When I was a kid I was mystified by the existence of my sister. Why, for example, had my parents wanted a second child? Was I not good enough? And why did it have to be a girl? These questions bothered me and because I never got sensible answers from my parents, I took it out on my sister. Demri was four years younger than me and so it wasn’t hard to convince her that she was invisible. I pretended to get a fright whenever she spoke and then I looked straight through her. Demri ran off to ask my mother if she could see her.
“What’s wrong with him that he cannot see you?” my mother wondered.
Demri returned out of breath.
“Ma says there’s something wrong with you,” she announced.
“You’re transparent in the dark,” I said.
Demri ran off to my mother and returned in triumph a minute later.
“Ma says you’re right,” she said. “We’re all transparent in the dark.”
“Yes,” I said, “but you’re adopted.”
“I’m not!” she cried.
“Why’s your hair like that then?” I asked. “Why are there no pictures of you when you were just born?”
Demri wailed like a banshee and my mother came into the garden. I scurried up a tree and sat in a forked branch beyond her reach.
“We moved just after your birth,” my mother told Demri. “Plus, you were sick.”
“I’m adopted!” she wailed.
My mother came and stood beneath the tree.
“Come down here,” she said calmly and lit a cigarette.
“You’re going to hit me,” I said.
“Of course I’m going to hit you,” she said, more calmly. “I’m going to hit you even harder if you don’t come down right now.”
But I stayed up the tree. My mother went into the house to comfort Demri, and then she returned.
“How long do you think you can sit up there?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
Demri and Grandma stood behind her. Demri made the universal sign for a hiding with her fingers.
“Look what she’s doing!” I yelled.
“She’s invisible, remember?” my mother said. “How can you see what she’s doing?”
By then I was aching from sitting in the narrow fork. They went away and I waited. I toyed with the idea of climbing down but it was obvious that the standoff had to be broken by something else. I wished it would rain and that there’d be lightning, that my mother would come and beg me to get down out of the tree, but nothing happened. Demri came and played on the lawn where I could see her. She did cartwheels and ran in circles while I ached up in the tree. Then she fetched a picture of herself as a baby. My mother had shown it to her.
“I’m not adopted,” she insisted.
“You were adopted when you were smaller than that,” I said. “That picture was taken later.”
“You were adopted!” she cried.
“I know,” I sighed. “We both were.”
Demri was stunned by this new possibility and began to cry. My mother came from the house again.
“I called your father,” she lied. “He said he’d deal with you when he got home.”
“I don’t know how he plans to do that,” I said. “I’m not coming down from here. Ever.”
“Look,” my mother said, “you’re going to come down eventually. If you don’t come down by yourself, you’ll die up there and fall down. But down you’ll come.”
Of course she was right. But long before I died, someone from the school would call. My mother would have a hard time explaining that I’m hiding up a tree because she’d threatened to hit me. News of this would leak out. I’d be famous. People would talk about the boy who refused to come down from the tree. There’d be a picture of me in the papers, taken from far away. The old woman up the street would bring a hamper of food. Men with coats would come and talk to my parents inside the house.
“Jesus wants you to love your sister,” Grandma said.
She’d pulled up a chair and now sat knitting in the shade.
“Sure,” I said. “He was alone. He never had to put up with a sister.”
Grandma put down her knitting and lit a cigarette.
“Remember how your mother said that we’re all transparent?”
“We’re all alone, too,” she said. “We’re all adopted.”
My father came home from work an hour later. I watched with some trepidation as his car turned into the driveway. My buttocks were numb and I hurt all over. I’d begun to feel like an orphan myself, thinking about what my grandmother had said. Now my father went in through the back door, and then nothing happened. I expected him to come marching out, but he didn’t.
When it was almost dark he came and stood beneath the tree. He was smoking a cigar.
“How long have you been up there?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “Since 3 o’clock.”
He nodded and seemed to think this over.
“Well,” he said at length, “it’s supper time. Maybe you should come down now.”
“What about Demri being adopted?” I asked.
“I heard about that,” he said. “What do you think?”
“Are you going to—you know—like, hit me?”
My father rolled the cigar between his fingers as he savoured it.
“Remind me,” he said. “How long have you been up there?”
Then he turned and went back into the house.