“It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.”
– Wild World, Cat Stevens
Whenever I tell people I have three older brothers, and that I am the youngest and the only daughter in my family, I get two responses:
- “How did you survive your childhood with three older brothers? I could hardly stand one/two.”
- “Awww. Your family must spoil you.”
I have two responses to these responses:
- “I’m not sure… But sometimes I do pity myself.”
- “I WISH.”
I can’t deny that my childhood was a roller coaster, but I’m sure that my brothers’ childhood wasn’t all that dandy either with me in the picture, always trying to butt in during their Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun sessions and whatnot. But because my parents have shipped my brothers off to Egypt early on, we didn’t really grow up together; since we moved to Conakry, Guinea in 2004, I was pretty much living as an only child with my parents, only seeing my brothers during our yearly visit to Cairo. Since 2006 in Dhaka, it’s been extremely difficult for the four of us to gather under one roof, and I can count these rare moments by hand: December 2008 in Cairo; January 2011 in Paris; January 2013 in Malaysia; and October 2013 in Cambridge.
My brothers and I have a rather odd relationship that doesn’t really correspond to the norm: I don’t call them ‘abang’ (meaning ‘older brother’ in Malay; it is also a term of endearment by which Malay women refer to their boyfriend/spouse, so I cannot call my brothers ‘abang’ — gross); in fact, I always call my second eldest brother ‘bitch’. People always thought my third brother was the youngest, and that I was his older sister. And indeed, in many ways, rather than being spoiled as the youngest member of my family, I have constantly been catapulted to positions of great responsibility, especially at times such as now, when everyone pulls double duty and the interests of the family should be prioritized above all else.
We’ve aged substantially since the days of our childhood in Colombo, Ampang, Subang Jaya, and Accra, but I don’t know to what extent we’ve all matured. My eldest brother is now a father and the second eldest is about to say his vows next month. We argue about different issues, and when we do get along we spend our time at the golf course and the beach — things we never really did when we were children. While siblings elsewhere spend time with each other at the cinema or bowling alley in the local mall, we unintentionally end up being slightly adventurous with our accidental reunion in Paris in 2011. I’d long harbored the desire to bring my family back to London ever since we all first came here in April 1999 on our way to Accra, and I was glad this dream came to fruition last year. London is different from what we all remembered, but this didn’t quite matter; change, sometimes, is good.
The photo above was taken last October on the second time we went punting as a family on the River Cam, just as we passed by Queens’ Mathematical Bridge. Despite our differences, I wrote this post to celebrate our siblingship — if this is even a word — because even if you can’t choose your family, you can make the best of what you have left.
So here’s to my bitches.