I have started this letter so many times, but none of the usual greetings serve me. I do not hope this letter finds you well. In fact, I wonder if I want it to find you at all. I do not have any previous missives to answer to nor do I know if you have any family for me to inquire after. We have no friends in common and the only person we share between us is the very reason why I have hated you for most of my life.
But this is also the reason I am writing to you now.
Laila is dead.
I found an old picture of you with the address printed neatly on the back. I realized somebody had to tell you and I confess that I’m glad it’s me because I hope it pains you to hear of her passing. To know you were only informed after she was gone. To realize she didn’t ask for you, didn’t remember you, didn’t care enough to summon you to her deathbed.
In the end, she really was more ours than yours. You may have taken care of her, but you were little more than a wet nurse. A decoy. I was seven when Mama sent us away. Papa said we’d be safer with other families. Families with the right kind of last names, with the right kind of clothing, with the right books at their bedsides.
I was seven. Old enough to remember.
I remember how you held Laila, nursed her, cooed and sang to her, called her your baby. I remember how you wrapped her in the blanket you’d made for the child you lost, held her close through the night, shushed her every whimper.
I remember how you told me to swallow tears, to remember my new name, to get my filthy hands off your baby. I remember how, when they came for the children, you said there was only one child that had been left with you. Only me. The baby was your own.
I was only seven, but I tried to tell them she was my sister. My sister Laila. You laughed. Said I’d grown attached. The child was Lily. See? The blanket even had Lily embroidered on it. You had a birth certificate.
I remember years hiding in an orphanage, learning new ways to pray for the family that had been taken. I remember when the woman who had once been my mother found me. Claimed me. How her eyes had forgotten how to smile. How she looked past me to the horizon, forever seeking what she had lost.
I remember how she thought I didn’t remember. How she finally went back to your farm, how we found Laila playing in the yard, surrounded by dolls and toys, cheeks plump with the kind of food I’d not even dreamed of. I remember how Mama begged Laila to recognize her. To call her Mama. I remember how Laila cried.
I remember how you convinced Mama to let Laila stay behind. How you told her you could take care of her better. Feed her better. Educate her better. I remember how you never even looked at me until I tried to touch one of the dolls and Laila cried and said, “Mine!” And you let her scream at me. And you pulled her and the doll away from me. I hated her a little then. The sister who had all the things I never did.
I remember how Mama and I walked back to a house with no color, no laughter, no toys, no sugar. I remember how I lived with a ghost.
Laila found me, eventually, when her own daughter was born and her world upended.
I told her everything.
I remember how I hated you and hated you and hated you.
I thought you should know that you may have nursed her once, but I was the one who held her hand in the end.
grew up between languages and places and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee and has work published in journals and anthologies including Streetcake Magazine, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Ghost Parachute, Chicago Quarterly Review
and Reservoir Road Literary Review
. You can read more at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com