“I have to leave today, Olivia. I’m flying to Venice.” Zara’s bags were packed and waiting in the living room.
Olivia stopped chopping vegetables and turned from the kitchen counter to face her twin sister.
“What do you mean, you ‘have to leave today’? You just got here five days ago!” she contended.
Olivia put down the chef’s knife, grabbed a kitchen towel, and dried her hands. Hands on her hips, she furrowed her brow at looked askance her sister.
“I just don’t understand you, Zara. You spend all year travelling all over the world. We don’t see you or hear from you and then you pop in for a few days and now you ‘have to leave’? What should I tell the girls? You know how much they’ve wanted to see you.”
Zara shuffled from one foot to the other, then went and sat at the kitchen table. She adored her nieces and they regarded her as the coolest aunt in the world. Wherever her travels took her, she always brought them back special gifts: dolls from Egypt, maracas from Venezuela, sweets from Syria, saris from India. She looked down while tracing invisible designs on the tablecloth. Her sister walked over and sat across from her.
“Olivia, you know I can’t stay in the same place for too long. I’m not like you. I need to be–” she gestured– “out there. I need to be a part of the world.”
Her twin stared at her in disbelief, but Zara continued.
“You have everything here — your husband, the children, a home, a job. You’ve made a great life for yourself. You’re a part of something and you enjoy the routine. You have everything. It’s all well and good…” she hesitated, then continued. “But I need more. I don’t want any of that. I don’t want to be tethered. I need to be free.”
For a few moments, no one spoke.
Then Olivia asked, “Have you spoken to mom? Does she know you’re leaving so soon?”
Zara hesitated. “I haven’t,” she explained. “I was hoping you’d tell her for me.
Olivia rolled her eyes. She almost exploded. “Tell her? Are you crazy? You tell her yourself!”
She leaped up from her seat in frustration and walked a few paces before spinning around and facing her twin once more. She pointed an accusatory finger at Zara.
“You are always so…flaky…so unreliable! Even when we were children, you would always be off on one of your ‘adventures’ and mom and dad would always have to send me to find you and bring you back home. You caused us so much grief and worry when we were teenagers! Always disappearing! And when you left home 10 years ago, I was always the one who had to hold down the fort. You’re never around! You don’t even have an address!”
Olivia was incensed. She paced the kitchen floor with her arms akimbo, only occasionally stopping to gesticulate towards Zara. Now she stopped and glared at her twin.
“Did you ever stop even once to wonder what it’s like for the rest of us you’ve left behind?” she asked. “You’re 35 years old! When are you going to settle down?”
Zara turned away from her and resumed her tracing on the tablecloth. She kept biting her lower lip
“I do think about you guys. Some of the time,” she replied. “But you’ve always been the stable one. You look after everybody, including mom, especially after dad passed away. I’m just not good at — those things.” she added. “Everyone depends on you.”
“Everyone depends on me,” Olivia repeated. Then she flopped down on the chair again across from her sister. She looked Zara straight in the eyes.
“Zara, everyone depends on me because I’m the one holding it all together after you’ve gone off to Antarctica or Russia or wherever the wind blows you. You don’t even have a permanent job. You just pick up whatever skills you need and use them when you want. I don’t know how you live like that. You’re an international hobo!”
Another round of silence ensued. Despite their differing lifestyles, each one meant the world to the other. Zara always knew that whenever she needed a semblance of stability in her life that she could always rely on coming home to her sister’s place and she would always be welcome. Olivia, for her part, always felt responsible for her world-travelling twin. Someone had to look out for her. In any case, Olivia knew she would never win this argument.
“So what’s in Venice anyway?” she asked Zara. May as well find out, she mused. “New boyfriend?”
Zara shook her head. “A magazine wants me to shoot some photos for them. It’s a short-term project and the money should get me through a few months living there afterwards until I get something else.” She noticed the look on her sister’s face.
“I know it seems flaky and unconventional to you, Olivia, but I enjoy living this way. I work when I need the money.” She added. “I like experiencing new things. I want to get up each morning and wonder what’s going to happen. Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going to be, but you know what? I’m living life to the fullest and enjoying the ride.”
Olivia thought for a moment. Silly girl! Of course life was about stability and responsibility! She had been married for seven years and needed to provide for her children. She had a mortgage and credit card bills to pay. She was the rock that held everyone together.
She looked at Zara and said:
“Take me with you.”