“Treat them like you would your sister,” Dad said referring to girls in general.
But I don’t like my sister. I don’t know if I ever said that out loud but that was one of the first things I needed to learn on the path to being a good man.
So yeah. First-born. 7 years of a selfish life, one that was all about me… then another came along. That person was my sister, and I finally had to learn to share.
At first I was excited. Initially I’d hoped for a brother because I thought that would mean more entertainment. Somehow my parents made me excited for the little girl that was on her way. I can’t remember if in the end I was happy to just finally have a sibling or if they used their powers of persuasion – but excited I was. She came along and I finally, finally had someone to impress. From the onset I put in so much effort. I needed to be the best brother in existence in her eyes. So I’d whisper it to her as a sort of overt subliminal message: “Who’s the best big brother in the world? I am.”
It worked at first. After a few months I discovered peek-a-boo. That was a huge hit. She loved it for an age. Then abruptly she didn’t like me anymore. Maybe my face was too scary, maybe I’d been too enthusiastic when trying to earn her praise, her attention, but so long as I wasn’t required to carry her around she didn’t seem to want me around.
Soon she started walking. Then she didn’t need me to carry her around anymore. Boy did I feel useless, partially because she’d started talking and would actually say I was useless. So… I ignored her. For a long while I did… until something terrible happened.
I can’t even recall what the dispute was about but the toddler that was the sister I had named had really annoyed me. She knew she had annoyed me and had enough of a conscience to feel guilt at that age. So she followed me around saying sorry over and over begging for me to forgive her. I was young too and I wasn’t having it. So I would move from room to room shutting the door. Her short legs couldn’t keep up but if she went on her toes she could open the closed doors. She kept following me wanting my forgiveness. I wouldn’t part with it. At that moment forgiveness wasn’t something I was willing to share. What makes this even sadder is that despite all that anger I cannot for the life of me guess what it was that she had done. I strode for the study, her lil’ legs scrambling after me. I moved to slam the door like I’d done half a dozen times previously… only this time something was in the way. Her pinky came away instantly soaked in red. Next came the screams. My brain couldn’t comprehend what I’d done until she told me through her wails: “Wandikwadza!” That’s Shona for “you hurt me”.
It may have been accidental. Hurting her was never my intention… but those words stuck. The image of a little girl, whose only mission had been to earn my forgiveness, in pain, stuck. (No surprise the situation had turned on its head and I was the one now seeking forgiveness). The rage in my father’s eyes when he pieced together what had happened, stuck. But what stuck most of all were the words he shared after the whole debacle.
“You cannot hurt your sister. You are supposed to be the best of friends. As siblings she will be in your life longer than anyone else you know, longer than your mother and me. She’s just a little girl looking up to her big brother. Do you really want to hurt her?” I didn’t. So I never did ever again.
I was clapped by her a fair number of times as she grew older but would I raise my hand against her? Never. She hurt my feelings all the time, sometimes as a joke – return the favour? Nah. I used every bit of willpower in my arsenal to be the brother I wanted to be. Forced myself to love her till I didn’t need to anymore. Now I do, genuinely. And I have for a long, long time. And I will for even longer, hopefully, no matter what she chooses to do. Because she’s my sister – that’s all that really matters – and no matter what happens to her from this moment on, to me, she always will be my precious lil’ sister.