We greet in the street outside my grandparents home. Mother, brother and I have travelled from Australia, Father from Pakistan. The distance travelled can be measured figuratively as well as literally. Dad is tanned, thin, head shaved. He looks so beautiful, proud, strong. We can’t keep our eyes off him – he is one of those. Beaming with forced optimism that has everyone else swooning. But he and I are made of the same stuff, I know what I see. I know that look, those words could have come from me. He meets my stare and we call truce because my brother is holding onto his leg, crying silently. A son will sit in awe of you a daughter will hold you accountable.
The next week he lifts me on to the back of the Vespa and we ride along the hot dusty road while the rest of the town sleeps. I hold him around the waist, there’s always been ease between us but I feel a knot in my stomach that has been there since he joined us. He pulls over, everywhere here is the middle of nowhere. He tells me he has to leave us and there is so much weight lifted in hearing the words, finally. I tell him he has ruined my mothers life and he looks me straight in the eye and says I know. That’s enough for me, as long as he knows. I look at him and all I can think is how much I love him, how much I’ll miss him when he is gone. The other two, they are aligned and I know that his is the wrong side and I will be so lonely there.
I feel the relief of finality that day, as though we had been set free. I feel I could absorb the shock for the three of us but of course I was wrong – there was to be much distance and pain before they caught up to me.
Australia, 17 years later.
It’s Christmas night we have been celebrating in your yard. I am a grown woman now. I have a marriage of my own, a baby in my womb. You went to the bathroom and didn’t come back, I slip away to check on you and find you asleep curled up like a child on your bed, grunting softly. I watch you with tears in my eyes thinking that I have not seen you asleep since you left. Separated parents tend to overcompensate but it is a mundane ghost that haunts kids – the drone of the shower at 5am, the way the room would fill up with the smell of sweat when you got home, the gruff voice reading my bedtime story. I pull the blanket up to your waist remembering holding you on the Vespa that day. I think of how much I love you, how much I missed you when you left. That it informed the best parts of me. That when everyone thought I was apathetic I let it feed the experience and quietly my heart grew bigger. Even with him beside me, with her inside me, I have never loved anything quite as much as I love you. I weep quietly by your side as you sleep.