I remember the excitement we felt when we first heard that we were going to get a little sister. Finally, a new addition to the household! I remember your chubby cheeks and your large olive eyes, unblinking, as if perpetually surprised by this world you were born into. I remember all the times I would spend rocking you in that sarong bassinet and singing songs I had learnt from school to soothe you when you cried.
I remember the night when you somehow managed to slip in the crack between the bed in the master bedroom and the wall, and somehow ended up under the bed, crying. I remember Mum and Dad and Heng Wai and I scrambling to push the bed aside to rescue you and soothe you, so precious was our little girl.
I remember how we would play in tiled driveway outside our house – chasing and screaming at each other into the dying evening light, but I remember most the times when you were twirling and dancing in your dress, in your own little world. I had to strain to catch what you were singing under your breath, and remember being quietly bemused when I realised that you were singing songs you had made up yourself.
The most endearing memory of you was when I was crying in the study room after another scolding, and you walked into the room and your six-year-old self just started crying when you saw me crying, although you had no idea why I was crying. We just hugged each other and cried, and all you wanted to say was I may not understand it, but I am there for you.
I remember how we would each study in our little rooms – you in the study room, and I in my bedroom. I remember the notes we used to slip under each other’s doors – silly notes we wrote to break the boredom (mostly our own) and monotony of studying. I remembered that we used to run back to our rooms and lock the doors, hearts pounding in our ears if we thought that we had sufficiently insulted each other in the notes to get into trouble.
But you had to win at the note exchange thing, of course you did. In my manliness and lording over you as the older brother, I once insisted that you had to kill a cockroach for me, simply because, erm, you’re just better at doing those things (okay, so they still freak me out). I remember hearing the slapping of a rolled newspaper against the unfortunate insect while I sat in the relative comfort of my bedroom, the doors locked. I heard you slip a note under my door, and turned in time to realise, to my horror, that you had somehow included the flattened cockroach on the note as an ‘attachment’ for me.
I let out the manliest girly scream the taman (suburb) has ever heard and I rushed to open my door to get you, only to hear your escaping footsteps and the slamming of the study room door and your evil laughter. I banged against your door in mock anger but I couldn’t help laughing myself at the audacity of my little sister.
I remember picking up phone calls from boys as you grew up, and demanding, in the most older brother fashion to know who it is who ventured to speak to my younger sister. I loved hearing them squirm over the phone, and my minimum requirement was that they gave me their name, any boy who was too timid to do so did not deserve to speak to you.
You were definitely the smartest one in the family – you had the best grades in the family when it came to the SPM (O levels) and aced your driver’s license the first time you took it (it took me twice, from memory, and a near death experience for the invigilator the first time to boot!). You are still a smarter doctor than I ever will be, spouting out diagnoses and eponymous conditions that makes me nod knowingly (while furiously Googling the subject on my phone so I didn’t look like an utter fool).
It was the disappointment and emptiness in your voice that made me jump on the plane back home when Dad was in the limbo of his comatose state, and I wasn’t sure whether or not to make the eight hour flight home. ‘Why aren’t you home? Come home lah,’ and seven words later, I was home to share in the grief as we said a slow goodbye to Dad together. It was good to see you crack a small smile when you first saw me, probably your first smile in days, as the weight of the week’s experiences was etched on your face.
I wish you could see for yourself how able you are and how much you are loved, and carry that same confidence with you when we are at family gatherings and your voice fades when you speak as if your opinions and views didn’t matter. I think in the company of adults, you still feel like the youngest of the whole family, and still behave as such. I want to take this opportunity to tell you to sit tall and speak out because we are interested in what you have to say and your viewpoints do matter. Just as they matter to your best friends, and your work colleagues, and to your patients.
So happy birthday dear sister, I don’t want to call you little anymore, because truly you aren’t. You have grown into a fine young woman and have so much going for you, I ask that this birthday you find the courage to hold yourself as the intelligent, witty, lovely, sensitive lady I know that you are, and who I knew you to be, from a very long time ago.
Your loving brother.