'baby,' she says shakily, 'baby, mummy might have to go to heaven soon.'
the little girl jumps excitedly, up and down, up and down. she spins, and her skirt swirls around her chubby little legs, yellow and vibrant. she's wearing a shirt, with 'you are my sunshine!' scrawled on it messily.
'that's awesome, mummy! will you take some photos for me? will you, will you? I wanna see angels, mummy. can you show me angels, pretty please?' she wraps her tiny, tanned hands around her mother's pale, bony ones. 'please, mummy?'
there's no answer, and after a bit, she stops hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation, and looks up. her mother has a fake, forced smile plastered on her face, but her eyes are miserable, and so very far away. the girl tugs on her mum's sleeve, impatient.
'mummy? will you take some photos?' her mother snaps out of it, lines of fatigue etched on her face. she wraps her other hand protectively over her daughter's tiny ones. her daughter stares up at her, confusion all over her face. 'mummy? are you okay?' the lady bites her lip, and grasps her precious daughter's hands even tighter. tight, so tight, like she never wants to let go.
her knuckles are turning white. 'honey, mummy loves you a lot, more than anything.' the little girl smiles, and it is beautiful, like the light of the moon on a clear night.
'of course! mummy, i love you a lot too!'
'if mummy goes to heaven, she might not be able to come back. you might not be able to see your mummy for a very long time.' a tear slides serenely down her face, silent and peaceful. 'mummy will miss you a lot, but mummy will always love you, okay?'
'okay, mummy. i'll miss you too, mummy.' she lunges forward, and wraps her daughter in pale, trembling arms that are far too thin. the girl looks at her mum's face, and soon, her own face mirrors the sadness shown there. she doesn't like it when her mummy is sad.
the t-shirt she's wearing right now was made in art class, and she gave it to her mum, not realising the size difference. in the end, the little girl wore it herself. every morning, as rays of sun filtered in through the window, her mother kissed her forehead and whispered, 'you are my little ray of sunshine, darling. i love you.' and the little girl would grin, and whisper back the sincerest 'me too.'
suddenly, the little girl brightens up. 'i know, i know! mummy, you can write me a letter with your phone number, and i'll call you every single day! i promise!' she smiles, and laughs. 'silly mummy, don't be sad!'
more tears roll down the mother's face, and she wipes them away half-heartedly, her face glistening slightly with salt and water, and love. so much love.
'all right, baby, i will. remember to call, okay? mummy loves you, always remember that.' and with that, she turns away.
i'm pressed flat against the wall, and when my mother stands up, and kisses my baby sister one last time, i am still pressed against the wall. she exits into the hall, and my sister remains in the living room, giggling happily as another episode of sesame street begins to play on the tv screen.
i try and hide further into the shadows, but my mum's eyes pick up on my presence immediately. she looks so tired, so very tired. we lock eyes, and there are no words between us for a moment. but in that moment, a million thoughts are relayed through her dull eyes, and i want to break down and cry. i'm not old enough for this, i'm not, i'm not, i'm not.
she puts her hands gently on both my shoulders, and i look at her. truly look, and see the sleeplessness, and fear, and the sadness, etched everywhere, in every fibre of her being. she swallows, and opens her mouth. a raspy noise comes out, and she clears her throat. she tries again.
'i'm proud of you. you've grown up, so fast, too fast. i'm sorry. i love you. i...' more tears leak out. she ignores them, and stares at me with an intensity that makes me want to hide, anywhere, anywhere that piercing, watery gaze can't see me. can't stare at me like that. 'i want you to explain to your sister, when she's older. when she asks where her mother is. when she asks why she doesn't have a mummy anymore. gran will take care of you. but you need to do this for me. can you do it? can you do this for me?' my head dips jerkily, and her hands fall from my shoulders. 'i'm so sorry...'
she shuffles down the hallway, and into her room, where it's dark and quiet.
that night, i have nightmares, indescribable, silently petrifying nightmares. my sister dreams of angels, and my mother sleeps silently.
the next morning, the house is silent, and my mother is still.