In November 2007, my sister Ruth succumbed to cancer. She was only 23 at the time. She was the second born in our family and she was the one in charge of the household whenever our parents were not around – they used to travel a lot. I was only 11 years old but I remember so vividly how she was consumed and how her health was taken away from her, literally. The worst thing about it all was that there was nothing I could do. Or was there?
I attended a private primary school called Sunrise Academy. My English and Kiswahili teachers were very strict on handwriting, and I was very poor at it. My sister used to teach me how to write well. I was in class five at the time. Every time I take a pen to scribble something down, I can feel my sister’s presence. I can hear her telling me to write that letter y, g, b, d, and p in the right way. I was punished countless times for ‘scribbling,’ as my English teacher used to say, those four letters. In my creative writing assignments back in the day, I used to struggle hard to avoid words with those letters just because I couldn’t get it, and I didn’t want to do it wrong all the time.
Death took my sister away at the wrong time. Even as she grew weak and cancer began overwhelming her, she still had the energy to help me out. She gave me enough assignments to practice writing, especially the letters y,g,b,d, and p. Composition and Insha gave me stomach pains. It worsened after she left. Which is why she never left.
We had Handwriting lessons late in the afternoon. That was every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The handwriting lesson was the last lesson before going home. The rule back then was very simple – the earlier you get it, the earlier you go home. I was always among the last to leave. The punishment for not writing well was simple, but enough to have us crying all the way home.
I used to go to her bedside crying. I would show her the red marks in my book. Each mark represented some form of punishment. It made her sick, literally.
She wanted to do it for me. It was a terrible idea. She managed to mimic my handwriting and did the writings for me, with the necessary improvements. I remember when she plucked notes on a whole topic – Our Province – and wrote them again, in better handwriting. My Social Studies teacher could not understand why my writing was so inconsistent but no one ever found out. 11 years on, I still have the book. It is the only tangible memory I have of my sister. I just can’t let it go.
Today, I read and write, a lot. I interact with the letters y, g, b, p, and d on a daily basis. Every time I do, I feel my sister’s presence. I can see her urging me to take note of how the lettering is done as I read. Whenever I take notes from the texts I read daily, I can see her telling me to do it right. I feel she is here as I write this post.
I am an adult now but I always get jealous and bitter, in equal measure, whenever I see people post pictures with their sisters on social media. Maybe I wouldn’t do that with my sister if she were alive but I know for sure that I wouldn’t get this awkward sensation today when I feel I am getting some letters wrong when I write.