If we’re running out of time, if we are that’s fine,

Just don’t make me ride by myself.

So ’till it all slows down,

Ride with me round and round on this carousel.

-Carousel by Sam Tsui

I was four, you were just a few days old.

All I knew in the past few days was that Mum was in the hospital, and you had arrived. From where? I couldn’t fathom that you came from Mum’s body, so I settled on the thought that it was magic. Only pure magic could have resulted in you.

Bright hospital lights and grey walls–I entered the room with my shoes shuffling on the floor’s surface. Curious eyes and a thudding heart, I went over to the hospital bed where Mum was sitting. She looked tired, but so incredibly happy.

“Grace, meet your brother, Mark,” Dad said, face beaming with pride. You were swaddled in fabric, held in his arms. I stepped closer, wondering what you would be like. Reaching my hand towards you, I hesitated. But to my surprise, a tiny hand grasped for my finger, small and dainty. Like a doll’s hand, I thought.

“Your jiejie is here to see you,” Dad cooed, a huge smile blooming across his face that I thought his facial muscles would ache from being that wide. He beckoned me to inch closer, and peer into your face. Your eyes were closed, the light from our surroundings too bright to even crack an eyelid open.

“A fairy,” I had said, still staring at your hand. Your fingers had managed to curl around my thumb, holding me tight like a lifeline. Such strength from a baby, I was deeply fascinated.

At that moment, I knew you were going to change my life for the better.

When I was nine, the five-year-old you was the brightest star in our midst. Nothing could change my mind about that. I was certain this was true.

Bright clothes and gummy smiles, what more would a child like to be? Dreams of aspiring astronauts who fight space aliens and valiant dragon-slayers coexisted with extravagant tea parties hosted by royalty in their grand palaces filled with gold and precious jewels. Your imagination was the most powerful thing you held, a world where only you knew how to navigate.

I entertained you, of course. At the age of nine, there was nothing more I could do. A quiet child whose favourite activity was reading books and completing jigsaw puzzles. I guess the idea of being more productive aided in spending time with you.

Our parents were glad we didn’t have a sibling relationship full of mean remarks and absolute disdain. They had heard some stories of older kids wanting to have zero connection with their younger siblings, having told their parents: “No one asked if I wanted a younger sibling”. It was their greatest fear if it ever happened between us. Thankfully, there wasn’t such a thing in our household.

We were walking along the streets after buying treats from the nearby convenience store. Mum had trusted us to safely return home if we followed the pavement and crossed the road with other people.

We stood at the end of a zebra crossing, waiting for the light to go green. The lights were malfunctioning and we stood for longer than usual. When it finally did, I faced another issue.

Jie,” you said with a sour candy in your mouth, tugging the side of my shirt. You always preferred the tanginess of those compared to the sickeningly sweet ones. “I’m scared.”

“Of what, Mark? It’s just cars.”

“They’re so fast.”

“Take my hand.” I stretched out to take yours, looking at you expectantly. Your hand was small, barely able to grasp around my palm but I held it anyway.

“If you’re holding me, you’ll always be safe.” With firmness in my voice, I pulled you until you were touching my shoulder. “Remember that, okay? You can let go when it’s over.”


“Good. Let’s go.”

It was only until we stood outside the house gate, that I realised your hand was still in mine.

I was 14, you were 10.

If our parents thought that teenage angst wouldn’t be that bad, they were utterly wrong. Despite warnings of terrible fights and moody responses from their friends, no one could have prepared them for me.

Year 7 was actually pretty great. Having made friends who made me feel seen was possibly the best thing ever, my grades were pretty decent and I was enjoying it all. Concerts, club activities and meetings, I was happy with myself.

But when Year 8 rolled around, I was flung into the foreign lands of an entirely different class which comprised students I barely talked to or even knew of. Separation from my dear friends was an absolute horror, my deepest fear creeping up to me.

Dad was open to this, he saw this as an opportunity to socialise with more people. “It’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone, dear. It’ll be fun, I promise.”

In my mind, it was like I was trapped in a fortress and on the other side, was freedom and sunlight. Oh, to feel the warmth of happiness in my chest. Why was it so hard?

How unlucky I was to be stuck with people who had poison laced in their tones. They never had anything nice to say.

“Did you see how confidently put her hand up to answer? Everyone knows, and she got it wrong. How pathetic.”

“She looks so bad. Did anyone tell her that cleanser is a thing?”

“I bet her parents can’t even look at her.”

Their harsh and loud whispers pierced my chest, leaving a wound that would never heal. Venom dripped from their lips with no intention of treating with some decency. Surely, I was going to bleed into oblivion and fade into the shell of the person I once was. I was broken, no word of encouragement was going to bring my previous self back.

My grades began to slip, I grew resentful of myself. There was never a day where I hadn’t wished for things to go back the way it was.

You knew something was up, the way I barely spoke to anyone, how I refused to come out of my room. I hated to initiate conversation, muttering all replies under my breath. You still tried to connect with me, your jiejie. Yet, I slammed doors in your face and yelled all sorts of horrible things towards our parents.

I was unhappy, terribly so.

One day, after staying cooped up in my room, there was a knock on the door. I refused to budge, ignoring your earnest rapping against the surface. It had been a terrible day, another maths test results came back with red crosses glaring back at me, the daily comments of poison had hit me hard again.

A few moments later, your knocking ceased. In its place, I heard a sound from beneath my door. Sparing a glance, a paper slid underneath the door with your handwriting sprawled on it. Black ink and surrounded by multiple colourful stickers, I read the sentence you penned.

Don’t cry, Jiejie. I’m always here for you.

For whatever reason, I crumbled at your words. A single sentence had me reduced to a messy puddle of tears. I held that note tightly, letting my tears fall until I had none left.

I was 17, you were 13.

Your first day of secondary school, I knew that you were going to be the most popular kid in the class. Your kind smile and friendly nature had brought nothing but joy, certainly only good things would happen.

Our parents, who were concerned about my secondary school experience having some sort of impact on yours, sent me to make sure you were okay settling in. I was to walk you to your classroom each day until you stepped into the place without hesitation. To ease you into it, I joked that I was practically your personal bodyguard. You cracked a smile, but I still noticed a sense of worry.

“Have fun,” I said, dropping you off at your classroom. We stood at the door, greeted with the view of other students seated at their desks. “There are so many kids here already. You can say hi to them.”

Your reply threw me off guard. “What if they’re all mean like those awful people were to you?”

I managed to laugh, an ache taking up space behind my ribs. It definitely wasn’t easy, my wounds still stung like they were freshly opened from time to time. With great difficulty, I trudged through the mud, trying to fight my way. In the end, I picked myself up. Improved grades and finding solace in my friends from other classes had me thinking that all of it was not so bad.

“They might be,” I answered quietly, patting your shoulder. “If they are, you’re strong enough to handle them, right?”

A bunch of 13-year-olds could be rude, and horribly unkind, but did it really matter to you? I knew you could stand your ground, and never let your self-esteem waver in the presence of cruel actions. I knew you wouldn’t end up like me, I never wanted you to be like me.

You deserved to be happy, free from terrible loneliness and hurt all raging inside. That was the last thing I wanted for you.

“Really?” I could hear the sense of bravery picking up in your tone. I understood that you’d make it out fine.

“I promise.”

One last glance over your shoulder and you entered an entirely different world. I believe you later told me that it was the most fun day you ever had.

I was 22, you were 18.

I had pretty decent exam results to get a spot at a private university, I was coping well with the challenges that sometimes stressed me out. I was satisfied with what I had. On the other hand, you were dealing with something different.

Pouring everything to get into your dream university, you plunged deep into an ocean of hard work and study sessions. To me, you were narrowly able to keep your head afloat to survive the waves. But with the rough waves and aggressive thunderstorms that roared, you emerged victorious.

You were so happy when the acceptance email popped into your inbox, a wide grin tugging your lips upwards and for a second, I saw that little kid again. A smile that lit up the entire world. If someone had tucked you away, they would have been accused of shrouding the earth in utter darkness. Their only source of light snuffed out.

I was immensely proud, the feeling of joy and pride seeping into my veins and I watched you celebrate. But the switch to feeling melancholic about leaving home from the excitement of receiving the acceptance letter was jarring.

“It would be different,” you cried. “Nothing would be the same.”

I grasped your hand in mine, and for the first time in a long while, I realised how small my hand was compared to yours. You weren’t a little kid anymore. And yet, you are, right? To me, you always will be.

“That’s the thing about life, Mark. We’re always changing.”

“I can’t be apart from you,” you sobbed, burying your head into my shoulder. Your tears were decorating my jacket.

“Remember that time when you were talking as if I was with you, but I really wasn’t?”

I was away at one of those school camps I actually liked, full of participants who genuinely wanted to make the best out of it. Three days and two nights were not that long, but to you, I was on a weary journey to a distant land.

With the habit of striking conversation with me whilst in the car, you began talking about some book series you had read. Mum was puzzled, as you had addressed me several times and continued without pauses.

“Who are you talking to?” she asked. “Grace isn’t here.”

“Oh…” you trailed off, the thought of realisation barreling into you like a train chugging along a railway track. You hung your head low and spoke quietly. “I thought Jie was here.”

“Your sister’s at a school camp, remember?” Mum said, careful glances directed towards you as she manoeuvred the car at the junction. “She won’t be back until Sunday.” There were several beats of silence until Mum filled it. “What were you saying again?”

“Never mind,” you had said, shifting in your seat to turn your gaze to passing buildings and vehicles. Your face showed no expression, what just happened did not occur. But you cried later at home, sobbing into your pillow at midnight. I know because Mum told me.

“I’m always just one call away. It won’t be so different,” I said, tracing circles into your hands. “Treat it like a school camp, a really long one.”

It was going to be difficult for us to be apart, unreal even. But I knew that you would be okay. We both would turn out all right.

“It doesn’t feel real.”

“Yeah,” I breathed. “It doesn’t.”

Sending you off at the airport still felt like a fever dream. Families around us were also bidding farewell to those hopping on aircrafts to leave home. Mum and Dad held you tight before letting you stand with your luggage at the side. Your whole life seemingly packed into two massive suitcases.

You wrapped your arms around me, giving me a hug that I thought would crush my ribs. “I’ll call when I get there.”

“Don’t be a menace.”

“I’ll miss you, Jie.”

“I’ll miss you too,” I said, feeling the tears pricking my eyes, breath caught in my throat. I had to swallow a gulp of air to steady myself, to not let my walls crash all at once. It was too much, my system kicked into overdrive. “Take care of yourself, okay? I’m seeing you in two months.”

“That’s eight weeks.”

“Not that long if you keep yourself busy,” I said with raised eyebrows, nudging your shoulder. “I don’t doubt that’s what you’d do.”

“It’ll be okay?”

“I’m sure of it.” A nod of my head and my hand slipped into yours to give them a squeeze. “Now run along, don’t want to miss your flight, right?”

You gave a cheeky grin, playful in tone. “But that means I’ll stay.”

Without hesitation, I smacked your arm. “And waste money on your airfare and accommodation? Absolutely not.”

With one last farewell hug, I released you to watch you go. You had let go first, tears brimming in your eyes. but you bravely held them in. Waving you a safe journey in the air, my arm ached until we could hardly see you anymore.

For a split second, I swore you stopped in your tracks. Whatever the reason, I don’t know. To turn around and see us one last time or simply process your feelings, you heaved a breath and pulled yourself together. Striding further into the distance, the outline of your figure grew smaller until you disappeared from our line of sight.

Breathing gets easier by the day, my heart no longer aches in your absence. I’m learning to be happier, to smile more and live carefree. I think of you a lot, but your daily video calls make up for it. I feel happy, despite you living an ocean away.

When we’re in our 90s, I hope we’re still silly and strange, just as we have always been. I can never imagine a world without you, for how endlessly mundane that world would be. As a matter of fact, I frankly cannot recall what life was like before you, whether it was warm and fuzzy. Maybe, I just think my life never started until you were in it.

Take care, little one. I’ll see you really soon.

Written By: Zhen Li

Edited By: Ashely

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