This is how a girl wraps her shawl: Draped over her head. One end next to her face. Once end around her neck and flung over the same shoulder.
A girl can't make do without a shawl. Particularly when it's raining, or when she’s walking at night and the boys lounging against a wall on the street might stare at her. When she’s wearing a shawl, they can't tell if she’s a ninety-year old grandma or a sixteen-year old girl.
What she didn't realise was that they can mug a ninety-year old grandma or rape a sixteen-year old girl, and it doesn't make much difference to them either way.
Her shawl was silky and blue on one side, and silky and pale purple on the other, and elegant and rectangular, (without frilly bits, because she insisted) and she bought it at the shop right across town when I gave her the money I'd been saving for weeks as her birthday present.
I knew about the boys lounging against the walls on the streets, because they stared at me too, and called out (though more often they threw rocks and old bottles). But I didn't realise either. I go out to work at six in the morning, and stack things at a warehouse all day. I used to come home just after dark, except when we were short of money and I had to find some. In the meantime she took care of herself, visit the neighbours, make up stories to tell me - and when she got a job at the grocer's she worked some days too. She was always home before me. The oil lamp would be lit, and we'd cook over the small gas stove, or eat some bread if I'd bought any, and laugh about her stories, the grocer, and the other guys at my work.
Except one day, when she wasn't home and I went looking for her, and saw a flash of silky pale purple trampled into the ground.
I saw her after she made her statement. She found her way to the station, after I’d already been there. I was at home, curled up in a corner of the room we shared, when they all knocked on my door and my heart started pounding so hard I didn’t think I could reach to open the door. She came in first, her shawl limp between two fingers in her left hand, and they went away. I wanted to give her food, and comfort, but I didn’t have either.
I didn’t go to work the next day, but I had to buy bread, and when I came back she wasn’t there. It’s my fault, because I didn’t ask her what happened or tell her she was always my sister and that I loved her and all of the other things I should’ve said. I still don’t know what I should’ve said.
I looked for her, but it was a long time before I saw her next.
I’m four years older than my little sister. She doesn’t know some of the things I did to feed her when I was sixteen. I learned how to call out and how to answer when the boys on the street call (and really mean it), so that she wouldn’t ever have to. I wish I’d told her about it though, because maybe that last night, when we each huddled in our corners and I pleaded with her, she saw herself through my eyes without knowing what my eyes saw.
Now she makes me see her through her eyes. Because I’ve seen her on the sidewalks too, with a short skirt and red on her cheeks, and a slinky bit of blue hanging around her hips. I’ve tried to talk to her, but she doesn’t recognise me any more – I know, because she called out to me once or twice.
Word count: 649