Postcards from Indonesia:
I wonder at what point this seven year old girl in the pool at my feet will realise that she is not the favourite child. Her sister, perhaps two, is in the perfect point of toddlerhood, just verbal enough to be adorable, not nearly enough to be tedious. She squeals and laughs and shrieks with delight as her parents pass her through the water, kissing her with each turn. Big Sister is annoying. Big Sister won’t shut up. Big Sister is all ‘Okay mum, here’s the rules. On the count of three, we’re going to dunk under the water at the same time.’ And ‘Dad, you have to watch me while I jump under. I’m going to jump in and then I’m going to touch the bottom and bounce off and then you can catch me, but not before.’ And ‘If you don’t come in the pool with me right now I’m going to cry.’ Big Sister has discovered rules but not empathy for parents who just want to lie in the sun and sleep, or hold Little Sister, burbling and sweet, to their shoulders as her chubby child legs kick at the velvet soft water. Big Sister is so far not resentful of Little Sister. She still thinks Little Sister is pretty much the best, even though she is frustrated that Little Sister can’t jump into the pool or go underwater without dying. But one day, I think, Big Sister is going to wake up and realise that she’s not the focus any more. That, in fact, her presence is actually inhibiting her parents’ enjoyment of the little songs that Little Sister is composing, of the little laughs she makes when they toss her in the air, of her perfect two year old porcelain skin. And Big Sister is just starting to get suspicious. Swimming quietly up to her murmuring parents, straining for a second to listen, then demanding ‘Why are you whispering?’ She’s currently circling the edge of the pool like a wary stingray, watching me watch her.
I wake up from one of the many involuntary naps that travel induces in me to find that my mother has gone. I visually scour the pool, the banana lounges, the nearby beach and find no trace of her. Her things are still here, her glasses next to me, her towel. I wonder what it would be like if this was It, a story that began ‘One day she just vanished and I never saw her again’, and suddenly, I am Big Sister again, like I was when I was seven, jerking my head around looking for attention with rolling eyes and that particular insistent energy, that silently broadcasts a low level ‘Muuuuu-uuuuuum’ like a wifi hotspot. I am Big Sister and I am not the centre of my parents’ attention and I am remembering how to be lost and afraid.