I watched the heavy plastic bauble slip through her fingers. The sound of it hitting the floor was too loud in the darkness, but I picked it up and put it back again and again, each dull thud heavier than the last. Going, going, gone. I wondered crazily how many times I would have to put it back in her lifeless grip before her body would stiffen and force me to face the knowledge that my baby sister was dead, before I would have to find another insane thing to do to help me keep the knowing inside. Stupid jokes swirled in my head, jokes I knew she would have found wildly funny, her eyes streaming with the effort of laughing quietly. The knowing was a furious, chaotic thing in my chest, a thing I could not look at or allow. There was no room for grief here.
The hair-grip started its gradual descent again, and suddenly it was too hot, too damp, too dirty. There had been many things in my life too hard to swallow, but this one was worse than all of them. Worse than twelve filthy soldiers hitting the back of my throat, my father’s averted eyes as the aid worker counted out five, ten, twenty dollars ‘for the pair of them’, the fury-shame-despair that had filled my insides because even though we had been on our best behaviour, he had really only kept us the two nights he had bargained for. The knowledge that I would have done anything, taken anything, to stay longer. My chest was tight. Sofia was dead. That chaotic thing in my chest felt like it wanted to take me too, but I didn’t know how to let it.
I was going to take her outside somehow, but when I touched her feet they felt like a disease and I hadn’t known it, but that too was too hard to take and all of a sudden I was running even though I didn’t remember standing up. And I was loud. I could hear myself crashing through brush, breathing, crying. There was a sound following me and I knew it was my wailing but it had been so long since I had been anything but small and silent and so very careful; I didn’t know how to put it back. That thing in my chest was furious and violent and there was no more room for it inside me. Death was hard - I had seen the fear and pain in Sofia’s eyes - but surviving would kill you harder.
“Be quiet, Safi!” The first time I had heard myself say it, my mother’s voice was what came out of my mouth. “Be quiet, Safi.” Help us survive. My ears filled with the noise I was making, struggling to stay alive longer than that thing in my chest. There was no room for grief anywhere, not even inside me. “Be quiet, Safi.” It hadn’t helped her. Had it helped any of us? There was a sound following me now, a sound bigger than my wailing. “Stop! STOP!” I wanted to stop and explain that I wasn’t running away from them or their camp - I was running away from this thing that wanted to kill me - but that was them too, wasn’t it? Sofia had died anyway, as silent as ever, and that had been them too, hadn’t it? I heard myself explode, and I flew.
The earth I landed on had no give to it, and it forced everything in my lungs out. It was too bright, too raucous, too cold. There was a ringing in my body that felt like pain, but all I could think of was that I had forgotten to take Sofia’s hair grip with me, and she would be upset. I could hear them coming, loud, angry, not enough of a menace anymore. There was blood in my mouth, leaking out of me with everything else, warm. It was as sticky as Safi’s forehead had been, less wet than it should have been. I wanted to laugh. My eyes were streaming, just like hers used to. Look, Safi. I’m coming. They didn’t get us, Safi. Death is a hard thing to swallow, the thing inside my chest wanted to kill me, and I found a way back to you Safi. Look. I’m coming. We will have to remember how to laugh loudly, now. You will remind me, won’t you? Laugh, Safi. I’m coming.