Walking through the halls of the hospital made Rahel nostalgic. She remembered when they were little and her parents would let Niru and her take the lift up to the ninth floor to see the newborns. Her parents always made them hold hands, but once they were in the elevator, Niru would let go and tell her that they were going up there so she could return her. On her good days though, Niru would tell her about how she was born and how even though she was all bloody and gross, they still hugged and kissed her. Sometimes when they were pulling each other’s hair out or pushing each other into walls, Rahel liked to think that at least there was some part of Niru that loved her, even if it was just for a moment.
Over the years, as ashamed as Rahel is to admit it now, she began to hate Niru.
Niru, the golden child.
Niru, the one who won all the awards in school and who was everyone’s best friend.
Niru who became a doctor and who volunteered when she wasn’t studying.
Niru, who paid off their parent’s mortgage after working for a year.
Even now, unable to move or speak, linked to tubes, about to meet her maker, Niru was golden.
Rahel had no real reason to hate her sister. In the grand scheme of things, Niru always had her back even though Rahel’s shame was always the price. When she didn’t get a place at college, Niru was the one who convinced her parents to let her try out for the police force. And when people talked about her, Niru was the one who told them to mind their own business. Niru was even there for her when her parents caught her in bed with another girl and kicked her out.
But something inside Rahel still burned with envy. Even though her mind told her that Niru was her sister, someone who had been there for her when everyone else had abandoned her, her heart just couldn’t let her in.
Much of Rahel’s shame about her feelings towards Niru came after she was admitted to the hospital. It solidified what was about to happen. It made everything so much more real than Rahel ever believed it could be.
Niru was working late one night. And even though she was tired, being Niru, she wanted to finish what she started. On her way out, a nurse had trouble finding a vein so she asked her for help to get some blood from a patient. It was a simple enough procedure, one that she’d done many times before. Except this time, the needle slipped. At first, she didn’t think much of it because his file didn’t say anything was wrong. But, as per hospital orders, she sent in a sample for a blood test and it came back positive.
When Rahel had found out what had happened and that her sister was HIV positive, she felt numb. Half of her wanted to wrap Niru in cotton wool and protect her from the rest of the world. The other half, the half that constantly told her she was never going to be as wanted, as loved, or as smart, whispered justice. And as much as she tried to kill the whispers, they had already dug their way into her heart and spread like cancer.
On days when Niru couldn’t get out of bed or take her dogs for a walk, Rahel felt something towards her sister that she’d never felt before. Suddenly everyone turned to her for strength. Niru needed her. Her parents needed her. Her presence was welcome, sought after.
On the day that Niru fell, Rahel was the one they called to the hospital. They said that she’d been cooking when it happened. Luckily she managed to crawl to the phone. Rahel was the one who cleaned Niru’s apartment that day and drove their parents back and forth between the hospital. Rahel was the one who filled out the paperwork and listened to the doctor explain what was wrong. And Rahel was the one who fell asleep next to her sister’s bed incase anything happened. But she still felt nothing toward Niru that wasn’t tainted green.
On the day that Niru died, Rahel was the one who phoned all their relatives and made arrangements for the body and made sure there was enough food for the reception afterwards. And after everyone left, Rahel was the one who cleaned up and made sure her parents went to bed.
When Niru moved out, Rahel moved into her room and other one was turned into a study. She remembered Niru’s carving along the bottom edge inside the room’s cupboard and she smiled. She opened the door to it, lay against the floor and traced finger along the words. ‘N+B 4 EVA’. She smiled at how embarrassed Niru had been when she caught her kissing Bijoy and screamed out “yuck”. Years later, when they said goodbye to him at the airport and he leaned in to give Niru a final kiss, Rahel smirked.
Rahel’s insides didn’t burn green anymore but they ached. For so many years, she had told her sister that she loved her when she didn’t truly mean it. She was so clouded by her own inadequacies and failed desires that she ran away from anything other than hate towards her sister.
They’d grown up with unapologetic, unaffectionate Indian love and she and Niru remained true to that. She never knew what it was like to hug her sister or say honest things. Maybe if she’d told Niru how she felt, things would have been different between them. Maybe she would have enjoyed her sister, enjoyed doing things for her rather than hating the burden of obligation.
Rahel felt guilt. But this time it was because she loved her sister. More than anything. But it was too late to say it.