“I wear my shadows where they’re harder to see, but they follow me everywhere. I guess that should tell me, I’m travelling toward light.”

(Bruce Cockburn)

I didn’t know why I came home early that day. It could have been the rain that was pouring steadily since early that morning; I didn’t want to be caught in the dark with that kind of weather. It was bad enough I could not afford a bus fare and had to walk the five kilometers from school to where I live, but doing it in the downpour would be the icing on the cake. It was my luck our adviser didn’t put a fight when I asked to be excused. I finished the exam earlier than the rest of the class, and since it was the last subject for the day, she allowed me to head home.

Approaching the house, I heard a muffled conversation between my parents. It stopped me right on my track. I hesitated if I had to announce my presence by means of coughing or whistling to give them time to stop whatever they were discussing about or just simply walk in. Others might find it exciting to eavesdrop on people. I knew some of my classmates love to spy on teachers during lunch break, but I would never understand their fascination. I respect people’s privacy too much.

I was about to sing a tune to let them know I was home when I heard my name being mentioned.

“She’s doing well in school. It would be a pity to let her drop out this year.” My mother said.

“That’s all she is good for. I tell you, that girl ought to marry a millionaire. The notions she has in her muddled head! Fine arts? Journalism? Mass communication? Do you understand all that? Why she cannot pick a course that will guarantee her a secure job and better salary? I don’t know any more what to do with that girl! She has her head in the clouds!”

“Don’t be too hasty. She’s different, that’s all. Perhaps she’s going to turn around and become more practical, more of this world instead of wandering around and scribbling about. I’ll talk to her.”

“Talk to her? You ought to slap her you mean? Maybe a good shuffle will bring sense to her crazy ideas. Why she cannot be like her sister Maricor? That one has guts! You saw how she fought yesterday? The poor boy didn’t have a chance. She has nasty left hooks! I have to train her more.”

“Yeah, She’s all that and more but I’m worried about her though. Why she had to steal that bike? I can just sink in the ground when that kind police officer brought her home. Her teachers said she’s not attending some of her classes, and I caught her the other day with one of your cigarettes. That girl is becoming a handful, our Maricor.”

“She didn’t steal the bike! She borrowed it from one of her classmates. She just lost track of time and forget to return the damn thing. It’s not a big deal. As for the cigarettes… I guess it’s just one of those things that kids get curious about. Don’t sweat it. Maricor knows her way around. She can take care of herself. She is our best bet to get us out of poverty. That girl has a sensible head on her shoulders, and damn daring as well. I almost wish she is a boy.”

I was shocked! How can they say that? My sister Maricor? Didn’t my father just throw her down the stairs the other day? She had broken ribs to prove it. He caught her smooching with the neighbours boy when she supposed to be sleeping! She systematically was emptying my mother’s piggy bank to bet on basketball matches instead of attending her classes for heaven’s sake!  Her school notes were full of songs written backwards. She scared me sometimes.

I remember the evening I found a miniature prayer book under her pillow. I was so excited to read the contents I was half way the first paragraph when I realized that I was not reading prayers but explicit details about sex. I was shaking violently afterwards I ended up with fever and was not able to attend school the next day. And now my parents honestly think that she is their sure ticket out of poverty? I don’t understand!

My mother came down after a while, found me dilly-dallying (her words) and scolded me for it. The week after that incident, my sister had run off with a boy we had never seen before. She came back after three weeks, pregnant. The baby was still-born. After the funeral, my sister headed off for the big city, alone. We never see her again…

I wonder sometimes if I have spoken that time about everything I knew regarding my elder sister, could my parents have prevented her from running away?