Mariam | 10th November 2014
I prefer to remember her as fiery, defiant and passionate. That’s how I tell her story, I tell them about the fire that crackled in her eyes, and the crinkles of concentration of her face when she wrote in her convoluted little black notebook; I tell them about her quiet voice and her and swift fingers. I never tell them the truth.
“Max, you need to walk quicker than that”, a grunting Agnes commands me. My sister, two and three-fourths of a year younger than me. “You are definitely not one to comment on my physical abilities Agnes, you can’t even walk up the stairs without fainting…” I’m cocky that way, all retorts and back-lashes. I notice her shirt clinging to her back, she is sweating profusely, even more so than me. Wiping her palms, she tucks the infamous dark notebook under her arms. “What do you have in that notebook anyways?” I had apparently found this mountain hike as an appropriate time for an enlightening sibling bonding conversation. Another grunt, she quickens her pace…transitioning from a miserable trudge to a slow paced walk. “Can I at least have the privilege of knowing why I have been dragged out of bed and been deprived of my customary sleeping – “, “It’s two in the afternoon.” Agnes rudely interrupts. My legs ache and the sun is penetrating my stamina, I am ready to snap at Agnes, when she halts to a stop. She has led me to a cave. I lift my head; and I am utterly confused.
A papyrus-esque fabric covers most of the ground, papers are strewn all over…with ragged jabs of rocks haphazardly placed on them to prevent them from blowing away in the harsh wind. Lined against the moist, mold-ridden wall of the cave stands a wooden table, with a variety of different colored pieces of wood for legs; one of which suspiciously looks like the leg of my desk that went “missing” two months ago. Peculiar equipment is covering every inch of the crooked table, beakers with luminescent liquids, chunks of charcoal, a test tube containing what strikes an eerie resemblance to blood, dusty binoculars and a wad of fifty dollar notes tucked under a hefty book.
Agnes further advances in the cave, skillfully avoiding harm to the papers on floor; it seems as if the activity is engraved across her mind. A tiny mattress comes into view, equipped with a lanky pillow and the sheets our mother had thrown out. She flops down on it and looks up to me for the first time since this ordeal; “What? Why do you look so surprised?” I know she’s pretending to be nonchalant about this. I look deep into her eyes right then, “Is this where you’ve been going, this is why you’re never home early for dinner?” I have a thousand more questions, but something in her eyes stops me, she is afraid. And she is cautious. “Why are you showing me this now?” I ask her; incredulously. “Max, I’m alone,” That’s it; those three words spin my heart around. I go back to her first day of school, her holding my hand tightly, me carrying her lunchbox for her. I go back to the day she fell of the tree in our backyard, she got three stitches, and I cried the whole time. And finally, I go back to the day when an eight year old Agnes sprinted out of the room crying, the room in which our parents whispered to me that they found Agnes on the street, that Agnes wasn’t their biological child. She had been on a vigorous search since that day, a search for her real parents. And she found them.
“I’ve been trying to find out what happened to my parents…” she snaps me back to reality. My tone melts, “Agnes, you have parents.” She sighs and the sorrow is now radiating from her. “Look, Max, ever since the day I found out, I’ve lost my identity, I don’t…I don’t know myself anymore. I need to know why I was found wailing on the street in a cradle, I need to know what circumstances could possibly lead to an abandoned new born on the sidewalk!” she is shaking uncontrollably now and I pull her into an embrace. We are both silent, Agnes’ quiet sobs form a cacophonous echo in the cave. “Have you found anything?” I probe her.
She is idle now; her face devoid of emotion. She slips out of my embrace and walks over to a pile of papers huddled up in a discrete crook of the cave. Bending down, she retrieves a group of papers.
“They died in a nuclear blast, Max”, she says it so softly it barely comes out as a whisper. “They were physicists; they died because of someone else!” This time there are no tears, I try to talk to her, I try to help her, “Agnes, I’m so sorry”, her face is stoned. She strides out of the cave, this time making no effort to pay attention to the paper-strewn floor. “Mom will be wondering where we are; let’s go”. It was in the way she was avoiding eye-contact on the way back, the way she tried to stay out of close proximity to me upon returning home; I should’ve doubted her, I should’ve been suspicious. But I wasn’t, instead I decided to brush it off, I decided to give her some space.
I had gone to her room to call her for breakfast, the room was surprisingly chilly; the curtains softly billowing behind an open window; she was gone and it was my fault. The news came exactly sixteen hours after her disappearance the very same night, they called on the landline, and my mom was the one who received the call. The house became silent, and we heard the clang of the phone as it slid from my mom’s numb hands. Her body had been found under heavy machinery in a nuclear plant. She had gotten stuck and it had tumbled down on her.
A week later I was sitting on her bed, thinking about her parents. They must have had round, intelligent eyes and frizzy brown hair, just like Agnes. I imagined a bubbly Agnes coming back from school to a pair of loving scientists. I imagined her real dad pushing her on the swing. Then, I imagined Agnes crying in that cave, I imagined her wails beings thrown back at her by the cave walls, and I could almost hear them now.
11 years have passed since Agnes left me. I went to the cave just once after her death; and it was to collect her things; fragmented pieces of Agnes we could still hold on to. I am now 28, and Agnes is still two and three quarters of a year younger than me. She is still there; in my fondest memories. I see her in a cave, I see her on the swings, and I see her every single time I come across a crooked little black notebook.