And then, I froze.
I was three when my mother gave me my first Valentine's gift. Her name was Valentina and she was my sister.
I remember the first time I met her, she was wrapped so tightly in a blue blanket, I didn't realize immediately she had hands and feet. She had crumpled pink skin and couldn't even open her eyes. I remember thinking she was just a bundle of blankets with an ugly face. I didn't dare touch her when the nurse took her from the plastic shoe box and put her in Papa's arms. But when she turned and smiled to me, it was like love at first sight, and I knew she would be the most wonderful gift I'd ever receive.
"Jake, why is my hair so yellow? I wanna have brown hair like yours!" Every time she told me this, I'd smile and stroke her hair.
"You're special, Tina, you have golden hair." I would see her eyes go wide in surprise, and her lips would turn up. "The sun kissed your hair, that's why it's golden." She would laugh and I would give her a friendly punch.
Tina never doubted anything I said, she always believed my every word. She believed when I told her the sun kissed her, and she believed when I told her she'd be okay.
My sister was born with a hole in her heart. The worse thing was, I only realized that when she was already four.
She fainted at my seventh birthday party. I was furious at her, she ruined the party.
Mama was crying like it was the end of the world when the doctor told her about Tina's heart problem. I didn't understand what he said, but it had to be very sad news. I knew because I heard Papa's voice tremble as he told Mama everything would be fine. That night, Papa held me close and rocked me to sleep. And so, my first sleepover party was at a hospital with my whole family.
After she fainted, her body started to grow weaker. Tina needed to visit the doctor every Friday after school, and more often than not, there would be injections. I remember the first time I followed her to the hospital, she held on my hand for dear life and squeezed her eyes shut so tightly as I watched the needle pierce through her skin. She was crying when it was over, and it hurt to see her like that. It was then I promised myself I'd do anything to keep her happy.
So I sang to her when she wouldn't take her medication. And I let her choose a favourite movie to watch every weekend after the visit to the doctor's. I made her a scoreboard and gave her ten points each time she managed to go through her injections without crying. When she reached two hundred points, I used up all my pocket money to buy her a colouring book and a new box of crayons. She was overjoyed and drew a picture of me. I told her I didn't like it because it looked nothing like me, but I still keep it, even until now.
Sometimes, Tina had to stay in the hospital. She was afraid of the dark, I knew she would have nightmares if she had to sleep alone without lights for so many nights. When the nurse wouldn't listen to me and keep the lights on for my sister, I stole some of Papa's money to get her a small night lamp, which she was only allowed to use if Papa wasn't around. He never found out about the money, but I saved a dollar every week and secretly put it in his wallet to pay him back.
Tina got worse everyday. The medication wasn't helping much. The doctor said she needed a heart transplant as soon as possible. I was ten by then, I knew a lot about hearts, and I knew most of the medical terms they use in the hospital. I wasn't about to let my parents hide anything from me anymore.
It was terrible, thinking that I got jealous every time Tina got sick because she had special attention I never had, even if I was also sick. It was terrible thinking that I fought her so many times, and she'd end up wheezing. It was terrible thinking I could have killed her when I challenged her to race me around the field, I was on a bike, she was on her feet. And it was more terrible knowing she could leave me anytime if there wasn't a donor for her, and I couldn't do anything at all.
I knew it was really mean of me, but everyday, I read the newspapers to see if any seven-year-old kid got into an accident and went brain dead. And I prayed everyday that God would let Tina stay a little longer. Just so that I could love her a little more.
She did, she fought for another sixteen months when the doctors said she had only six more to live. I was so proud of her for that, she was so strong.
That afternoon, when Tina asked me to take her to the garden, I noticed how small she was for her age as I carried her and her blanket and we sat on the grass. She wrapped her blanket around us, and then she told me, "Jake, I had a dream last night..."
"In my dream, you were a magician. You took a donut from the kitchen, and said a few magic words. Then the hole in the donut just disappeared! Do you think you can do that to my heart, Jake?"
There were tears in my eyes, I hugged her close. "You'll be okay, Tina. I love you."
I ran my fingers through her hair for one last time and she fell asleep on my shoulder. I was only eleven when I lost her.
"Doctor? Are you okay?" I heard Kyle's mum ask. I managed a smile and apologized to her and Kyle.
"You remind me a lot of my sister, Kyle, she had a donut heart like you do. Can you promise me you'll be strong like her?" I asked the little girl. She nodded and smiled, brushing her golden hair away from her eyes. She's beautiful.
I couldn't do much for Tina back then, but now, I know I can save this little girl. And I'll do magic and make my sister proud of me.
P.S. I know this is awfully long. Thank you very much if you've been patient and read it to the end. :)
Also posted on http://thewarrantycard.blogspot.com/