“C’mon, daddy! Hurry up!”
My younger sister, Annie’s ocean-blue eyes were moistening with fresh tears, threatening a full-blown meltdown. The desperate pleading in her voice was grating and nearly unbearable. My hands were already shaking as I glanced up and down the filthy alley behind yet another recently conquered drug store, and her cries weren’t helping. My ears strained, anticipating the inevitable sirens of rapidly approaching police cars responding to a silent alarm that might have been tripped during my burglary.
“Shh, Annie! Someone will hear! Brother’s doing the best he can, be patient, please!”
Beneath the dim light of a humming and flickering streetlamp, we squatted between a reeking trash dumpster and a pile of discarded, soggy cardboard boxes. A chilly October rain was rapidly falling, fat drops soaking through our clothes. We both shivered from the cold as I tore open the packaging of a disposable syringe.
No brother should have to experience the unravelling of their sister’s mentality at the expense of a habitually filled needle. Especially their eight-year-old sister.
It all started right after my mother’s suicide because of our dad’s death illness, Saino. It was a disease that melted away our dad’s knowledge and memories, forgetting the simplest things to identify like who we were. Eventually, ate away our dad’s heart but it wasn’t done there yet. Although it was weaker, the disease was passed down to Annie. We luckily discovered it quickly before it was too late. But she was still on the precipice of death. At my dad’s time, there was no medicine. But now, there was a needle that helped recover memory and temporarily halt the disease. But when mother died, Annie had been inconsolable for weeks. I’d often find her going through our home room-by-room, whispering ‘Mom?’ in each. She later settled into a mournful melancholy that left her brooding and lethargic. She refused to take the jab, rarely slept and began to spend most of her days hunkered beneath her bed, clutching a framed photograph and sobbing deeply into her mother’s favourite sweater. It had still smelled of the perfume that I’d bought for our anniversary but was now nothing more than a snot-filled tattered mass of yarn.
Not long after the funeral, donations had ceased and visitors no longer arrived. I had no choice but to get back to work. It was difficult, constantly worrying about Annie, but what else could I do? Although brothers hold a special place in the hearts of their sisters, there’s just simply no substitute for a little girl’s mother. Our loss was quickly beginning to strain our relationship and I soon found myself resenting our mother’s selfish and inexplicable decision. I began to hate her for leaving me alone to raise this fragile and heartbroken little girl.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
I lost my part-time job, the bank took the house, and Annie acquired a dependency. Apparently, she’d discovered her miraculous cure at the hands of an older boy at school who’d shared a needle with her. I was shocked, frightened and furious. Furious at a world that could be so cruel and furious at myself for not seeing the warning signs sooner.
We eventually began living in our RV, and at night, we’d drive from town to town searching for Annie’s next fix.
Now, I smile ruefully as I wipe her damp bangs from her eyes and load the syringe with stolen life-saving insulin. Don’t judge me… I’m just doing what any decent brother should do for his precious and fragile little sister.