Secret Sister

Secret Sister - student project

I have known my step sister for nine months. We have shared a room for five. Yet, I still don’t know anything intimate about her. 


I can always tell when she is coming into a room because she has a distinct slow and drawn out sshhh shhhh shuffle along the floorboards. My dad’s footsteps have a similar sound because he wears slippers in the house too, but his are faster, more aggressive. Pissed off. 


The way she moves about the world is like someone has hit the slow motion button on her and it got stuck. Shhh... shhh... shhh... down the hall. Her showers take 45 minutes. When I see her getting ready to get in I rush to take a bathroom break or brush my teeth so I don’t have to wait up for her. There is an almost exaggerated slowness when she puts the dishes away, when she eats her food, when she vacuums the house - all with an unreadable expression on her face… Perhaps it is just the natural resting of her face, or maybe she’s indifferent, but I get the feeling she is perpetually annoyed about life. 


Everything about her is long. Her legs and torso, her eyelashes, her black silky hair that truly seems to cascade down her back. She has full lips set in a natural pout and flawless skin that wouldn’t even know what the definition of pore is. Her limbs have that effortless pubescent hang that make you question if she has bones in her body. It is the soft malleable body of someone who has yet to encounter the stresses of the world. I have seen with my own eyes her slide into the splits on the first try like she was lubricated with soap.


When people speak to her, a lot of the time she just doesn’t respond. No hesitation, no nod of the head, no blink of the eye, just straight deadpan and continues gaming, or drawing or eating. It’s rude, and I give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe sometimes she doesn’t understand, but I think it is also just too much effort to respond. 


She speaks three languages at home. Well, when she speaks.Thai is her mother tongue and she spends most of her speaking allocation chattering to her mum. I must admit, I do admire her because it must be exhausting to have to exist in a space where you are only fluent in one language but have to spend most of your time communicating in Portuguese and English at home and school where you are not fluent in either. 


I am undecided if she is purely unflappable, or a doormat. When my father (her step father) is being difficult she never vocally fights back or argues. But I see her shut down by not answering, and every so often I see a glint of « for fuck’s sake » in her eyes. Not quite an eye roll - I expect that would be too much effort used from her limited stock - but a glimmer of dissent. It is a relief to feel the solidarity for a fleeting second. 


But this quietness must give way to an incredible sense of observation because at 16, she is an incredible artist. Her works range from hyperrealistic portraits to series of anime characters with their own worlds and personalities. She never shows off her art but when we do get a glimpse of it, or a teacher praises her to my dad and her mum, we are always in awe.

To add to the bafflement I have about my stepsister, her diet is so bland despite hailing from one of the most vibrant cultures in South East Asia. Rice, meat, sugar. Her mother cooks us Thai inspired meals every night but she won’t touch spicy food. She drinks pomegranate juice or coke with every meal and I have never seen her drink water. Breakfast consists of cookies and milk, and lunch is noodles with boiled saltless chicken. She is always the last to finish her food. Shhh shhh.


The weird aversion to germs seems exaggerated. She won’t let anyone put anything on her plate from someone else’s, or eat off another fork, or drink from another cup. Her washing has to be in a separate basket because she doesn’t like other people’s underwear to touch her clothes. This also means washing her clothes separately too. 


Our lights are out by midnight, but I fall asleep to the flashing blue light of her gaming computer. Unsurprisingly, she is a night owl.  In the quiet hours of the night while the rest of us sleep, I like to imagine she speaks openly with the internet world. If her mother let her, she would stay up until 4am every day gaming and sleep until 4pm. I  figure it must be hard work to be so consistently slow, because she is the deepest sleeper I have ever met. 


My step sister and I have cohabitated the same space for five months and I am still confused by her being. I know she thinks I am strange for waking early, and how I do my dishes, and how I emotionally retaliate to my father. Maybe I am an intrusion in her life, coming relatively unannounced and taking up some of her parents’ attention. But I don’t know. I don’t know how she feels about anything. Her most common response is a long drawn out shrug with that indiscernible look on her face.