The following is a piece of short fiction.
I cried every night for three weeks when my parents told me I was going to be a big sister. I cried for all the normal reasons a four year old cries upon hearing this news: the overwhelming and persistent dread of newfound responsibility, the sinking feeling that Amma and Appa would forget about me, and worst of all, the terror of what it would be like to share literally any of my toys. After all, Sara from daycare had just been gifted a baby brother, and her parents had taken every single one of her toys away and given it to the new baby. “You’re a big sister now”, they had told her, “You’ll need to learn how to make sacrifices for your family.”
I was confused when my parents brought home Bindu. She was almost entirely black, much darker than me. The only parts of her that weren’t were the undersides of her hands and feet, which were a rosy white. She was too small to make sense of and looked up at me with tiny, beady eyes as if to say “Hello, I’m here to ruin your life!” Oh, also, she was a cat. “This… came out of you?” I reluctantly asked my mother. My father responded “Yes. And we will love her with all of our hearts.”
Bindu wasted no time in learning how to annoy me. She would follow me around the two-bedroom apartment where we lived and whenever I wasn’t looking, steal something of mine and take it back to her corner of the living room where she slept. Sometimes she’d steal my right shoe right as I was getting ready to play outside. Other times she would go to the bathroom and deliberately deliver her gross, pee-stained litter on my lap as some kind of feline sign of dominance. I remember one specific occasion when she ripped up a drawing I had been working on for two full days and was planning on submitting to my class’s show and tell the next week. It was a drawing of our family: just me, Amma, and Appa, and not Bindu, because as far as I was concerned, Bindu was barely a valued member of our household.
In spite of all of Bindu’s relentless awfulness towards me, Amma loved Bindu. That, of course, only made me hate her more. When Amma came home from work, the first thing she would do is find Bindu, usually carry her to the living room, and stroke her fur gently for 20, sometimes 30 minutes. It’s not as if I wanted to be pet by my mother for half an hour, but it would have at least been nice to be asked. On Bindu’s third “birthday” – the day my parents brought Bindu home for the first time – Amma spent an entire month’s salary on a gold plated cat tree for Bindu. For my birthday the same year, she got me a pair of socks with kittens on them, perhaps guessing that I was in fact warming up to the newest member of the family. She guessed wrong.
Over time, Bindu’s tightly wound grip over the family loosened, and we returned to a sense of normalcy. Bindu no longer ripped up my drawings or peed on me. I would even, on rare occasions, tolerate her company when I did homework or played with my friends. Bindu eventually stopped stealing my things, and once even brought my shoes to me as I was getting ready to play outside. She then watched me play from the window in our kitchen, and in one moment, tenderly placed her right paw on the glass, as if to wave at me from afar. Against all odds, Bindu had made me smile. I waved back, tilting my head and shooting her a grin, but she darted away, perhaps embarrassed for putting herself out there for the first time.
By the time I entered high school, Bindu and I were inseparable. Bindu would rush to my feet every day after school, circling me for a moment before falling to the ground on her side, demanding pets. I would always provide them. Bindu also kept me out of trouble with my parents. On one such occasion, my parents were both out at work and I had the day off. I secretly invited Kyle Steinman, a boy that I liked from my biology class, over to listen to the latest Norah Jones album, and snuck him in through the back entrance of the home. We laid on my bed and listened to music for a while before he asked if he could kiss me. Right before it happened, though, Bindu jumped on the bed and smacked her tail straight into Kyle’s nose. Right then, I heard two honks as my parents pulled into the driveway. I ushered Kyle into my closet, where he stayed for the next two hours before I could safely sneak him out the back door. In the midst of all my teenage angst and uncertainty, I knew one thing was true: Bindu always had my back.
I moved across the country for school, in part because Parsons was the best art school that I was accepted to and also in part to spite my increasingly controlling parents, who did not at all support my decision to be an artist. Perhaps the most difficult decision they grappled with, though, was when I decided to take Bindu with me. Leading up to the big move, Appa and I would regularly get into screaming matches about how I was tearing the family apart by forcing Bindu to go to a new, unfamiliar place where she would have no support structure. He didn’t understand that at that point, Bindu was my only support system, what with my parents being incorrigible and Kyle Steinman cheating on me at the senior year all night party, that two-faced lying snake. Bindu, who had once been my greatest enemy, had slowly but surely turned into my best friend.
Bindu was the best college roommate I could have asked for. She never touched my things and would always respectfully leave me alone when I would have to study for an exam or have a romantic partner over. She did still, on one occasion, scratch up a canvas I needed to submit for a final project, but the professor lauded me for my rugged approach to my artistry, and that earned me the highest grade in my entire class. Even in her worst moments, she was looking out for me.
On my 23rd birthday, Bindu was diagnosed with bone cancer. I got the call sitting in my tiny Brooklyn studio apartment with Bindu lazing on the couch. I had seen the signs for a few months – Bindu walked with a limp and had far less energy – but I always just assumed these were normal signs of old age. The vet told me that bone cancer was rare in cats and that Bindu was probably in a lot of pain. Her left hind leg would have to be amputated, for fear of the cancer metastasizing. After the surgery, Bindu was never the same. She became fully lethargic, rarely eating, and appearing weak and sickly. She would still limp up to me and fall on her side, demanding pets, but the mischievous twinkle in her eye was gone. I could tell that she yearned for the way things used to be, when life was simple and things didn’t hurt so much. I wish I could express to her how much I wanted that too.
One morning, Bindu didn’t wake up.
I took the next three days at my stupid desk job off, went through 12 pints of Ben and Jerry’s, and cried nonstop. My only reprieve was answering the phone when the Uber Eats driver called letting me know that my three additional pints of Ben and Jerry’s were sitting outside my doorstep. My parents flew out to New York so we could have a proper ceremony – cremation and all – both lamenting the loss but also celebrating the time that Bindu had touched our lives. We spread Bindu’s ashes at the Gowanus Canal, which my apartment overlooked. Bindu loved to watch the boats pass by and meow and paw at them through the glass. Somehow, that felt right, though I suppose I’ll never really know why she was meowing.
After the funeral, Amma told me about the miscarriage. As I learned, I was supposed to be a big sister the night my parents brought home Bindu, but there had been complications with the pregnancy and the baby – my baby sister – was lost. My parents were devastated, but were more worried about how I would handle the tragedy at such a young age. They made some calls, and adopted a tiny black kitten. They named her with what they had chosen for my unborn baby sister – Bindu. I held my mother and cried into her arms. In that moment, a lifetime of memories raced through my mind. I thought about how silly I was to not let Bindu play with my toys, how jealous I was when Bindu would steal Amma time away from me, how selfish I was when I took Bindu away from my parents when I left for college. I thought about how anxious I was when I learned I would be an older sister, and how relieved I was when I learned I wouldn’t be one. As it turns out, I had a younger sibling all along. It wasn’t the one I expected, and certainly wasn’t the one I wanted, but she was my sibling, and I was hers. I’ll keep her with me for the rest of my life. My sister, Bindu.