The Other Pillar


I join my mother on the couch after my study session and let the movie play. We have been trying these Sunday bonding times together where we watch movies every Sunday night and so far, I guess it’s working. Except for the fact that for the past month, my mother has been talking about having an adopted daughter, which I feel is quite an insensitive idea.

“So, Myra, about the girl…” I don’t let her finish. “ I don’t want to talk about her.” I say, eyes glued to the screen.

“Honey, why do you always have this kind of reaction? Please give it a chance-”

“I never will.” I say curtly, glaring at my mother. “I can’t believe you want this. She was your daughter.” My hands clench and I bite my lip from saying more. What kind of nonsense is this?

“I’m going to bed,” I say and quickly head into my room, slamming the door behind me. How can she be so insensitive? I don’t understand.

I slump onto the floor, exhausted. I am so tired. So tired of everything. Of holding in my emotions, of missing her, of wanting her to come back. What’s the point anymore? I used to love putting up a brave front so no one could hurt me. I think that only worked because I had her by my side.

Aeiley. That was her name. It was such a beautiful yet forgotten name. I still can’t say it, it would seem as if I was calling out to her like she was here.

And she wasn’t. I wish she was. I really did.

Two weeks later, my mother calls me to the living room. “Myra, meet Iris” My mum says, smiling at a girl that looks about my age at our apartment doorstep. I stare at her and hold her gaze for a long time. What a joke. What a hell of a joke. “She’s going to be joining us for the time being, or even longer!” My mother exclaims. Curse her, curse her so bad. No one will ever, ever replace what I had.

“Uh… it’s nice to meet you.” The girl says shyly. I don’t say anything, there’s nothing good to say to her. “Come on in Iris,” My mother inclines, and Iris’ shoes scrape against the entrance. Like she’s entered our family.

Fingernails bite down on my flesh. I will be strong, it’s my last resort not to break in front of her. I don’t smile or I cry. I just stare.

“Myra, why don’t you show Iris your room?” My mother asks, and looks at me with a look that says please just try. Why is she so desperate? Could she not just try to put herself in my shoes for once?

Don’t worry or stress over things that you can’t control, Aeiley would say. I swallow and manage to strain a, “Fine”.

I head to my room, not caring whether Iris follows, which she does and closes the door behind her. I don’t say anything, but let her survey the room herself. The walls are bare of most of Aeiley’s things, other than those that remind me of the good memories of her.

“Your room is very nice,” Iris tries. Aeiley’s poster bed was also removed, making the bedroom space bigger, which I have yet to and would never like to get used to.

“I wish I had a room like yours-,” Iris starts, but I interrupt. “I’m sorry about this, but I can’t welcome you or treat you nicely right now, and I hope you understand.”

That would definitely sting, but that was the least of my problems. “I see, sorry…” Iris mumbles, looking hurt indeed. She’s that sensitive? My lungs found the air hard to breathe. The silence was making me squirm. “So how many foster homes have you been in?” I ask. Iris clutches her backpack, eyes darting across the room, and I have the sudden urge to cover her eyes. “None,”

Her voice was so soft and suddenly I almost thought I heard wrongly. “None?” I ask, mouth agape.

“This is your first one?”

Iris nods and swallows. Silence. No matter how difficult that person is, treat them nicely. I suddenly remember what Aeiley used to say. I doubt I can but let’s try. “Did you… have any good memories of the past?” Questions make people talk and make them feel accepted but what I had just said earlier…

Iris’ eyes start to tear and she wipes them and nods. Wrong question. Her life may not be as normal as it looks. “Do you… really want to be here?” I ask. Well of course not why would she-

“If you want me here I would love to be here but…” Iris focuses on the ground. But I don’t, I think. And yet again, Aeiley would say that other people’s interests matter more than your own. Her thoughts matter more than you, Aeiley?

And just then, a shadow peers through the small crack beneath my door. My mum, eavesdropping. I don’t reply to Iris just yet, watching the small shadow fidget, and then leave. What was she trying to do?

“I’m not a very big fan of company nowadays,” I say. Iris’ eyes have a blue spark in them, a beautiful yet mysterious aura. Her hair is tied in a low ponytail with a scrunchie and she is dressed in a drab cardigan with a white shirt and jeans. Her eyes search the place and have a longing, sad look in them, like she was keeping a secret and doesn’t know what to do with it.

But do I even know what to do with mine?

The world used to be such a happy place until my literal happiness was taken away. Am I allowed to be grateful for the fact that I never witnessed my sister’s death? Seeing her body was enough for me, my body trembled and could not take my weight anymore. I dropped to the ground, hands shaking as I brought them to my mouth, vision blurry and cheeks wet. And I stayed like that for hours. The day my life fell apart, the day I lost my happiness. Thinking about it made me shake again, my body turning cold.

“Not a big fan of company…” A voice mutters, snapping me back to reality. Iris turns to me. “Are you … afraid of losing someone?”

I stare at her. Iris looks back at me, eyes not blinking at all. “Or… you’ve already lost that someone.” She knows. I reach out and hold her hand. I don’t know if it’s for her or me, but she doesn’t move it away, like she needs it there.

Iris’ hands wrap around mine as well. I’ve always been looking for comfort, and I think I’ve found some. Even if it’s just the smallest bit.

“You’re a girl, and I’m a girl,” Iris says. “You’ve lost someone, and so have I. We’re so similar aren’t we?” She scoffs through misty eyes. My mouth is dry and my heart races. Iris lost someone too. She rubs her eyes with her cardigan, looking like a never ending cycle.

“Don’t hold it in,” I say, moving closer to her. I wipe her eyes and bring her head down onto my shoulder, soaking my sleeves. Iris breathes heavily and hiccups, and I close my eyes, letting her emotions drown me. The amount she held in was probably more than mine, and maybe because… she never got the chance to let it out.

My eyes brim as well, and my tears fall silently. We sit there cuddled, letting it all out.

Iris pulls away slowly and wipes her tears, as I do too. But we don’t let go of our hands. “How… How was it for you?” Iris asks. I look towards the ceiling, thinking. “Everyone would take it hard I would say. It wasn’t easier for me.”

Iris shudders a little and wraps her cardigan around her. “I wanted death,” Her voice cracks while my heart stops.

“Don’t. Don’t say it if you don’t want to .” I tell her. Did I want death? I just wanted Aeiley back, but me dying… “I saw them… I was in the car with them…” Iris whispers, almost about to cry again. Them. My hands flew to my mouth and my eyes grew wide. She lost more than one, and she survived…

I squeeze her hand to let her know I am here. “You better keep on living, understand? I’m sure they were great people and it’s a miracle that you survived to live for them.” I pull her in again. “I’m here with you,”Thank you,” She croaks, hugging me back. Only when they open up, will you understand. Iris blinks rapidly. Her cheeks are now puffy and red, body looking frail. “If you stay here, I’m gonna make you eat more.” I say, and Iris smiles a little.

“Thank you,” Iris whispers again. I smile, but more towards the ground. “Hey,” Iris nudges me till I look up. “I would love to be here for you too,” she says. I didn’t know how much I wanted and needed to hear those words.

I grin, a little more real this time.

“It’s like… I have another pillar now, carrying the same weight as I am, helping me lift it up.” Iris says, and I agree. “We’re each other’s pillars,” I conclude, and feel quite satisfied for the first time in a long while. My life is a little more… complete now. A pillar, just to help me stand, but also allowing me to help someone else.

“Let’s make sure you stay,” I say, and Iris’ eyes light up. “You won’t regret it?” She asks, a beam on her face. “Why would I?” I reply, and we both stand and walk to the living room. My mother sits at the dining table, clutching a mug. Her lips are pressing together and she holds the mug quite tightly. She notices us and smiles. “You girls had some fun?”

I wouldn’t say fun, but… “Iris… Iris should stay,” I tell her. My mother looks between us for a moment, and sighs with a relieved smile. “Good, good.” She gets up and walks towards us. “ Iris, welcome. Myra… I’m glad you look better,”

I am better. My mother wipes her eyes, tears I did not notice on her. “Good, good.” She dabs her eyes. My mother rarely cries in front of me. I start to realise that I’ve never really thought about how she had felt all this while. That’s definitely going to change. I pull her into a hug and embrace her, and she wraps her arms around me tightly. “ I’m sorry you had to go through all that…” My mother says. “I’m so sorry…” At that moment I realise that she meant more than welcoming Iris in. I shake my head, rubbing her back. “It’s okay Mummy…it’s not your fault, it’s not. Please don’t think that it is, you never wanted that to happen either. You must have gone through a lot as well…” My mother cries a little harder, and I feel tears in my eyes again. Losing someone… I don’t think anyone would want to go through that again.

After a while, I hold my arms out to Iris. She shakes her head, rubbing her swollen eyes. I pull her in despite her protest, my mother and I both laughing. The three of us stay like that, Aeiley definitely with us as well. And Iris’ “them”. Whoever they are, and maybe one day Iris would tell us. I make a silent promise to them, that I would take care of Iris and make her feel complete again, make all of us feel complete.

I promise that we will find those happy days again, and share better memories. I promise, and promises… I will never break them. Like our pillars.

Tan Xin Yi, Azure (Class of 2026) tries to stray away from the same genre to experiment with new things, but always ends up writing about family. She hopes to one day be able to make people cry with her stories.