Victor’s little sister was the bane of his life. He wondered, often and bitterly, why his mother had left only a space of one year between them. She competed for everything! If he were two or three years older, instead of a gangly, measly nine, why, he would put her in her rightful place. As it was, she barely let water pass through his lips before she was griping about his teeth. She was a nuisance, alright.
He grumbled beneath his breath as he burned his thumb on the kerosene stove again. She was old enough to be a pain, but he still had to do the more complicated tasks like heating up the evening meal. And she was a girl! He hissed. Life was unfair. Sitting on a low stool, he stared glumly into the sputtering flame of the lantern and listened to the slow bubbling of the pot on the stove. Since his father died, his mother had been forced to expand her trading business into a small restaurant. She hardly ever got home before dark anymore, and Victor had to fend more for himself and his sister. His chores had doubled and his play-time cut in half. They had to get up earlier for school, so their mother could drop them off; and even in school his fun was stilted. It had fallen to him to wash their school uniforms every two days, and their underwear daily; as a consequence, he found himself being careful not to get his socks too dirty. Dirty socks were a pain too, as poorly washed socks always earned him a painful knock. He shrugged and conceded to himself that his little sister kept her socks clean and hardly got dirty. That was expected of her, however, she was afterall, a girl! He had to play football carefully- that was sheer torture.
She came into the dim kitchen now, carefully making her way through the blackened door, silhouetted by the waning evening behind her. Depositing the load of dishes and pots she had just washed into a plastic basket to drain, she immediately began to complain about the now-stained spoon he had used to stir the pot’s contents. He rolled his eyes as he stood up to remove the pot from the stove, carefully placing it on the proper wooden slat. It wouldn’t do to get charcoal on the floor, his sister would gladly pounce on that.
The stove extinguished, they sat down to their evening meal, eating from the pot and blowing fragrant steam into each other’s faces, from the hot spoonfuls they scooped. If he suggested using extra dishes so they could spread out the hot food to cool, his sister would erupt into another nagging fit; washing the dishes would be her duty. He held his peace. Soon, the combination of the warm kitchen and his filling stomach began to make him yawn. It was infectious, for his sister yawned widely as well, and they giggled. The meal consumed, they tidied up the kitchen and argued halfheartedly over the pros and cons of taking a late shower outside. He was against it, for it would mean more water to fetch the next afternoon. Unbathed, and still yawning, they retired to the bedroom. His silly sister was asleep the moment her head touched the pillow; he scoffed, she was like a chicken, unable to stay awake for long past seven p.m., her quarrelsome little mouth silent at last, a small blessing.
Victor pushed a stool against the door to hold it shut, so his mum could push her way in quietly. If she knocked, they would not hear. He lowered the lantern flame, plunging the small room into a cozy, familiar darkness filled with dim shadows; made sure the curtains were tightly drawn and crawled into bed, burrowing snugly against his sleeping sister’s back. Her gentle, steady breathing soothed him, and as he drifted off into sleep, his last barely-articulated thought was that at least he didn’t have to fall asleep alone..