All In The Family
The picture of the little boy on the wall seemed to stare at me as I walked down the stairs. Every morning, I saw my brother that I never knew.
It was a Wednesday, which meant I had to visit her today. I crept down to the dining table and treated to a delicious smell of pancakes. In the backyard, mum was taking in the morning with a cup of coffee. Here was my chance to get out without having to explain. After quickly scribbling a note that said I would be studying at a friend’s house, I quietly left the house.
The peaceful hospital environment welcomed me. I was used to the process by now and knew my way around the place. The nice lady at the reception gave me a visitor ID and accompanied me to the room on the 2nd floor. The room looked the same as when I had last visited, but the mood was uninviting. She sat at the edge of her bed, eyes fixed on me.
“Does mum know you’re here at least this time?” she asked impolitely.
“You know I can’t tell her, Riley. But I have a plan to get you out of here.” I managed a smile. I always had to be cautious around her.
“Whatever,” she rolled her eyes and fell back onto her bed.
“Just trust me. We’ll wait until it gets dark,” I said reassuringly.
The light on my phone indicated eight p.m. It was time. Slowly but surely, I peeped from the window on the door. I knew when the nurses went to their common room for dinner. The halls stood empty and lifeless.
For the first time, I saw a smile on Riley’s face. I held her hand as I scanned my ID in front of the door, and then we were off. As soon as we were out of the hospital, I reluctantly glanced at my phone that now had fifteen new messages from mum.
Riley came to this institute ten years ago. I was six, and she was twelve. Mum told me that Riley would get upset frequently when my mum paid more attention to my brother. Mum sensed Riley was a threat but never talked to me about her. She never let me see her. But she was my sister. I had to help her.
“I’ll get you a motel for a few days until we find you a place to live,”
“No. Can we just go home? Please?” she seemed in a hurry.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Mum…” I began to say.
“I don’t care. She’ll be happy, trust me,” Riley snapped.
There was something steely and determined about that voice, and I obeyed her without question. I decided to ignore the calls and face the music once I reached the house. It was a good thing the walk back was only ten minutes. I did not want my mother to worry for longer than she had to. At the front door, I froze. What would she even say? I had openly disobeyed her. I reached for the doorbell shakily. Riley stood beside me, the smile still on her face, waiting in anticipation.
The door opened, and mum looked at me anxiously.
“Thank God, I was worried you… “. She stopped abruptly on seeing Riley.
She staggered back a step.
“What is she doing here, Rick?” she looked at me, fear in her eyes.
Riley pushed past me and hugged our mother. Mum hesitated at first, then gave in.
“You know what, Rick? You should get us some snacks,” Riley suggested excitedly.
I was finally happy. Everything was coming together. I knew Mum would be fine as soon as she saw Riley. It had been ten years, after all. I raided the grocery store, buying chips, candies, biscuits, anything that caught my fancy. We were going to have a blast tonight.
I returned home with a song in my heart.
The front door lay wide open, and I rushed in, dropping the groceries at the entrance. An eerie silence pervaded our home. I called out to her and my mum. No answer.
Frantic, I ran to the kitchen. It was like no one was ever here.
I started to rush up the stairs, and something caught my eye.
My brother’s picture on the wall. He wasn’t alone anymore.
Holding his hand and with a cheerful smile, stood my mother.