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I love i hate i miss my.., p.8

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister, page 8

 

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister
 


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  “Could you leave us the keys to the gym tonight? We’ll drop them off in the morning, I promise.”

  Abdellatif frowns. “The keys to the gym? What for? You’re not going to work out tonight, are you?”

  Alice shrugs and smiles. “No, but we know that you’ve got to go and we’d all like to celebrate a little.”

  “Don’t worry, girls,” Coach says. “I’ve planned a celebration for next Saturday.”

  “But what about tonight?”

  “Tonight, I can’t. Sorry. I told you that I had to leave after the game.”

  “Yes, but can you leave us the keys?” Djelila tries.

  Abdellatif shakes his head. “I can’t do that, girls. I’m responsible for the gym, and if anything were to happen here—”

  “But nothing will happen,” Alice interrupts.

  “I can’t. Now go and change.”

  Alice opens her mouth to say something else, but Djelila touches her arm. No point insisting. Grumbling, the girls head toward the locker room. Djelila follows them. Alice follows Djelila, taking care to slouch her back and droop her shoulders so that Abdellatif feels guilty. As I watch the coach’s face, I’d say she succeeded.

  My sister still hasn’t seen me.

  No need to stay where I am. I step back and open one of the double doors. It is bitterly cold outside. A sharp wind freezes my nose. I rub my hands together. My head scarf protects my ears. In the parking lot, the Montilan team bus is waiting, its engine running. The exhaust pipe lets out a cloud of white smoke. The girls arrive one by one or in twos and threes. I can hear their coach near the locker room telling them to hurry. The only other vehicle in the parking lot is a green car. Abdellatif’s car. A straggling girl, her bag on her shoulder, hurries out. The coach is right behind her. There’s a hissing sound as the bus door closes, and the engine starts to run faster.

  At the sound of voices, I turn my head. Djelila and Alice are the first Racine players to come out. They are laughing. Obviously Abdellatif’s refusal to give them the gym keys hasn’t upset them too much. I walk toward them.

  “Sohane? What are you doing here?” Djelila says.

  “I came to see you play,” I tell her. “You were great.”

  “Really? You think so?”

  The smile that lights up my sister’s face is like a miracle.

  “Yes, really.”

  Suddenly, Djelila frowns. “Did Dad and Mom ask you to come?”

  “You know they’re not like that. I came because I felt like it.”

  “I’m not going home right away.”

  “But … Abdellatif said that—”

  “It doesn’t matter,” Alice declares, her eyes shining. “We’re going to celebrate somewhere else!”

  “Where?” I ask.

  “We don’t care! As long as we find a place to knock back our stash!”

  Djelila nudges her friend. But it’s pointless. I can guess that Alice is talking about alcohol.

  “Djelila isn’t going with you,” I say. “She’s coming with me.”

  Djelila gives me a look that could kill. “Hey, that’s enough, Sohane. Who do you think you are? I go where I want, with who I want, and you can’t order me around.”

  The biting wind has nothing to do with the feeling of intense cold that invades my body. Girls stream out of the locker room. They glance over at us, wave to Djelila and Alice, and move on.

  “Your teammates don’t seem to be going to your little party,” I say.

  Alice shrugs. “Nobody else wants to come. ‘It’s too cold, it’s too late, I have to go.…’ ” Alice adopts a baby voice to make fun of her teammates. “Lame. But Dje and I don’t care! There are two of us, and that’s enough.”

  More girls come out, chatting, followed by Abdellatif.

  “Bye, girls. See you Tuesday for practice!” he says.

  “Bye, Abdel, see you Tuesday,” they answer.

  He shuts the gym door carefully. Two turns of the key.

  “Good night, Alice. Good night, Djelila. You should go home before you turn to ice.”

  “Yes, don’t worry, we’re going,” Alice answers. “Bye.”

  “Bye.”

  Abdellatif climbs into his car. A few seconds go by. He turns the headlights on, starts the engine, backs up, blows the horn lightly, and he’s gone.

  “Good! Come, Dje, let’s go,” Alice says.

  “Yeah, let’s go.”

  “Djelila!”

  “Get off my back, Sohane! It’s time you realize I don’t need a chaperone! I don’t need you!”

  “Djelila …”

  Alice and Djelila walk off.

  I hesitate. I’m tempted to follow them. I might still have a chance to bring my sister back to reason. A giggle stops me short. The only thing is to go back home.

  I walk fast. In my head, worry and irritation are waging battle. Djelila thinks she knows everything. She thinks she’s cleverer than anyone else. She thinks she’s behaving like an adult because she drinks alcohol. Good for her. But how can she do that to us? How can she do that to me? We are her family. Why does she need to reject us, to systematically go against everything we’ve been taught at home? She can’t have forgotten the teachings of the Koran, God’s demands. Tight jeans, cigarettes, and now alcohol. Do you hate us so much, Djelila? Are you ashamed of us? You disown your family, your culture, your education, your religion, you reject us, and you reject me. Why?

  Quickly I make my way across the Lilac projects. Majid and his gang are leaning against the wall of Tower 38. As usual.

  It would be better if they didn’t see Djelila.

  They might start in on her again. Would they dare hit her? Majid slapped her once, but I’m not sure he would be bold enough to strike her a second time. He’s always been a coward. If he lays a hand on her again, it’s likely he’ll have to answer to Dad. But I’m sure they won’t hesitate to shove her around. Which might teach her a lesson.

  For all I care, she can go to hell!

  In any case, I can’t go home yet. Not without Djelila. Our parents wouldn’t understand. And going to bed is out of the question: I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’m going to wait. And when she comes back, I’ll give her a piece of my mind.

  I sit on a bench, facing the patch of lawn that runs along our tower.

  Anxiety is gnawing at me. What if Djelila doesn’t come back? What if she decides to spend the whole night with Alice? What if something happens to them? I should have followed them to find out what they were up to. I glance at my watch. It’s a quarter to eleven. Not very late. But when does she plan on coming back? When should I begin to worry? This is ridiculous since I’m already filled with dread.

  I’m cold. I curl up a bit. I should have taken my gloves. My foot is moving by itself. I get up and walk around the square once, my eyes never leaving the door of our building to be sure not to miss her.

  I pace up and down. The orange light of the streetlamp is flickering. Sometimes, when Djelila and I were little, we sat by our bedroom window and waited for all the project lights to go out. We couldn’t do that today since the few working lights now remain lit all night.

  Well, I have to stop thinking about Djelila. I’d be better off concentrating on the economics essay that I have to prepare for the end of next week. A really tough topic: Once you have explained the reasons behind the adoption of a single currency in Europe, use the euro to demonstrate that a currency not only plays an economic role but should also be considered an institution. I’ve analyzed all the correspondence lectures, all the documents supplied with the subject; I’ve reread my economics notes from before I left Racine High. And still I don’t have a handle on it. But I have to get it done.

  I look at my watch again. Eleven-fifteen. That’s all! I can’t believe it’s only a quarter past eleven.

  I go back to the bench and sit down. It’s like sitting on an iceberg. I start hoping that Alice didn’t take Djelila to friends of hers. A place where there are boys. Djelila is s
o pretty.… If she drinks alcohol … Why didn’t I follow them? It was stupid of me. Maybe Djelila is in danger. She is so innocent!

  What is certain is that when she comes back …

  I get up again. I pace in front of the bench. A light goes off, then on, in a first-floor apartment of our tower. Maybe I should go back to the gym? No, I might miss her.

  Eleven-twenty.

  I no longer see Majid and the others. They probably split up, tired of trying to polish the dirty wall of Tower 38 with the backs of their jackets.

  Djelila, Djelila. Where are you? What’s going on in your head?

  Her friend Alice has changed a lot. She started playing basketball at the same time as Djelila. She had braids then, and her mother used to bring her to basketball practice and pick her up afterward. Alice was pretty shy. Djelila thought she was silly, I remember. They didn’t even talk to each other much.

  I hear voices in the parking lot. Bursts of laughter.

  Djelila.

  I walk toward the blacktop alley to get a better view. It’s her. She grabs onto Alice for support. Actually, they’re shouldering each other to stay upright and laughing hysterically. They zigzag forward, stopping every two seconds to laugh again. Suddenly, Alice moves away, bends forward, her hands on her knees, and throws up. She wipes her mouth with a tissue, which she tosses on the ground. Djelila looks at her, startled at first, but Alice straightens up and they start laughing again. As if this is the funniest event of the year.

  I think they’re pathetic.

  They hug and Alice moves off, unsteady on her feet.

  I don’t know where Alice lives and I couldn’t care less. The stupid girl can walk across the whole projects by herself in twelve-degree weather if she feels like it. I don’t give a hoot. I fold my arms. I’m going to tell Djelila exactly what I think.

  As she stands alone in the middle of the parking lot, Djelila seems to hesitate. She looks around and raises an arm.

  “Hey!” she says.

  She can’t have seen me.

  She walks with determination, confidently, across the parking lot. She knows where she’s going. I follow her gaze. Majid, Youssef, Brahim, Mohad, and Saïd have stopped. They are probably as surprised as I am. No way were they expecting to see Djelila stride toward them.

  “Hey, Majid!” she says.

  She stands in front of them, hands on her hips, defiant.

  I am as still as a statue, not breathing. An alarm goes off in my head.

  Get moving, Sohane, she’s about to do something stupid. Do something. Go get her.

  “So, you’re not snug at home with your mom and dad?” Djelila says. Her voice carries across the empty parking lot. It sounds thick.

  Majid mumbles something I can’t hear. I know he spoke, because his head moved. His friends gather closer around, as if to protect him. To protect him from Djelila. What a joke!

  “You know, I didn’t appreciate what you did the other day,” Djelila goes on. “Not at all, in fact. Slapping me like I’m a kid! And I always repay my debts!”

  Time seems to have stopped. Majid doesn’t have time to raise his arm to protect his face before Djelila raises her hand and deals him a massive slap. A humiliating slap. I start running over to them even before Djelila finishes talking. I am close to her. I grab her arm.

  “Run, Dje! Run!”

  She follows me. We run across the parking lot and the lawn that stands between us and the blacktop alley. We jump to the sidewalk and I drag her toward the door of our building. I don’t dare look back. I pull her into the stairs. We run up the steps. Out of breath, I get the key out of my jacket, put it in the lock, and open the door. The hallway is silent. They didn’t follow us.

  I push Djelila in front of me and close the door.

  She sits down on the floor and makes a funny sound in her throat.

  I turn around. The idiot is laughing.

  “Be quiet! You’re going to wake up Dad and Mom,” I warn her.

  Djelila straightens, stretches her neck, and makes a ridiculous grimace.

  “Yes, chief,” she mumbles, before bursting into laughter again.

  I feel like slapping her to bring her back to reality. Instead, I extend a hand. She looks at it a few seconds before grabbing it. I pull her up, ready to catch her if she’s wobbly. But it’s fine; she’s steady.

  “Thank you, Sohane,” she whispers.

  Her breath stinks of alcohol. I do not let go of her hand.

  “Come.”

  “Girls?”

  It’s Mom.

  “Is that you?”

  “Yes, Mom, Djelila and I are back. She won her game.”

  “That’s very good.”

  Our parents probably went to bed only a short while ago. I can see a ray of light under the door to their room.

  “We’re turning in, Mom. Djelila is dog-tired.”

  “Good. See you tomorrow.”

  If only Mom knew how tired Djelila is! If only Dad could see what his precious gazelle looks like tonight! Her hair tousled, her eyes vacant, a stupid smile on her lips.

  In our room, Djelila falls onto her bed.

  “Did you see how I laid into Majid! Did you see!” she says. “He didn’t even have time to react.”

  I look at myself in the mirror and see that my head scarf is askew. A few pins must have fallen out. I begin to readjust it and then yank it off, angrily.

  “You’re crazy, Djelila, totally nuts!” I say.

  Djelila sits up straight. “No, I’m not crazy. Majid deserved to be slapped, and twice more, if you ask me.”

  “Shut up, Djelila, you’re getting on my nerves.”

  Djelila lies down again. “Oh, the ceiling is starting to spin,” she says.

  “Where were you tonight?”

  “With Alice.”

  “Where?”

  “Well, we didn’t have any place to go, so we found a stairwell.”

  “A stairwell?”

  I can’t believe what I’m hearing. My sister behaved like a hobo!

  “We didn’t do anything wrong! We just wanted to have some fun. Did you see how well I played tonight?”

  “What did you do in the stairwell?”

  “Alice brought a bottle of whiskey.”

  “Do you drink like this often?” I ask, my voice sharper than a razor’s edge.

  “No, it’s the first time.”

  “And why should I believe you?”

  “Because it’s the truth!”

  “How many times have you drunk alcohol, Djelila?”

  She doesn’t answer right away. She looks for her pillow, props it up against the wall, and leans on it.

  “Well?”

  “I don’t know. A few. I’ve had a drink with friends sometimes.… But I’ve never gotten drunk.”

  I feel exhausted, suddenly. I sit at my desk.

  “You shouldn’t drink, Djelila. You know that. You shouldn’t. It’s not a matter of religion or belief in God. It’s bad. Anything could happen to you.”

  I look at her. Djelila shrugs.

  “Promise me you won’t do it again?”

  “I don’t know. I like to drink a little now and then, and I like to smoke a cigarette with my friends.”

  I hold back a sigh. “What did you drink tonight?” I finally ask.

  “I told you. Whiskey.”

  “The whole bottle?”

  Djelila nods.

  “The whole bottle!”

  “Alice drank more than I did,” Djelila whispers. “Then she didn’t feel well and it was getting late, so we decided to head home.”

  As if I hadn’t noticed that Alice didn’t feel well.

  “Promise me you won’t get drunk ever again, Djelila.”

  I’m not asking her never to drink alcohol, only not to drink too much. Djelila seems to understand the nuance. Right away she nods in agreement. At the same time I tell myself that I won’t abandon her as I did. I won’t abandon her again. I won’t ditch you ever, Djelila.


  “I was scared tonight,” I say. “They could have—”

  “If you’re talking about Majid,” Djelila interrupts me, folding her arms like a sulking child, “I don’t regret anything. He got what he deserved!”

  “But there were five of them and you were alone! They could have … I don’t know.… You were at their mercy.”

  Djelila takes a deep breath before lifting her comforter. She removes her shoes with her feet and slips into the warmth of her bed.

  “Aren’t you getting undressed?” I ask.

  “No, can’t be bothered. Can you turn off the big light, please?”

  Djelila turns over and brings the comforter up to her shoulders.

  I turn on the bedside lamp, shut off the ceiling light, and start taking off my shoes. My sister is still.

  “You OK, Djelila?”

  “Hmm.”

  I take off my socks, jeans, and sweater, put on a large T-shirt, and remove my bra from under the T-shirt. My anger is gone. All I can see is the top of Djelila’s head. I feel like going over to stroke her hair. I feel like taking her in my arms and rocking her like a baby. I close my eyes instead.

  “Sohane …”

  I open my eyes. My sister has not moved. Her voice is muffled through the thickness of the down comforter.

  “You’re wrong, Sohane,” Djelila says.

  “Wrong about what?”

  “I don’t want to be afraid of Majid or anyone else. I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want my choices to be dictated by fear. I don’t want to be what others have decided I should be. I want to be myself. Do you understand, Sohane?”

  I come up with only one answer. “It’s not a reason to drink,” I say.

  Djelila shrugs slightly under the covers.

  “Sleep well, Djelila.”

  “Thanks. You too, Sohane.”

  Djelila doesn’t utter a word to me all Sunday. She does her best to stay far away from me. She gets up late and takes a long shower. She hardly touches her breakfast, and then she helps Mom prepare lunch. She has brushed her hair, and it shines in the sunlight that floods the kitchen. She doesn’t seem particularly tired, and she welcomes Dad’s congratulations with a smile.

  “So you beat them, you won your game? Brava, Djelila, brava!”

  “Thanks, Dad.”

  She brings him his coffee, and he’s happy to have his darling daughter take such good care of him. She takes Taïeb and Idriss for a walk, helps them finish their homework, and gives them a bath.

 
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