Dear Annoying Cousin,

You read backwards the names on the rear end of a truck, and told me they were residents of your basement who came out for a friendly spook every summer fortnight. You are the reason I kept my torch close and felt the need to tiptoe to the kitchen for my midnight cravings.

My parents would deposit me in your home every time they traveled, and I made a habit of “forgetting” my pajamas so I could wear your long, dress-like football jerseys instead. In a room taped with so many Arsenal posters you could no longer see the walls, I’d find your toy guns in the bed, under your mattress or play with your collection of perfume bottles – some shaped like a lantern and others, tall rose-colored containers.

I pretended to understand the rules of football just so I could sit with you and watch the World Cup Final. You made sure I covered my eyes (no peeking!) when gruesome crime scene photos of your favorite murder shows popped up.

When I came running down the stairs because of a nightmare, you pointed at the dream catcher above your bed and told me it stole all the bad dreams so I’d never see one again. And when we were left to our own devices, you packed my school lunch (your super special double-decker jam sandwich) that I couldn’t fit in my mouth but called yum, anyway.

When grandma announced she was traveling abroad and my timid six-year-old self insisted I didn’t want anything, you and your brother sat me down and pulled out a six foot long piece of paper, filling it with “hair clips” and “Lindt”. You told me your house name (that I’d failed to notice) was a hotel I would often stay at, my head was confused for days and I never once suspected the gleam in your eyes or the silent chuckles.

You no longer have the time to toss a ball back and forth or show me all the cheat codes to Vice City. But you still push yourself between me and the boy who’s dancing with your “baby sister”, sneak me out of a family gathering to grab a few beers and drop everything to come get me after a party at half past midnight.

I don’t fall for your horror stories anymore or keep up our movie night tradition very well, but the reason I put “older brother” in my Christmas list had everything to do with you.

Love,
Forever your Baby Sister

The Wall

We were early, not fashionably so. I had my ragged notebook in hand, my sweater the color of spring sunshine. When we walked in, our footsteps curious, the slate grey floor echoed our nerves.

I found a seat in the front and instantly made eye contact with the large, hand-painted wall at the far end. It was acrylic on brick, pastel on muddy brown, stories in every crack.

I heard a switch click on, flooding the room with lights that matched my sweater, breathing life into art that smelled like a wallflower. I saw five people, huddled around a table like it was their own little secret.

Jimmy played his guitar in a corner, for friends who liked his music better than him. I saw a violin on the next guy’s shoulder, he had struggle on his face and a rip on his faded white jeans.

The man in the center – I called him Karl – had his cards fanned out in the way that experts do, and a drink on the coffee table. He gambled the night away with his two other friends, mischief hidden in his dark brown eyes.

But when I was drawn into things that were more poetic than Jimmy’s guitar or Karl’s poker face and saw heads down, hair streaked with the glow of active smartphones, words tumbling into poetry with every breath, I felt Jimmy play along, Karl set his cards down and the violin? The violin was finally in tune with our shaky words.

Kahwa

Cross-hatched lampshades, sunny orange walls and pastel tiles. An alcove of knit cushions and cane dividers, never short of steamed buns with toothpick flags or the carefully timed saffron kahwa.

We watched as swarms of people filed in on a weekday afternoon, clutching oversized purses and birthday cake.

A man near the door stood behind a counter stacked with yellow and blue jars, selling tea leaves.

We crunched on Burmese falafels and bits of gossip. We painted ourselves The Regulars and stumbled into the sheer joy of sharing a lovely meal. We fell in love with the details, like sprinkled black sesame or honey caviar on avocado ice-cream.

We had found the sort of place you could write about.

Subtitles

The air sang of yesterday’s rain and clouds bursting with thought.

I sat cross-legged on a wooden bench, absorbed in bits of conversation and quiet laughter.

I watched him spin his spaghetti into little knots on his fork, and wondered if I understood true love.

Our shared glass of lemonade had left it’s stamp on our table and the ice was dwindling in the summer heat.

His socks peeked above the hem of his faded canvas shoes; they were canary yellow with chocolate sprinkles.

I smiled because they reflected his soul.

Our conversation was scattered bits of memory and attachment, it spun around in the air till it formed our very own cloud of thought, full to bursting and floating above our heads.

I found connections so rarely, without physical contact.

And as unromantic as our Sunday lunch was supposed to be, the concept was a rather romantic notion.

I felt it under my skin, creeping to the recesses of my heart and pulling out secrets I hadn’t yet told myself.

The walls of privacy crumbled slowly, but crumble they did. And I did not try to build them back up this time.

With shaky smiles and nervous eye contact, I found that true love or not, with him, my actions did not need subtitles.