By Joey Yap

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“We may have our differences, but nothing’s more important than family.” – Miguel, from Coco

Eliyah let out a frustrated groan as she reached the front of the kitchen sink. She was about to begin the task of washing her lunch tupperware until her eyes caught sight of another similar tupperware, but of a different colour. While her one was a fiery brick red, the one in the sink was that of a steel blue.

‘Why can’t he just listen for once?’ she thought as she heaved a weary sigh, feeling irritation  creep into her system. 

She isn’t sure what happened, but Daniel started becoming more and more – for lack of better word – arrogant. He used to be a good son, heeding their mother’s advice and doing everything likewise. He used to. It may have been his inflated ego ﹘ from the countless awards he received as a result of outstanding performance in terms of education, sports and extracurricular activities ﹘ that made him act as such.

Nonetheless, she dutifully washed and dried both tupperwares along with the two spoons which were used for lunch by the both of them. Eliyah knows that deep down, if she follows suit in not washing them, her mother would surely start nagging at her when she arrives home from work; something she doesn’t particularly enjoy much.

After placing the tupperwares in their respective cabinets and the spoons in the drawer designated for cutleries, she trudged up the stairs, taking two steps at a time until she reached the first door on her left. 

She twisted the knob, pushing the door open to find her older brother on his computer, again. The room was immersed in darkness, the only source of light coming from the computer screen, which illuminated the entire space.

“Could you wash your stuff next time, please?” she pleaded, knowing that Dan isn’t wearing his headphones at the moment.

The only response she received was a nonchalant hum which could literally mean anything. When she attempted to get him to respond again, she got his usual ‘Yeah yeah’ along with a disinterested, blank expression plastered on Dan’s face. She sighed, knowing very well that he’s bound to repeat it again. After all, bad habits are hard to break.

Eliyah could only close the door shut, tiredly walk towards her room in favour of a nice, warm shower and a short power nap.

————————-

Eliyah usually spent Saturday afternoons doing a weekly upkeep of the upper floor which includes sweeping, vacuuming and mopping the tiled floors. And let’s not forget about cleaning the bathroom as well. She thought it was fair since her mother handles the upkeep on the lower floor now which lightens the burden on her shoulders.

In doing so, she has to will herself to endure the mess in Daniel’s room over time. From the growing pile of clothes on his bed to the balls of crumpled paper and to the candy wrappers on his desk. While it isn’t her first time experiencing this, on many occasions, her wishes of her brother being a little more tidy had apparently not been granted yet.

At one point, she used to wonder how he was still able to live in such a mess. Although it isn’t as horrible as a pig sty, the condition of the room seems to get on her nerves every single time.

“Your room is a mess. How many times do I have to tell you that?” Eliyah grumbled, cleaning up the mess that her brother made. She didn’t even notice it when she came in the other day, overwhelmed by lassitude from the intensive revision class.

“What do you mean, El?” Daniel drawled, eyes drawn towards the computer screen loading for another round of PUBG.

“I meant these,” she stated, emphasising on the crumpled papers and candy wrappers, “and your clothes over there.”

“Chill out, I’ll sort them later.” he replied, about to put on his headphones but was interrupted by her ever fast reflex.

 He was blatantly grasping air until he realised where his headphones were; with her, Daniel alarmingly shouted.“I need them, my match is starting already!” 

“I need to start sweeping the floors! Unless you want to volunteer yourself?” she bellowed out in apparent annoyance. She’s had enough with his attitude. 

Daniel could only huff out a disgruntled sigh before reluctantly exiting his match and proceeding to settle himself on the bed, allowing Eliyah to begin with her weekly upkeep.

————————- 

Everything happened too quickly, to the extent that Eliyah wasn’t sure how she ended up standing there, cradling her maimed cheek that is sure to be imprinted with an angry, red handprint.

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She had just entered through the front door, feeling sluggish from classes and extracurricular activities, when her mother’s voice reverberated, calling out her name from where she could guess was the kitchen. It was around half past six in the evening, her mother probably just finished cooking and was about to begin tidying up.

Poking her head around the archway leading to the kitchen, true to her words, her tired eyes caught sight of her mother in the midst of washing the non-stick pan. On top of the granite kitchen tops were three plates of dishes which were supposedly for dinner. 

Looking over her shoulder, her mother said, “Dinner is ready, El. Go fetch your brother, please.”

Gathering whatever remaining energy left in her, Eliyah headed towards the bottom of the staircase and shouted for her brother to come downstairs. 

“Dan! Dinner is ready, get down here!” Gaining no response, she attempted two more times but it was to no avail. Something within her snapped, as if a switch had just turned on which left her in a state that was beyond furious.

She made a quick dash towards her brother’s room, messy as always, to do one thing on her mind; remove every plug from its socket. An indignant cry soon followed, leaving her, face to face with the bane of her existence, as of now.

“What are you doing? I was in the middle of a match!” Daniel exasperatedly pointed out, taking off his headphones.

“To hell with your matches! I was calling you for dinner!” she shouted back, “And of course, as per usual, your stupid head -”

“Shut up, already!”

Before anyone can fathom what was happening, a loud smack was heard. Eliyah felt the telltale sting from the slap her brother delivered. He slapped her. Their parents’ never exerted physical punishment on them before, but she couldn’t believe her own sibling would be the first to do so.

“El? Dan? What happened up there?” their mother asked from downstairs.

Realisation gradually seeped in. Daniel eventually managed to get a grasp, the cold reality, of what he had just done. “El, I -”

 “Save it. I’m going over to dad’s place.”

————————- 

“Hey, kid.” a gruff voice greeted. 

“What are you doing here?” Eliyah asked, closing the door to one of the bedrooms.

“It’s my apartment,” a quipped reply followed, “also, your mother called me. So, I took an early flight back.”

Eliyah’s parents filed for a divorce, citing irreconcilable differences as the reason. Her father moved into his own apartment thereafter. Despite their differences, they managed to remain good friends and are still on good terms with one another. He continues to financially provide for the family every so often.

Her father looked away from the screen of his laptop, patting the empty space on the couch next to him. “Come over here.”

“Dan is feeling guilty. You know that, right?” he spoke, fingers hovering over the keyboard.

She sighed. Well it has been a peaceful week ever since she came over to her father’s apartment. So that should be enough time for her brother to reflect. “What else is new? I just don’t understand why he’s like that.”

“Have you ever tried overlooking his flaws? Looking past his gamer personality?” her father asked, prompting some answers from her.

“If you’re telling me to look at things from a wider perspective, I tried. But why is it that nothing gets past his thick skull?!” she complained.

Before she could protest further, he held up his palm, “Try recalling the times where he helped you escape your mother’s wrath, the times he solved your homework questions, or the times he treated you to your favourite desserts.” he paused, “You should also be glad he’s the person who prefers to be home instead of being out there. Who knows what shady deals he could’ve gotten himself into?”

She gasped, her eyes widening as she slowly began to discern her father’s statement. Her father closed the laptop in front of him, shifting to face her, giving her his full attention.

“El, picture this,” he said, clearing his throat, “when your mother and I aren’t around anymore. Both of you only got each other.” 

Her eyes watered, tears threatening to spill as she brought her knees close to her chest. And as she bawled her eyes out, each sob wrecking her lithe figure, her father pulled her into his warm embrace, in an effort to comfort her.

“I know he has his own shortcomings, but as siblings, you have to tolerate each other. Blood is thicker than water, remember?” he whispered, patting her brown waves with his right hand while the other was wiping the tears from her eyes.

As Eliyah began to quell, her father uttered the very same line she’s heard of multiple times whilst she was growing up, “We’re family. Always near right beside you, never far away from you.”

“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family. ” – Jim Butcher

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