Cat Biscuits and Courage

My little sister is here from her Zambian home. Also an outpost, but better populated than mine. She has a supermarket with more than one trolley which is all our Amory sports because there’s never more than one of us who require it at any one time.


She brought me cat biscuits and chilli flakes per my shopping request. Because she came via big cities which I have not seen for more than a month. The chilli flakes for me; the cat biscuits for the feral little thing I’ve adopted and who traipses after me all day, every day, getting fatter by the week for who could ignore the Oliver plaintive mews for more, please.

My sister, C, and I have had time to swim together, up and down, up and down, lap after lap, more exhausted from the chat than the exercise. We have had time to dissect things we’ve never had the time to. Six years my junior, there was a gap – a gap when she was a child and I a teen, when she was a student and I a new mother . The years have narrowed the gap – our common ground has grown. We have laughed loud and long. We have shared cold beers. We have touched lightly on the tougher stuff ; we do not want to cloud precious days of sunshine.

And we have put heads together over mum: her future, her fragility, her reading. Sometimes it seems a lot to grapple with, it has been good to sound ideas out. It is only recently – and with some startled, delighted surprise – that I discover my sister bears a wisdom and a common sense that I sometimes lack as I flail in panic wondering what to do next. As the eldest I assumed a mantle of responsibility when Dad died. Before that: when mum got sick. When I was 13 and C barely seven.

C bears a graceful privacy. Does not wear her heart so untidily on her sleeve as I. Her approach is one of warm pragmatism. I remember her as that 7 year old, trotting along beside me as Dad hauled us into the psych ward to see mum in hospital. C was more interested in the chocolates beside Mum’s bed than I, who was consumed with useless fear and confusion. Her lightness then helped to brighten the darkness. Six years later, when Dad died, she was the small hand that slid itself into my clammy nineteen year old one, ‘it will be ok, A’, she said, and smiled, bravely dry eyed in the face of this enormous, life shattering loss.

And now, a new chapter in our lives, a new big change, new big decisions, new fears and she wings her way up.

And she brings me cat biscuits and chilli flakes.

And courage. Again. She brings me courage.


12 Responses to “Cat Biscuits and Courage”

  1. Catherine Says:

    I have a younger sister exactly like that, she brings a sense of balance to my, often, ramblings on what to do next with an ongoing health problem. (My eldest sister lives in Zambia on a farm 70 Kms from Mazabuka, I have been there many times and love the country). I hope your mum is improving.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Precisely; she brings a sense of balance. And great humour with it. It sounds as if she lives at the other end of Zambia to your sis: far to the north, a hair’s breadth from the border with the Congo … Mum is loving having two of her three chicks to cluck over. Or cluck over her, perhaps.

  2. Ad dy Says:

    Embrace her and hug her tightly. (I wish I had a sibling to share the good and the bad with. I know a lot of people who don’t get on with their brothers or sisters at all. If only they knew how lucky they were to have them.)

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Addy. I am very lucky to have siblings. One of each. Who bring different dimensions to my life and with whom I have always been able to share the good and bad bits: in my life, their lives, our lives. x

  3. Rosie Says:

    Beautifully written – dense matter dealt with a light touch, lovely, thank you.

  4. Iota Says:

    This is a lovely piece of writing. I am a younger sister, so I tried to see a bit of myself in C, and yes, perhaps there is something there that I haven’t seen before. Thank you for showing it to me.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Not long ago, I asked C’s youngest – and my god-daughter – what she wanted to be when she grew up; ‘a big sister’ she said immediately and emphatically (she never will be!). I’m sure – i hope! – there is value in big sisters. But the little sisters need to know there is them too.

  5. daisyfae Says:

    As the youngest of four, my father shook his head as he called me “number one son” – “You’re it! You’ve got to take care of them”. I cringed… It was overwhelming, even though I was a fully grown woman. In the decade since he died, I have been surprised, and delighted, to have rebuilt the relationship with my next-older sister… 22 months my senior… We fought terribly as children, especially as teens… To have rediscovered this woman… she’s known me my entire life… has brought such unexpected joy.

    Your piece is beautifully written, as always…

  6. Rebecca Stonehill Says:

    Hi there, we have a mutual friend here in Nairobi where I live – Natasha Breed. She told me about your blog, I looked it up today and have really enjoyed reading your very candid posts. Look forward to reading more! Best wishes, Rebecca

  7. sarahctomlinson Says:

    Hi, that is a lovely post about C. She and I have been messaging tonight about your mum and kids and life and she suggested I read your blog. I avidly read hers. So pleased to hear Hat is doing well. She was a joy to have to stay all those years ago, hard to believe she is all grown up now. My own lovely son has chosen weekly boarding school, and being the same age as Oli we are now dealing with parties and GCSE’s!!

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