Her name was the only name I associated with hair as a toddler. My infantile mind believed that she was hair personified. I still do. I spent long hours running my fingers through her hair. When I was upset, I would sit behind her and pat her hair lightly and as I cried, my fingers would mimic a brush and comb through repeatedly. The only word to describe what those long strands rubbing against my fingers did to me is peace. One afternoon, I stood in front of the floor length mirror in our bedroom, staring at my reflection. The braids I had taken out lay scattered around my feet. I stared longingly at my reflection and I remember finally saying, “I wish I had your hair, Neffy.” I had barely shut my mouth when I felt a hand on my hair. I could feel her stretching to reach the crown of my head. I bent slightly and she ran her fingers repeatedly through my hair. That was the last day I worried about my imperfect hair. It was the last day I worried about any of my imperfections. I was thirteen and she was eighteen.
My yellow porcelain.
She shone. Always. Her skin always looked illuminated and her eyes always glittered. Her honey eyes held a tiny pool of liquid that made them twinkle. Many times it seemed she was teary-eyed, but my sister hardly ever cried. I sometimes wondered if her unshed tears had collected inside her and caused an oedema, leaving her skin so smooth and soft. But no, she did not have oedema. I did not want her to have any ailment and she remained healthy. I would lie shivering under my duvet in the winter and she would sit, dazzling skin and all on the rocking chair and she would sing to me softly. I can only imagine how frustrated she must have felt the night after our parents were laid to rest in the earth. I was curled underneath my duvet, shivering and sobbing. She sat on the rocking chair and sang. She sang all through the night but my sobbing did not stop. She stayed awake on succeeding nights, singing over my sobbing. One morning, I looked at her as she slept on the chair and the light was dimming out. The overwhelming glow that I had grown accustomed to was disappearing and I could not let that happen. I took her hand and rubbed it against my cheek. She opened her eyes and drew me in for a hug and for the first time, her face was covered in tears and mucous. I remember after that long hug, she looked at me and burst out laughing. “You cry ugly!” That was the day I learnt to laugh at myself. It was the day I learnt to accept disappointments. I was sixteen and she was twenty-one.
My large heart.
There had always been something different about her. She smiled all the time but she seldom spoke to me. I would push her around but she would split her muffin and stretch out the bigger part at me. I questioned her quietness and her generosity but I never got a satisfactory answer. One evening, I had yelled at her. I cannot remember what exactly I was angry about. I had locked myself in the bedroom when our mother summoned me. I had made pencil marks on the wall and it was time for me to receive my punishment. Our mother had hit me once across my bum when Neffy asked her to stop, claiming that she made the pencil marks. I remember being puzzled and ashamed. That was the first time I heard the word ‘autistic’. It was the last time I said the word ‘autistic’. It was the day I learnt to love unconditionally. She was fourteen and I was nine.
My eyes continue to follow her graceful movement as Uncle Andrew hands her over to Kevin. I can feel a tear escape my eye and trail its way down my cheek. I genuinely never thought that this day will arrive. The day when I will legitimately no longer have my Neffy to myself; to have and to hold; in sickness and in health; in good times and bad times. The loud voice that replaces the music causes me to startle and shift my attention from my sister. I am beginning to feel the tears flowing in quicker successions. The butterflies that have taken over my body flutter around my nostrils and then I sneeze loudly. She turns to me and smiles and the twinkle in her eyes hits me. Kevin reaches for her hand and squeezes it softly. I see the twinkle again. I can see it now. He has discovered it all. He has discovered the secret to life that is my sister. I glance at her again and I feel a rush of calm. Suddenly, I am okay with it. The time has come for me to share my Barbie, my yellow porcelain, my large heart… my Neffy. She is thirty-two and I am twenty-seven.