Illustration by Sam immanuel R. Macaisa I start to rejoice inside.

“F-Fred!” Rissa gasps for air as I watch her move with all her might. “I’m sorry,” she adds, her voice trailing off like the wind. And then she passes out.

Hearing her say my name in distress for the first time again in so many years feels like cymbals crashing near my ears. All of me wants to see her suffer more.

She deserves every second of this. I want her to experience the feeling of being so close to death. Same as what I went through.

Rissa is not strong.

And I want all who believe in her to tell me that they were wrong all along.

I feel my blood warm up my face, like a volcano restraining the burst. The excitement of watching my little sister plead for my help is exactly what I wish to see. Her perfect image destroyed by some physical vulnerability.

Rissa was diagnosed with Atrial Septal Defect 13 years ago. She underwent an operation to close the hole in her heart. She was encouraged to get involved in athletics, a prescription she embraced, as Rissa got into gymnastics.

Mother then cleared a bedroom in the first floor of our house for Rissa to practice acrobatics. Mother even had the whole family learn CPR just in case Rissa needed it—a skill I forced myself to learn. However, after I had been crippled, the room became mine just so it would be easier for me to go to bed. The house’s wooden floorboards were also a welcome renovation for Rissa and me: if ever she got any one of her mild attacks, it would be hypothetically easier to hear her slump to the floor. And if ever I missed a step with my cane, the loud thud on the wooden floor could easily send someone rushing to help me.

I hate leaving the house. Or, if I were ever outdoors, I would have a hard time even wishing to come back home. The road home is practically a byzantine dirt road, from the main thoroughfare that runs through the center of Baguio up to our house, located atop a hill. The road just outside our meager estate used to be just red, rocky soil with patches of wild foliage straining to survive here and there. Whenever rains ravage the trail it becomes slippery and father would have to carry me. Some years ago—maybe he got tired of carrying me—dad was able to save enough for a few concrete steps along a short expanse of the trail. Rissa also pitched in the whole affair by planting flowers on both sides of the steps. That was how it started with her and the plants.

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I had been quietly reading a book on the swing when Rissa decided to disturb me. Emerging from the back door of our house some 30 minutes ago, dragging her pink satchel-full of gardening tools.

The summer sun was beating on our garden. Rissa, clad in an apron and with trowel in hand, loosened the soil around her plants. It had become her hobby as we grew up, but more importantly, gardening had become her weapon whenever she did not want me anywhere near her. I could not go to the flowerbeds since I could easily get tripped. We stopped talking to each other when we turned 11. There was something inside of me that never failed to seethe whenever she was around. This afternoon however, I have to endure her. Father was away in Singapore on business, and mother is at the market. Rissa and I had to be alone again, just like when my life took a detour.

My life made its huge turn when I was 11. If there was anyone to blame, it was Rissa. Grandma had just come from Manila, so I told Rissa that morning that it would be nice if we went to the strawberry farm at La Trinidad to get some strawberries to welcome the old lady. She agreed and we pedaled off on our bikes.

At the farm, we paid 120 pesos for two baskets and started picking the scarlet berries. My basket was almost full when I heard a hissing sound. I called out to Rissa and asked her to stay close as I feared that there might be a stranger who wished to hurt us. But she just laughed it off and told me I was being silly.

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“Strawberry farm, Fred. Surely no stranger would take so much trouble just to hurt someone in such a cute and cozy place like this,” and then she smirked at me.

I was looking out to the rolling hills in the distance when from the corner of my eye, I saw Rissa’s hand drop the shovel with a loud thud. I thought she had accidentally done it, but soon, she also lost grip of the tulips in her other hand. I put my book down only to find that her complexion had already turned pale. She seemed like a withering balloon running out of vital gas. I found myself unable to move as I wondered what’s happening to her. She lost strength and fell to the ground. Rissa clutched her chest, the bones in her hand showing the tension beneath the skin. She looked at me, wide-eyed. Her mouth fell open, and, breathing very heavily, called out to me—perhaps pretty much in the same way I did back then.

The hissing sound was a reticulated python’s. The snake, although non-venomous, gave me a near-crippling fracture when it wrapped my young leg in its vise-like coils. The irregular diamond-shaped scales glistened in the sun as I pummeled the snake with my basket. And miraculously, my feeble thrashing drove the serpent away.

I screamed Rissa’s name as I watched my knee bleed from a row of tiny holes. I cried in pain and waited for her rescue, but she did not run to my aid right away.

My left leg would not have been so crushed had Rissa rescued me sooner. That incident left me bitter, and life changed for my sister and me. It took me almost a year to recover, and I had to stop school for that. Because of my injury, most people think of me as Rissa’s little brother. I can’t walk properly, much less run, as my whole being relied on what really amounted to a twig. She was the sole reason for it all; her negligence destroyed my normal life. Now, people always say she’s the stronger one when it comes to facing trials: the brighter one when it comes to studying and the more blessed one when it comes to having friends, and of course, she had a boyfriend to boot. I have always kept mum whenever people talked like that, but their words would come back and haunt me at night. I took people’s words as truth just because I can’t come up with any arguments of my own. I just want to be normal, but Rissa always wins. My friend Gerry said that I was being jealous, but I’m not?it’s just life being unfair.

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Tears are streaming from Rissa’s round little eyes—her face dead-white. I can even hear her heart beating its last.

But then, I move. Hell, I still don’t know why, but I suddenly stand up, as though a huge magnet is drawing my feet toward her. A few limping steps after I stumble because I do not have my cane with me. I rise in a squirming fashion and do CPR for her. But every breath into her mouth only fuels my desire to see her paralyzed, or worse—.

Minutes after. I call the hospital, the ambulance whisks her away. Dad, rushing from the airport, hugs me tightly when he sees me outside the emergency room. Mother can only embrace me when I say that Rissa is okay.

I feel a staccato in my chest triumphant and proudly look at the sky embracing the sunset. And just as the much-praised wonder that is the sun must give way to the night, Rissa must also falter. And just as the night is welcomed by many as a sign of rest, so is it also the time for me to step back and stop proving myself.

It is a wonderful day.

Rissa is not invincible after all.

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