I had forgotten how gorgeous an Indian night could be.
The coconut trees beside me swayed, humbly offering gusts of cool air to the old men who relaxed underneath, lifting their jovial conversations to the skies. Children scurried through the house and tumbled outside, chasing each other with glee and dodging scolding mothers. Wedding parties were always held outdoors, I remembered. It’d been awhile since I’d been to one – the last time I’d been in paradisaical Kerala was four years ago, when I was in the sixth grade. By the front door, my cousin and his new wife bent forward and kissed the hands of his parents as the photographer’s lens snapped, capturing a moment of gratitude, as well as the informal acknowledgment of the new life they’d soon begin.
I leaned on the carved pillars behind me, happy to watch the world go by.
An hour after the burning reds and cheeky yellows of the sunset had finally faded, my uncle drew me to the kitchen, smiling widely.
“Malu, come see this little one! He is from Australia, and he speaks only English, so it would be nice for him to meet someone like you!” My dear uncle gently pushed the child – a boy of five or six – toward me, sliding his small hand in mine and directing us to the living room. Before leaving, Uncle caught my gaze with a spark of amusement in his eyes. “He’s an interesting one,” he whispered. I laughed out loud, causing the little boy skipping by my side to smile shyly and tighten his grip on my hand.
Time sneaked by us, and soon my questions and feigned ignorance of his cherished homeland allowed Daniel to spill into bouts of laughter and sheer delight at the silly American girl he had been introduced to. After a few more gasps and wide-eyed queries on my part (“You mean, you have kangaroos in Australia? Like, real ones?”), the boy sank into a chair.Exhausted from the merriment, we sat in silence for awhile.
“Will you be my big sister?”
The question startled me, but Daniel didn’t seem to notice, instead choosing to elaborate as he swung his legs above the marble floor. “Everybody can be brothers and sisters. Papa says that I should be friends with everyone, but see, I wanna be … family with everyone.” He peered up at me from behind long, dark lashes. “Will you be my sister? And then can I be your brother, too.”
The angelic nature of his question melted my jaded, teenage heart. My quivering lips parted to answer him, barely able to form an “Of course, Daniel,” before I stared at the boy, who, satisfied by my answer, moved on to other matters, such as the television show he had been watching.
I found myself unable to listen to his chatter, still focused on the words that echoed in my heart, increasing in volume with each passing moment. Be family with everyone. He had said them so plainly, with the innocence of a child. Why did it impact me so much?
Lying awake that night, I ran a finger along the cotton sheets, mouthing the words in wonder. How beautiful it must be, I thought, to love every human being, treating them as a brother or sister regardless of who they were and how they acted. I closed my eyes and sighed. Why is it that I could easily love those who were similar to me, like the people who had arrived for the wedding, when I could not for those who angered me or differed from me? We were all brothers and sisters, weren’t we? I wasn’t treating everyone like family; I was picking and choosing who I wanted to love based on how they loved me.
Families do not work that way.
Words from a little boy who wanted to love everyone had changed me. I would do the same, I decided. I’d blunder and lash out from time to time, I knew. But my life would no longer be one of selective love – every day, no matter how another person chose to interact with me, I would treat them as a beloved brother or sister. That was the way to live life, because families cannot break apart, and we, as humans, are all family.
That night, curled up and content, I dreamed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.