The minute I return, I march to the windows without sparing anything else in the room a glance. I draw apart the curtains, turn the stubborn latch and take a deep breath. The air smells of wet grass and fumes, but it feels so much better now that the house is ventilated. I drop my bag on the couch and peel off my socks and turn to where she lies on the sofa giggling, her legs propped up on the armrest in a drunken haze. I make sure she catches my gaze before speaking.
‘Why didn’t you open the windows? What if Ann couldn’t breathe?’ My eyes unconsciously flit towards the empty wheelchair sitting in the corner of the room and my heart nearly skips a beat. ‘Where is she? Where have you taken her?’
She props herself up on her elbows slowly, glaring at me.
‘That’s none of your business, is it?’ she hisses. ‘I can take my daughter wherever I want.’
My heart’s beating wildly in my chest now and I try to summon up more courage to fight back, but my voice comes out shaky, wobbly. ‘She’s my sister too. Where’ve you taken her, Mum? You’ve got to bring her back, Mum, please!’ My mind’s running wild now, imagining the worst. I think of her face, smiling, laughing, singing… and then she’s crying, tears streaming down her face, her arms flailing as I watch a man in a blue shirt try to force something down her throat. No.
‘She isn’t possibly…with Tony…right?’ I whisper. Mum scrunches up her nose, her pupils dilated. ‘Tony? …Who’s…ah…that guy? Well, here’s a piece of news for you.’ She snorts, and spreads out her arms in exaggeration, ‘He’s gone! They’ve all gone! Like your father, like that kid I dated in high school…Gone! Disappeared!’ And then she throws her head back and laughs hysterically. Dad didn’t leave you, I want to say, He never would have left you. You left him. And now he’s really gone and I’ll never see him again.
After sometime, when her laughter subsides, she says almost quietly, ‘She’s asleep. In the bedroom.’ I don’t waste another second and bolt for the door, turning the knob as silently as I can. My eyes take a while to adjust to the darkness.
She wasn’t lying, I exhale, realizing I’ve been holding in my breath. My sister is lying on the mattress, her breaths short and quick, chest rising and falling. She murmurs something and then her eyelids flutter open and fall closed again. I sit by her feet and wrap my arms around my legs.
‘Are you cold?’
I grab the blanket and pull it over her. She sighs, and then settles back into sleep. I make for the windows again, pushing them open and allowing a piece of the outside to rush in and fill the tiny, damp room. I inhale deeply, falling down onto the mattress besides Ann. The smell of wet grass mixed with smoke again. It’s not too pleasant, but somehow it puts me at peace. I blink hard, but eventually give in to the exhaustion. The darkness swallows me, and this time do I truly forget my worries. This is the only time am I truly ever in peace.
– Hannah Chua (2D)