She slides down to the ground, her back against the wall, till her knees are pulled up to her chest, and she covers her knees with her thin purple kurta–she is always wearing purple or blue–and she wraps her arms around my arm and lays her head against my shoulder, and she sighs.
—the clapping of children in the alleyway the scream the raucous of kids the sloshing of water carried in a pail out to the field of excrement flies hovering in the doorway a woman comforting her child by loosening her blouse sari pinned over thin shoulders the teacher’s voice yelling for silence but everybody is too wound up and we sit in the haze and thrumming fans and the muted noise of it all sweat dripping down my arms into her thick rough hair her eyes half closed all the grief of the world contained in each exhale—
My heart burns. The wound is months old, but I imagine all the things I would do to that man, and realize I am not the first to think such things. I have no touch to heal what touch has destroyed. I lean my head against the wall, aware of the weight of her existence. I want to see her laughing with her friends in the street, fondling a new puppy. I want to see her running and playing games and mindless. I want to see her singing. Not like this. Head drooping against my shoulder, sigh after sigh, and who knows what thoughts plague her sweet head, the same head that quickly kissed me on the cheek and looked happily at me as she ran off, happy that she had expressed her love for me.
You are my sister. You are beautiful so beautiful, sister.
* * *
I want to be a police inspector!
She sits very straight, smiling at her dream career, eyes deep and bright, in the circle of girls, everyone shouting dreams.
I want to go to America!
I want to climb a mountain!
I want to be a teacher!
I want to find good husband!
They dream. And she sits there, in a cloud of possibilities.
She is happy even if she can just give a pencil to someone. Her teacher looks at her with a smile.
* * *
I ask her to find a comb, and she reluctantly leaves my side, going to the neighbors houses in search of one. Girls are dancing around us, playing games, laughing, making jokes, forgetting.
She sits at my feet and I begin with the tangled ends, slowly tugging away. And for fifteen minutes she sits between my knees, and I brush her hair, and I think, this is what sisters do for each other when no words can cross the barriers. I braid the hair heavy, weighing her down, I tell her she has lovely hair, even though it is so dirty that it’s hard to handle. But it smells of coconuts and earth.
I did not know that it would be the last time I saw her, when her mother forbid her to come anymore to the school.
Yet she sent me a letter the day I left, a pair of earrings delicately wrapped in paper, her exclaiming over and over again you are so beautiful sister you are my big sister I will always pray to God for you.
Lord promise me she’s well, promise me she’s safe. Does God make such promises?
All I am left with is Dietrich Bonhoeffer to satisfy my pleading.
‘He hath done all things well.’ Let this be the word we speak about every week, about every hour that has passed. Let us take these words with us into our prayer until there is not a single hour left about which we are not ready to say, ‘He hath done all things well.’ And just the days that were hard for us, that tormented and frightened us, days that have left a trace of bitterness in us, are the ones that we will not leave behind until we can also say of them, humbly and thankfully, ‘He hath done all things well.’ We are not to forget, but to overcome. And that is done through gratitude. We are not to try to solve the unsolved riddles of the past and fall to brooding, but leave behind what we cannot understand and give it back peacefully into the hands of God. That is done through humility. ‘He hath done all things well.’ (emphasis added)I look through the narrow lens of retrospect, and I see her sweet face, and I can never forget the look in her eyes the day that I met her, when she sat aloof and sad from everyone else, and all I think is I miss her hanging on my arm as I walked through her slum or sat by her side. And I think, sometimes the most painful things become the sweetest, and sometimes the most beautiful things become painful because they have been so lovely.
Yet, truly, he has given me the faith to say, he hath done all things well.
- RH, Goa volunteer. Reposted with permission.