For years being a twin was an accepted reality, rarely thought of. After all, I’d no memories to relive and no grief-stricken moments to repress. We only shared two months of life, you and I. Eleven months, if you count our sacs lying side-by-side in our mother’s womb as she struggled to carry us both. We weren’t identical, but we were born on the same day, me first, then you several minutes after.
You were small and fragile. I, on the other hand, was the picture of health: round, bright-eyed and bald. You wouldn’t live, the doctor said. Still, you held on for longer than they expected before dying in the house we still live in, our mother waiting for the ambulance to come and tell her what she already knew: her youngest and last child was dead.
I’m told I cried all day, alone now in the cot we’d shared. Of course I have no memories of that time, of the funeral, of the silence and the dirt hitting the ground as they covered you. I did know from infancy that I wasn’t always the youngest in our family. But it was knowledge without heaviness, easily discarded. I’d hear Mum and Dad speak of you and feel detached, as if it were somebody else’s story they were telling and not an integral part of my own. I presented my birth certificate at job interviews, slightly embarrassed at the ever-present description of me as the ‘the elder born of twins’. I told approximately four people about you because I just didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t want anyone’s awkward, sympathetic silences. I didn’t feel I deserved it. Mum and Dad maybe, but not me, free from all conscious memory of you.
I thought this complacence would only become more marked as I grew older, but oddly as the years passed my thoughts turned more and more to you. I found myself looking for the few photos of us, the one of Dad writing your name out on the gravestone moving me to sudden and inexplicable tears. (He looked so young, barely a day over 30, and already burying a child.) I found myself marking my birthday not as my own, but as ours. I began to wonder what life would have been like, had you been here. Would I have been the ugly twin? Would we have been best friends, completing each other’s sentences? Would I have felt shackled, hating to be constantly referred to as ‘the twins’? Would you have talked me out of wearing the dreadful clothes I thought were trendy as a teenager?
I find myself sitting here now, wondering if the loneliness I feel sometimes is because I wasn’t always alone. It’s silly, I know. The fact is that you were sick, that you’d never have grown up to be well. It was Allah’s will and I don’t question that, nor do I feel any resentment. But there’s a sense of empty space that never quite goes away. I have my own room, but we could’ve shared it. I have my own life, but it could’ve used your input. As the youngest child in a family of independent adults, I could’ve done with being needed by someone too.
I look at twins and people with siblings close to them in age and I see how they squabble and bicker but most of all, how many of them seem so anchored to each other. I don’t have that anchor. I’m free to define myself as I please without being known as so-and-so’s sister, but it would’ve been nice to have some yardstick by which to measure my own beliefs. I’m free from the constraints of having to constantly share or vie for attention, but I have too much of everything. Too much space, too much solitude, too much reliance on the TV blaring when our parents fall asleep after work. (I also have way too many hijabs. I’m sure I could’ve shared, despite my attachment to each and every one of them.)
Sumayyah, I hope to meet you again someday. I hope to live my life in a way that won’t make me ashamed when that day comes. Until then, I promise to think of you always. I promise to pray for you. I promise to love, laugh and give the phrase ‘eating for two’ a whole new meaning. I promise to remember you without the aid of memory, and I promise to do so until the day my life comes to an end as yours did. InshaAllah.