Today my little sister, Bubs, is 21.
It’s a funny thing, having a “little” (albeit now officially adult) sister — this is a person whose nappies I changed! The relationship I have with Bubs the closest thing I’ve had to being a parent — and she’ll be the first to grumble that I’m like a third parent…
Truth be told, when I found out our mother was pregnant I was actually not happy at all. I was 13 and starting to go through teenage angst: for the duration of my mum’s pregnancy, I vowed that I would put some sort of curse (where from, I had no idea) on her the first time I held her.
I’m glad to say that Bubs and I have often since laughed over this ridiculous curse idea. Because when I met her, all those jealous feelings simply melted away. I stepped into the hospital room where my mother and Bubs were sleeping. My mother, still sedated after the caesarian, outstretched her arm with a hospital bracelet on it and murmured She has my hands. I cautiously approached the crib and gingerly took this tiny bundle in my arms and looked down at this sleeping newborn… my sister.
Like all newborns, she was an odd-looking, scrawny little thing. But she also had a stitch in her scalp from where the surgeon had accidentally cut her; peeling skin and a nose dotted with whiteheads; and eyes crusty with conjunctivitis. But she opened them and looked up at me and smiled. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen and I knew (as I had secretly hoped I would) that there was no way I could ever curse her. In that moment, she waved her tiny heart at me and I fell in sisterly love. She’s been my naughty little bird ever since.
Twenty-one years later, I’m proud to say my sister is one of the kindest people I’ve known. Perhaps one of the most brilliant lessons she’s taught me is that food tastes better when it is shared: even if it means giving someone that last treasured bite, how much tastier it is to share in the simple experience of eating. Now that we haven’t seen each other in two years, we share music instead — YouTube links posted to our Facebook walls, on which we Like, comment, and croon. She is one of the few people who is consistently able to pick out music for her fussy big sister, so able is she to put herself in others’ shoes.
When she was eight, she piped up and asked me if it was difficult having divorced parents — technically, as we have different fathers, Bubs is my half-sister — and if I ever wished my parents had stayed together. My answer was quick and easy: No, because then I wouldn’t have YOU! That’s the simple truth. But oh, that sweet empathic curiosity from someone so young who has since blossomed into one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met.
A couple of years ago, she travelled to Tanzania to work in an orphanage for children who either had lost parents to AIDS, were HIV positive, or both. When she returned, she shared stories of sickness and sorrow, and one about death, her big eyes tearing up. But she tells stories about friendships made, and giant insects, and a little boy who she helped laugh for the first time, and riding a bicycle for miles and miles in a hot and foreign landscape — the discovery of a different beauty that still tugs at her to this day — and her face lights up and her eyes dance with mischief.
Her serious side is sentimental and heart-felt, expressed through drawings of her life and the people in it, alongside thoughts written in her round, bubble handwriting. But she has this big, goofy side too — she’s quick to laughter and silly-making. Whilst most girls her age are pouting furiously in photos, there’s Bubs pulling dreadful faces and laughing… and laughing and laughing and laughing. She’s a good reminder to live in the moment, to take every free-spirited moment you can lay your heart on.
Dear Bubs, you bring me and others such joy and I wish I could be with you today, celebrating. I am so glad to have you in my life and I am truly honoured to call you my sister. I love you more than I could ever say. Happy birthday, naughty bird — and keep singing your song! xxx