My family used to live at 15 Olivier Place, Kingston 8, Jamaica. I wrote it at the top of all the letters I penned to my little sister, Lisie, who shared a bedroom with me. I spent 11 years in that grey townhouse, one of about one hundred similar to it.
Our bedroom was small. It was a cozy fit for two twin beds, a small vanity, and a tiny bedside “table” that was really a stool. There were two windows, one facing northeast and the other southeast. Every morning, the sun would shine into our bedroom and illuminate the space. Hanging on the wall beside the vanity, directly across from the northeast window, was a drawing that went unnoticed most of the time, simply because it had always been there.
In a glossy white frame with an ochre mat was a sheet of aging off-white A4 letter paper with a big yellow sun drawn on it. The sun had big eyes and was wearing some semblance of a smile on her face. Above the sun, at the top of the page, was written in pencil “good morning kids is The shing sun in The sky. Martine.” I’d always assumed the artist had meant to write “shining.” I forgave her; she was only a baby when she made it.
This is the only drawing by Martine that I can remember seeing. Martine was my mother’s first daughter, my half-sister. She was six when a drunk driver crashed head-on into their car at full highway speed on the Palisadoes road in Kingston in 1984. She was six when she went flying through the windshield and hit her head so hard that she fell into a coma. She was six when her brain couldn’t stop swelling three weeks after the accident. She was six when she died.
My mother was 27. I would be born in eight years.
Mum is an artist and a radio personality. My whole childhood both she and my father encouraged Lisie and I to paint, draw, sew, create. Weekends were filled with letter paper and fancy German crayons, the spoils of Papa’s frequent trips to see my half-brother in Hamburg. Lisie and I made so many colourful drawings, but none were ever framed.
I don’t remember when it was that I finally asked about the drawing of the big yellow sun that had always hung on our bedroom wall. I think I was six.
“Mummy, who drew this picture?”
“Your sister, Martine.”
This was not the first time I had heard about Martine. She had always had a presence in my life, despite having never met her. I had always known of her, seen her photograph hanging in almost every room in our townhouse. But learning that she had created this drawing struck something within me.
Perhaps it was because I would have had an elder sister, and I found out that she liked making art, too. She had drawn this with her own hands. She had coloured both within and outside of the lines with crayons that were probably not as fancy as mine were. She had written out those words, excited that she could spell and make a whole sentence. I’d seen so many photographs of her, but this sole piece of artwork had come from her. This drawing was the only tangible relic through which I could experience a moment of her personality. It was Martine’s single physical representation of the lifeline we shared.
Every time I looked at Martine’s big yellow sun I felt an energy radiating from it. I often wondered what it might have been like to have an older sister. She, too, had big brown eyes and curly hair. She lived with the same strain of hair-pulling OCD that I have. She was creative and filled with light, as I was when I was a child. Would she have shared her crayons with me, the way Lisie and I do? Would she have written me letters with our address at the top of the page, even though we lived together? Would she have taught me about boys and blood, the way I had with my younger sister?
We moved out of 15 Olivier Place and into 1C Norbrook Road when I was 11. The big yellow sun was taken off of her nail in the wall beside the vanity and wrapped up carefully. Our new house was much more spacious than our old one, and my mother’s extensive art collection was dispersed throughout the hallways, nooks, and rooms. It has been thirteen years and three months, and I still do not know where in our house the big yellow sun now hangs. I hope she is still shing.