I arrive in our house in the province late on Wednesday night. Before I can even cross the threshold of our house, my youngest brother runs at full speed from where he is inside, colliding with me at the doorway and wrapping me in a welcoming hug.
One of my favorite people in the world is this little boy who happens to be my brother. He is 9, turning 10, which means pretty soon he’ll start puberty. I was in high school when he was born. My favorite memory of him as a baby goes like this: I was asked to watch over him, and as I lay there beside him tired in every way, he wrapped his tiny hand around my finger. Sometimes it’s the littlest things at just the right time that break us. I cried then. I don’t remember why, but I remember thinking I wanted to love this kid well.
Thursday as I’m lying on our bed avoiding homework, he comes and he wraps me in a hug for no real reason. Later as he sits there watching videos on the tablet, I snuggle near and he does not push me away.
Sometimes when we spend time together I become very aware of the possibility that I might not have too much of this left. On Friday night we go swimming, and as we’re uselessly floating around on the shallow end of the pool, I wonder how long he’ll need us to be around because he’s too scared and too small to wade into deeper waters. One of these days he’ll probably be taller than I am. Will he still want to float around uselessly with me then?
I consider how perhaps he’ll grow up like my other brother, now 17. Years ago, on a February day, he asked me where to buy flowers. I wonder if our youngest will one day ask me the same question, or if he’ll ask his older brother instead. I wonder how soon it’ll be until he finds someone he wants to give roses to, and I wonder how soon it’ll be until I can no longer sleep beside him and in the morning reach out and stroke his hair, kiss his forehead, without him thinking I’m so weird.
One of my greatest anxieties over high school and college, living miles away from home, was that maybe I’d miss seeing my little brother grow up, the way I missed being there for a lot of my other siblings. Distance does that, and I was too young then to realize it was happening, and even when I did I didn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps part of me half-expects his love to wane with every leaving. After all, I’ve always been the sister least present in his life. But every time I come home, instead he still loves me the same. Children’s hearts are so kind to our failures. Even when we can’t give enough their love meets us right where we are.
As we’re pulling in to the bus terminal, I kiss him goodbye. He hugs me tight, kisses me again, hugs me even tighter. I ask myself, at what point will it become routine for him to expect departures and distance?
He doesn’t let go even when I finally, gently start pulling away. When he finally loosens his hold, he only asks, “When are you coming back?”