I knew I had to face her

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My niece was in a bed, undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. We never know why one is chosen rather than another but my feelings were mixed. In one sense, there were times when I hated her, yet I felt enormous affection for her at others. What was I going to do?

I am part of a peculiar family. My sister was born twenty years before me, and thus when she married, I hadn’t been born yet. Five years after I was born, my sister had her first child. Her name was Claire, and although I didn’t know it at the time, she was going to grow up to become my greatest irritation. When she was only two years old, I loved to hold her like a parent, and I played with her all day long. I had a love for her as strong as my sister’s. It grew stronger when they came to live with us after my sister’s husband left them, and my sister moved in with us.

Then it seemed that suddenly, she was able to speak. At first I rejoiced in every word she learned, especially if I’d taught her. However, she became a devil, doing all the things that annoyed me. She drew on my books, left toys out after she played with them and constantly was singing next to me when I was trying to concentrate. What infuriated me even more was that my sister was never angry at her at all, saying that it was only a habit she would grow out of. How I hated my niece when I was ten!

My hatred for her only grew worse over the years, because when she started to go to school, she learned new ways of annoying me. At school, she would often come across to my classroom at lunchtime to tell embarrassing stories about me to my friends. They teased me endlessly as a result. I pretended to not recognize her in the playground and I disliked her more each day. I did not make allowances for her age; I did not realise that at my age, my feelings would not be permanent. Our bickering started to have an impact at home and I knew that it upset my mother in particular.

One Sunday morning, my mother was sitting at the dinner table, looking very depressed. She was on the verge of crying. I immediately felt guilty about my part in making her upset, and I asked, “What’s the matter?” She replied that Claire had developed leukaemia. I didn’t know what to say, since I was feeling ambivalent about the news. Maybe, I thought, this will make her quiet. Then I looked again at my mother’s face and realised that maybe it was more serious than I’d thought. Guilt overwhelmed me then.

That guilt kept me from visiting her. Although my mother often invited me to go along with her to visit Claire, I had always made the excuse that I had too much homework to do, when actually it was that I would feel uncomfortable if I saw her. Finally, my mother insisted, telling me I had to visit her.

Today after school, I caught the bus to the hospital, though not before buying a bunch of yellow daisies – I knew she loved yellow daisies. Every step to her room was solemnly heavy; I had so many feelings, battling for supremacy but especially how I wished things were different. I arrived at her room and I stopped. ‘Look at me,’ I thought, feeling so guilty that I hesitated to even go into the ward.

I finally had the strength to take the first step, and everything became easy after that. I saw her lying within a congested network of tubes and my heart broke. Her hair had been coming out in clumps due to the nature of the treatment, and her face had lost its cuteness and prettiness. If it weren’t for the sign showing Claire’s name, I wouldn’t have recognized my niece. I stood there watching her, thinking of the years I had wasted being annoyed at her. I knew that there was a significant chance that I would never play with her again, and tears gathered, threatening to fall.

I thought about our relationship, and it seemed so ridiculous that I had battled with Claire. She was only being herself – being a small child. I’m sure that I had been like that when I was her age, I just hadn’t had anyone to tell me so. Why did it bother me so much then? It was probably because I had always been too arrogant and had never given much thought to how negativity can breed more bad feelings. During all these years I too had been immature and my “hatred” for my niece was the perfect example of it. If only I could go back in time to change my attitudes, my feelings towards her and most of all change her life.

I would have changed my view on her, becoming more mature and more cheerful at the same time. It was pleasant to have Claire be happy, as the smile on her face always lights up the other people’s faces. How I wish I could change our past!

I knew that couldn’t happen, but I did promise myself, and Claire, to change in the future – if there was a future for her. I sat next to her bed, and held her hand. Although she was sleeping quietly, it had seemed that she felt my action since she smiled. For those few minutes, we were closer than ever before. Our past had been forgotten.

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