He saw her for the first time through the window.
A girl his age—short, with hair’s that chopped off asymmetrically on the end and a sad smile forming when his father helped her to get down from the backseat of their family car. He knew her name from news on television, the ones who spoke about unfortunate accident at one of his father’s bakery stores. He knew that her parents and uncle had died in the fire. He knew that she had no one else left in her family. He knew that after that day, she became one of his.
He saw her for the second time the morning after.
Fresh from shower, she had stood in the hallway, staring uncertainly at him. He noticed that she was wearing one of his old clothes—orange T-shirt with black rose on the left chest and a pair of knee-length grey jeans. He also realized that while he knew her name, she probably still didn’t know his. They hadn’t been properly introduced. It was late night when she arrived at the house. It’d been just a day after her parents died and only seven hours after his father picked her up at the funeral house. He knew he was being intimidating, just standing there and not saying anything. But he found his tongue heavy—it’s hard to say anything. So he turned away and ran down the stairs, knowing that sooner or later, they would have to talk to each other after all.
He saw her for the third time at the breakfast, sitting quietly next to his mom. They looked nothing similar. But he supposed, there was no reason at all for them to be similar. In fact, the girl looked more like him than his mother—with her dark and unruly hair. Her grey eyes were brighter though (and months later he would be told that she was actually wearing contact lens—something that children their age usually didn’t wear). His mother casually complimented how her skin matched with her eyes, then called her name almost lovingly.
He sat down with a frigid posture, waiting for his father to come downstairs. There was still no proper introduction. And he quickly realized that maybe they didn’t need introduction after all.
He saw her for the twenty sixth time in the library. It had taken him by surprise, since no one in his family actually used the library that much. His father had his own set of books collection in his study and her mother had proclaimed years ago that she only read fashion magazines and gardening guides. Since he was six years old, the library was his place of solace. So seeing another person there had been something he didn’t expect.
“Do you like to read?” He asked without thinking.
The girl, apparently was also stunned by his appearance in the room, nodded.
He bit his lip. “You can use the corner table. I don’t really use it.” Then he proceeded to sit on the floor, hugging his guitar.
“You don’t read?” asked the girl with a cautious tone.
“No,” he said without looking at her way, busy tuning his guitar. “I use this room for practicing.” And, as an afterthought, he added, “Do you mind?”
The guitar sounded like a crack forming on a glass cup. It’s old and ready to break apart anytime soon. His father had promised that he would bought him a new guitar once he mastered his mother’s favourite song. His father wanted to throw a private birthday party next month and had his son playing the guitar for her. Sly old man—wanting to impress his wife without putting real effort himself.
The girl shook her head.
“I want to listen,” she said, and instead of sitting on the table the boy pointed before, she sat down on the floor next to him.
They spent the afternoon together. And by the time he went up to his bedroom after dinner, he realized that they still hadn’t told each other their names.
Maybe it didn’t matter.
He saw her for the forty ninth time in the backyard, amongst his mother’s favourite rose bushes. Her hair had grown a bit longer, now reaching the tip of her shoulders. While her smile appeared more often now, her grey eyes still looked sad from time to time.
In the middle of the rose garden, they stood a few feet apart. He was empty-handed, while she was holding a basket filled with cookies. His mother was crouching down near the perimeter of the garden, watching their gardener cutting blooming roses from the bushes.
“She was beautiful,” the girl suddenly muttered, her head down.
He looked at her, noticing the sadness lines on the way she bowed her heads. “She?”
“My…mother,” replied her. “She liked roses too.”
He hummed, not knowing what to say.
“Do you ever think about how much you love her? How much you will miss her if she’s gone?”
It took a second, but then he realized that now they were talking about his mother.
“I don’t know.” He said honestly. “I kinda take her for granted.”
“I know. I did too.”
“Do you think you can love her? Just like how you love your mother?”
She paused. They hadn’t known each other for long. It’s still a touchy subject—talking about how his parents were now her parents too.
But then she shook her head. “I don’t think I can love her the same way I loved—love—my mother.” Biting her lip, she look at him from the corner of her eyes. “Do you think that’s selfish of me?”
“No.” He turned away from her. “I guess it can’t be helped.”
He saw her for the two hundred and first time at his birthday party. It’s small, with only his close friends, some of his favourite cousins, and their parents. There were more kids than adults and there were more boys than girls.
One of his cousins was a college student though—an eighteen year old girl, not fitting in with the rest of the crowd in the party. She immediately took a liking to the girl, treating her as if she was her own sister. They talked for hours in the corner of the room and sometimes he just watched silently, questioning how easy it was for his cousin to approach the girl.
At the end of the party, when most of the guests had already left and the said cousin was the only one who hadn’t—her place was nearest and she drove her own car—he asked her about the girl.
“What do you think of her?”
Though surprised by his sudden question, the cousin smiled. “I like her.” She said. “Do you?”
“She is okay.”
“Okay?” His cousin laughed. “That’s one way to describe your stepsister.”
He never thought of her as a stepsister. She was…someone, he guessed. A new addition to his family. No longer a stranger, but it’s still weird to call her his stepsister. He could visualize his parents and the girl together as a family, but he himself and her? Not quite. Maybe because they’re the same age.
“You know, you two look kinda similar to each other,” his cousin suddenly said.
“Hm-mm. The hair. The skin. Your personalities are similar too. You can even pass off as fraternal twins.”
He mulled it over. He never thought about her that way before. In his mind, sister meant someone older or younger. Twins… That sounded different. That sounded more logical, somehow.
“Maybe we can be.”
His cousin raised her eyebrow. “Be twins, you mean?”
“Yes. Be twins.”
This is my twin sister. He tried the sound of it in his mind.
It sounded about right.
(It also sounded wrong.)
He saw her for the four hundred fifty fifth time at the opening ceremony of their high school. It was the first time they were in the same school together and it was weird. People who didn’t knew them accept that they were siblings without batting an eye. But rumours would soon spread, so he knew questions were going to be inevitably asked.
She didn’t look particularly concerned about it. “Your tie is crooked,” she had said while placing herself next to him.
He scrambled to fix his tie. She watched him carefully, silently, then turned away to focus on the podium in front of them.
The opening speech—he only half-listened to it. His eyes moved from one person to the next in the sea of students. In the same row as him, only six seats apart, there was a boy. Looking at his navy blue tie, he guessed that the boy was a freshman, just like him and his “stepsister” (It still sounded wrong—he still didn’t know how to introduce her.) But compared to other freshmen around him, the boy certainly stood out. His hair was dark red and one of his ear was pierced. The sight made him amused—he didn’t know that those kinds of things were allowed in their new high school. If he had known, he would be considering getting his ear pierced too. It seemed cool.
His “stepsister” suddenly elbowed him.
“Kinda cool, right?” she said, half-smiling. Her eyes were still focused on the podium, but he knew she was talking about the boy with dyed hair and pierced ear. “I was in the same music school as him last year. He plays drum. And he is in a band.”
That was a new information. Not about the boy, but about her. He didn’t know that she played any instrument. He never thought to ask. They still spent afternoon together sometimes, him playing the guitar and her just listening.
Even though he was now curious, the one thing he asked next was, “Do you know his name?”
She nodded. “Raja.”
Raja—he thought, almost with envy. The king. What a name.
Hers was a name he quite envied too.
He saw her for the one thousand nine hundred seventh time in his club’s practice room, one evening in February. She was with Raja. It took a while, but he had realized that she was not only knowing the boy, but also quite close with him. In the middle of the last semester, she had introduced him to Raja. Through one way or another, he became a part of his band.
When he saw her that evening, they had been alone—Raja and her. They were talking quietly while leaning against the wall under the window. On her lap, there was a violin. He had never seen it before, but Raja must had because he barely paid any attention to it. His focus was fully on her. They laughed, and then he coughed.
Raja looked up, surprised. “Did you finish talking to the teacher?”
Their club—a music club—needed an extra fund for an upcoming band competition. Raja was their club’s leader, but he was the club’s manager. His guitar playing wasn’t yet up to par to the other guitar player in the club, but he was the one with most experiences in joining competitions. Aside from Raja, that was.
“Yeah,” he said, shrugged his bag off his shoulder while approaching them. “We gets an OK.”
“That’s great,” said Raja. “Anyway, I have something I want to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“Lukas was supposed to join the competition, but he was injured in a basketball match this morning. I want you to take his place.”
He paused. “Is the injury really bad?”
Raja shrugged, apparently not knowing the detail. She was the one who spoke up. “I met him at the hospital just now—he said it would take a few weeks before he is allowed to play—both guitar and basketball.”
What were you doing in the hospital? “I don’t mind if that’s the case.”
“I’ll contact him then.” Raja pulled out his phone from the back pocket of his trousers. “He should be okay with supervising your practice. It takes some time to get familiar with the song after all.”
He nodded. She smiled.
They were silent after that. The air felt a bit awkward, though Raja didn’t seem to notice. They were never alone together—just the three of them. He got along with Raja just fine, but even at home, he and she never talked to each other that much. It surprised him to see her conversing almost easily with Raja, whose appearance was actually quite intimidating according to many girls in their school.
Sometime before five o’clock, Raja got up, saying that he had a part-time job to do. The three of them walked to the school’s front gate together and separated ways afterward. Halfway through the journey, he noticed that she was bringing the violin with her.
“I didn’t know you play violin,” he said hesitantly.
She replied, “Not many people know.”
But Raja knows—that was left unsaid.
He held back so many questions of her.
She held many secrets.
She never talked about her late parents much. She also never talked about herself in the past. He still didn’t know how good she was with violin or how long she had played. He didn’t know whether she sometimes cried, remembering her parents.
He didn’t inquire. Mostly, he didn’t think it was his business. Her past were her memories to share. Her parents were her family to talk about.
But she had a secret connected to him—and it broke his heart when he finally knew about it.
He mistook the hurt for feeling of anger.
“Take care of your father,” his mother had said, smiling. She never looked as beautiful as she was that day. He gritted his teeth. “Take care of Gita too.”
The sound of her name rolled off his mother’s tongue with an ease he still couldn’t replicate up until now. There was too much sadness in that name. There was too much buried feelings.
He took his mother’s hand, kissing the back of it.
Was it a promise, or was it just words of comfort?
He saw her for the five thousand one hundred fourteenth time in the morning of his mother’s funeral ceremony.
He felt numb, but he didn’t cry.
With tear-streaked face, she hugged him throughout the whole ceremony. She hugged him during his father’s speech. She hugged him when the funeral’s over and they drove home in silence. She still hugged him when they climbed upstairs and passed his parents’ bedroom. She still didn’t let go of him when they stood outside his own bedroom, her body trembling.
At first, he didn’t understand. Why would she cry when he didn’t? Why would she act like he needed comfort when she was the one who was crying so badly?
But then he remembered the first time he saw her—that night when she stepped off his father’s car. That night, she didn’t cry too. In fact, he couldn’t recall any moment she had cried for her own parents’ deaths.
Gripping him tighter, she seemed to know exactly what he was thinking, because she said, “One day, you would be able to feel and let it out.”
But not today. Because today hadn’t felt real yet. His loss hadn’t felt real yet.
But he understood. So he hugged her too, for the first time since they met. She was warm and soft. Her perfume—rose, like his mother’s favourite flower—hung in the air surrounding them. He breathed it in, basking himself in the memories of his mother.
One day he would be able to cry for her death.
He saw her for the twelve thousand seven hundred seventy second time at one of the dinners held during their college break. He majored in music theory and composition, while she in business management. Their colleges were 174 km apart.
His father had become cold over the years, lonely and miserable. The atmosphere during that one particular dinner was stifling, mostly because of a fight he had with his father two days ago. She didn’t know. But she would, soon.
He saw her the for twelve thousand seven hundred seventy third time the morning after. Just like years before, she was standing in the hallway, fresh from shower. The feeling of deja vu hit him harder than it should had. But instead of staring awkwardly, now she immediately called out to him.
“Ian,” her voice bounced the walls around them, creating unrecognizable feeling of pain in his chest. “Father said you’re not going to continue your study.”
It was true.
But that was not the biggest news he had. His father had hit when he told him the other, more important news. Would she be angry too?
He bit his lip, reminding himself that it was not his fault. His father had been impatient, reacting even before he listened to his explanation. But then again, he was just as impatient, storming off after getting hit and not giving his father chance to listen to his explanation or to apologize for his wrongdoing.
They’re both at fault. They’re both so similar to each other.
At times like those, he missed his mother dearly.
He looked at her, wondering why she sounded like his mother even though she was not her real daughter.
“I am going to leave this house too,” he said, ignoring the more vulnerable feelings blooming inside him. “I have packed. I will move in with my one of my bandmates.”
“I want to focus on the band. We have signed a contract with a pretty big agency.”
She raised her eyebrow. “Raja didn’t say anything to me.”
Suddenly, he felt angry.
“Why would he need to say anything to you? It’s not like you’re his girlfriend. He doesn’t need to report everything to you.” Then he spat out, thoughtlessly, “You’re not even my real sister. You don’t need to know everything about me.”
In the pause afterwards, he could hear her quick breaths, his pounding heart, and the ringing noise from somewhere unreal.
“I’ve known Raja longer than he or I know you,” she hissed then. “I think it’s natural for him to tell me if anything happens to you.”
Instead of arguing back, he stormed off; repeating the same childish behaviour he had done the night he and his father fought.
The ringing noise turned into her voice calling his name, muffled but torturing.
She was right, though. Raja would tell her if anything happened to him. She was more of his best friend than he ever was. But the truth was, even Raja hadn’t known that he chose to drop out of college or that he was moving out.
He also thought that he was right. She was not his sister.
But part of him knew that his action came from a place of petty revenge. She held secrets from him, so he held secrets from her too.
He was actually planning to stay over at Raja’s apartment while he looked for his own living accommodation. Still angry, he scratched that plan off his to-do list and called a motel instead.
He didn’t see her for the next four years.
She stopped calling him after two years.
Raja stopped talking about her after three years.
The day he finally cried for his mother’s death was the day she appeared on his doorstep, a bucket of roses in hand.
It was the twelve thousand seven hundred seventy fourth time he saw her, but instead, he counted again from one.
Just like that night, her smile was sad. There was a heavy feeling in the bottom of his stomach.
“Come home,” she said, the hand holding the rose bucket trembled. “Come home. Father is sick.”
Like your mother—that was left unsaid. There were so many things between them that were left unsaid. So come home.
He cried then, because he knew he had to cry for his mother first before he could cry for his father.
(Maybe she had cried for her own parents too, that day at the his mother’s funeral. Maybe he had missed the time she had cried for his mother’s death. He would never know.)
He had many secrets, but there was only one that affected her directly.
Everyone around him except her seemed to know about it.
The night he left the house, he wrote a song. It remained unfinished for the next four years.
The morning she showed at his apartment, the song was still unfinished, but he knew right after looking into her eyes how he would want to call it.
Two months after he came back to the house, the song was still unfinished. But he knew when he was going to finish it.
Five months after he came back to the house was his mother’s death anniversary. She had known that he had an unfinished song—amongst dozens of other unfinished songs—and she knew that the song was something a bit more special.
Five months and two weeks after he came back to the house, he released a solo album. Raja was the only one in his band that participated in writing that specific song. Raja even had a special nickname for the song. He called it, “That one song that tells me you’re just one hopeless little shit.”
He couldn’t disagree. His father even told him the same thing, in different words.
He had heard her name for the first time through a phone conversation his mother had with his father, the day after the fire accident.
The decision was quick. The adoption process took a bit longer, but his father took her straight away to their house that day.
When he saw her for the first time through the window, it was also the first time he had said her name out loud.
Maybe that day, he had already became one hopeless little shit.
You got me at the hello.