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My sister bent over and touched her toes, the risen sun too bright in her losing eyes. Her spindly fingers touched the tip of her trainer and she stared at me. Her face was drawn with suffering and her pale cheeks flared with embarrassment. “Do I have to keep doing this?”
I nodded, my mouth pressed into a thin line. “Yes. You have to get your mobility back.”
Anna nodded and glanced back down at her shoes. They hovered, limp and lifeless, a few inches above the floor. Her heels brushed the foot platforms of her wheelchair. “Do I have too?” she asked again, her voice long and low, a monotonous song.
I sighed and walked over to her, my shoes making soft noises off the floor of our living room carpet. The room was bright and well-furnished. There were two chairs, a couch, a television, a mirror, a tiny wooden cross and a coffee table. Blue curtains draped onto the floor, somewhat shielding the sunlight that was streaming through the clouded windows. The ribbons of yellow illuminated Anna’s sagging frame, her bent posture and the pit of her blue eyes. I knelt down beside her and put a hand on her lap, “Two more, ok. The nurse said you had to do this every day, or else you’ll never be able to use crutches. Now, come on. You can do this.” I looked up into her eyes and plastered a concrete smile on my face. “You can do this.”
Anna fake smiled back at me and leaning forward, she stretched her fingers. Her stomach quivered and jerked. The weak muscles on her back pushed against the thin fabric of her t-shirt. Her eyes had narrowed in concentration and her pink tongue stuck out from in between her pale lips. Tears were sparking in her eyes, miniature oceans that blurred and rocked as they fell onto her cheeks. My heart panged and I felt a lump rise in my chest. This was my sister. My sister and she was crying. This was my sister. The lump grew in my throat as Anna looked upwards, a weak smile painted on her lips. “I did it.”
I nodded and smiled. “Well done. You can stop now,” I said. I stood up and moved her feet back onto the platforms of her chair. It was black and shining, but it was it was obviously second hand - scuffs and sticker marks coated the back and a chunk of the arm rest was missing. Mum had tried to make it pretty for her after that day, but it was impossible. There was no way the limp seat and the scarred metal could be beautiful again. So instead, she had buffed it and polished it, and stuck a tiny picture of Nemo onto the back. I didn’t see the point. I wasn’t as though Anna could see it.
Settling her foot on the platform, I stood up and went behind Anna’s chair. She was looking wistfully out the window, out at the summer. I glanced out the window, and then at Anna. Her blue eyes were still lost, but the sun put a glimmer in them that wasn’t usually there. “Do you want to go outside? Go for a walk?”
Anna shifted in her seat, her hands on her lap. “Won’t Mum get annoyed?” she asked, her little voice still full of hopelessness. Some days I longed for that rising and falling concerto of sweetness that was her old voice. Other days, I knew how she was feeling. Small. Vulnerable. Defeated. Lost.
I think for a moment and then shrug. I’m seventeen; I can take care of my sister for ten minutes. Can’t I? “Mum won’t mind. I’ll leave her a note. Do you want me to go and get Roosevelt?” Roosevelt was Anna’s bear. It had been Beary in a previous life, but in a fit of fact finding and compassion, she had named it after its long gone creator.
Anna nodded. “Ok. I’ll leave you here for a minute, alright. Two seconds.” I walked into the hall and scribbled a note for Mum, before running along the corridor and into the study, now Anna’s bedroom. I grabbed Roosevelt from his shelf and ran back to my sister. I handed her the bear. She clasped it in her hands and pressed the furry face to her chest. I saw her nostrils flare as she took in his scent - a mixture of lavender, peppermint, and, much to my annoyance, hospital disinfectant. She glanced up at me and smiled.
“No problem.” I sauntered round the back of her wheelchair and grasped the handles in my hands. A few seconds, a banged door and a juddering step later, and we were outside, soaking in the rays of the sun.
I pushed Anna down the path and looked at the world. It was too early for anyone to be up, so the streets were deserted. Leaves shone green on the boughs of trees, and I could just make out the veins of white that criss-crossed through their emerald bodies. The bark was brown and crinkled, like paper someone had thrown in the bin, discarded and discoloured. The houses were silent, and only a few birds braved the empty quiet, shattering the morning with their shrill calls. It was perfect.
I played with Anna’s long brown hair, entwining it in my fingers as I walked. Perfect. I hadn’t heard that word in a long while. The last time I had heard it was that day when Mum and Dad didn’t think I was listening - “She’s broken,” Mum had sobbed, while Dad wrapped his arms around her crippled frame. “She’ll never be perfect again.” Dad didn’t say anything, just cooed softly. Sometimes I think that he was trying to be comforting and supportive of his wife, but others, I just wonder if he couldn’t contradict her. That deep down in his heart, he knew Mum was right. And then we started praying.
“Who’s God, Libby?”
My heart froze and I gulped. What to tell a six year old about God? Confusion whirled in my brain. “Ask Mum.”
“I did,” Anna said, still looking at me, “but she told what she thinks. I want to know what you think.”
I raise my eyebrows. “What did Mum tell you?”
“That He was the Almighty, and His Son is the Saviour of the world. She said that God is the bestest guy ever.”
I lowered my eyebrows. Of course she would say that. After all, she was ‘saved’ that day. That was why the accident happened. He had been driving to church, and the car had slammed into her. If she wasn’t so religious, Anna might still be able to walk.
“So? Is he?”
I turned a corner and kept walking. “God is...” I started before closing my mouth. Words escaped me. Anna was impressionable. I knew that. I also knew that she was smart, and wanted to make her own decisions. I couldn’t bring my bias into this. And neither could Mum. “God is...”
“God is what? Where does he live?”
This, I could answer. “He lives in Heaven.”
I paused and said, “It’s up there.” I jerked a finger at the sky and Anna smiled.
“In the clouds?”
“Yup.” Anna nodded and the conversation lapsed into silence for a few minutes. The birds sang in the trees and a car rumbled past. A question was nagging at my mind. I turned another corner and opened my mouth.
“Why do you want to know, Anna?”
Anna squirmed in her seat and hugged Roosevelt to her chest. “Mum said that only good people can see God. Bad people can’t and they ‘live a life of sin’. Is that true?”
I bit my tongue. Why was Mum telling Anna this? She was only six! She was too young to know the ins and outs of religion, the effects it had on people. Mum had no right to try and force her into it. She had only become Christian a few months ago - what made her think she could push Anna into being one?
Swallowing , I stopped by a tree and leaned on the bark. I swivelled Anna round to face me. Her face was lined and pale, the dimples in her cheeks impossibly deep. She was wearing a bright pink top and a pair of jeans. The jeans were loose over her limp legs and her trainers swayed with the momentum of turning her round. She was beautiful, even if she was broken. “Some people believe that good people go to Heaven to meet God and Jesus and bad people go to Hell. Some people believe that there is no Heaven and Hell and that God might not exist. I’m one of those people, ok? Mum is someone that believes in God. It depends what you believe.”
Anna nodded and then screwed her face in concentration. “Mum said that people that didn’t see God were bad. Does that mean you’re bad?”
I took a deep breath, trying to cool the anger ranging inside my chest. I was going to talk to Mum when I got back. “No. I’m still a good person.”
“Then why did Mum say that?”
Because she’s a forearm grabber who believes God and Jesus are the answer to the world’s problems. “She said that because that’s what she believes,” I stated. Anna creased her brow, and I sighed. “Ok. Have you ever heard of other religions?”
Anna paused and nodded. “I read about Islem once.”
“Islam? That’s another religion. In that religion people believe in someone called Allah. He’s like God, but different. Now, there are a lot of Muslims - people who believe in Allah, not God - in the world. Does that mean all of them are bad people?”
Anna shook her head. “Exactly. Everyone has different beliefs. It doesn’t make us bad people.”
Anna nodded again and pursed her little lips. Roosevelt was settled in the crook of her arm, and she stroked his head as she talked. “So, does that mean that Mum was wrong?”
Yes. “No, it means that Mum was different. Now, come on, we need to get back.” I walked behind Anna and pushed her back onto the pavement. A leaf spiralled down into her lap and she picked it up, twirling it between her fingers. She was still thinking - I could tell from the way she looked at the leaf, running her fingertips over the veins and dents, her lost eyes focused on the tiny tip.
I kept walking, my mouth pressed into a line. How dare Mum tell her that! She knew I was atheist. She knew Anna was impressionable, and she knew it would annoy me. How dare she? I was the one that took care of Anna - she was too busy going to prayer groups and church and other religious things. She didn’t bathe Anna. She didn’t clothe her. She didn’t talk to her, not if it wasn’t about religion. She had no right to do that! She had lost the right the moment she said Anna was broken.
“Am I going to heaven?”
Her voice stopped me in my tracks. “Of course you are.” Realisation dawned on me. “What did mum say?”
“She said I was broken, and broken people are bad people. And bad people don’t go to Heaven.”
Tears pricked the corners of my eyes, dimming the hatred towards my mother. “Of course, you’re going to Heaven. You’re not broken. You were never broken.”
Anna nodded and bent her head. A car rumbled in the distance, shooting down the road. “So I will go to
Heaven?” Her voice wavered and pinpricks of tears shone in her eyes.
Anna glanced up and her hands wrapped round the wheels of her wheelchair. “Good.”
She pushed away from me and rested on the side of the pavement. For a second she just sat. I thought she was watching the trees sway in the distance, the way she often did when we were sitting inside. Had I been paying attention, I would have noticed the tears sliding down her cheeks and the smile on her face.
“Bye Libby. I’ll say hello to God for you.” And then, with a push, she was gone, hit by the speeding car. My mother’s lie came true. She was broken. But in her last second, the risen sun was too dull in her glittering eyes.