We came to the end of the street, our hostel only steps behind.
Anger was boiling and I could feel my ears turn red. The silence and annoyance we felt for one another, was about to erupt.
Me: “If you don’t stop treating me this way I’m leaving.”
My sister: Silence.
Me: “I mean it, this trip is supposed to be my birthday present.”
My sister: Silence.
I turn, hot tears fall onto the sidewalk, and I begin to walk.
My sister: “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
I continue to walk, and she continues to scream as I leave her alone in the streets of Mexico City.
By the time I reached our room, my hands were shaking so much that getting the key card in the door-lock deemed impossible. By the time I finally got the door opened, I was left alone with my thoughts to fester.
This trip to Mexico was a gift from my sister. With nine and a half years between us, our relationship had always been more mother/daughter like. Our mother even nicknamed me “Little Mother.”
One of our reasons for choosing the vibrant country was due to the essence and the food, one of the few things we have in common.
When I shut the door and face our empty room, I feel guilty then scared. I had just left my little sister to fend for herself.
I decide to walk around the rest of the afternoon. I hope to see her in each place I step into. She is nowhere to be be found. I sit at a table in a small restaurant, staring at the menu, trying hard to blink back the tears. Unsuccessful though, they fall onto the crumpled page. I leave before they even have the chance to bring me water.
The rest of the evening was spent drowning the immense amount of loneliness with cerveza while sitting on a rooftop. I was silently hoping to see my sister so I could make a dramatic exit, but once again she did not appear.
It was not until late that night, she finally returned to the room. I let her in and she retreated to her bed. Instinctively, as the older sister, I wanted to ask her where she had been, or scold her for being out alone in a strange city. I don’t though, instead I climbed into bed and cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, determined to make this the “best day ever,” I leave the room while she is still asleep.
I walk and walk, each time convinced that I am having a better time than my sister who is probably playing on her phone in the hostel common room. While walking, I pass ladies cooking tortillas, flower vendors and protesters.
Then I come across a demonstration. Hundreds are gathered and the police are everywhere, more so than I had seen since we arrived. The protest consisted of family members holding signs of their departed loved ones and victims of violence, their faces forever frozen in time.
Speaking over horns and megaphones, the officer informed me that the chance of walking through the protest was out of the question. Hot, sweaty, and hungry, I ignored the officer and continued to walk.
On both sides of the street, police hold guns aimed and ready to use if need be. I eventually find a street I recognize, and hurriedly walk while the demonstrators continued to march.
As I walked, I think about how fortunate my sister and I are, not only to be able to travel to see a new place, but for being alive.
I buy a sunflower, even though inside I was sad and alone, I wanted to look happy and vibrant on the outside.
I returned to the hostel and scheduled a tour for the next day, when I see my sister sprawled out on a bean bag looking like she is in need of a nap or a hug.
Me: “Do you want to go on a tour of the museum with me tomorrow?”
My sister: “Okay.”
The next morning, our last day in Mexico, we awkwardly and silently got ready to meet with our tour guide and group. We enjoyed the sites, and the museum is just as I imagined. Nothing is said about our fight or how I abandoned her on the street.
Our guide bought us chapulines (grasshoppers), and we shared a good laugh. We decided to spend the rest of our last day seeing everything we could. While we walked, she told me of a bar with excellent drinks she had been to the other night. This bewildered me. Next, she told me about the dinner she had with someone who had celebrated their birthday. She continued to tell me about the day before and the adventures she had. I listened as my little sister, a young woman and single mother to a toddler, shared her stories with me. I realized then, I wasn’t just in Mexico with my sister, but best friend.
At that moment, the nine and a half year gap between us became just a number.
I could see the excitement in her body language as she described her day alone. I was so grateful. Being in Mexico together wasn’t just for the fun and adventure. It helped us grow closer and gain independence.
I realized this trip wasn’t just about me and celebrating my birthday.
That night, I told my sister how proud of her I am. This was her first time on a plane, out the country and away from her daughter. She experienced fear, excitement and anxiety to be on this trip with me. We hugged and cried it out.
Then, we celebrated. We drank shots of mescal; one round from an expat “gringo.” While we could have enjoyed many more rounds, we had much to do before our 3 a.m. departure. Slightly buzzed and smiling we continued on our journey.
Confident in knowing where we were going, we venture off to side streets to buy streamers and paper flowers, a toy for my niece and pork grinds for the plane. The sky is beginning to get dark and we realize nothing looks familiar. Searching for a possible landmark to point to the hostel proves unsuccessful. My sister’s GPS seems as confused as we are. So with little else to do, we walk.
Before we had left for Mexico, our family had said, “Do not venture off on certain streets.” The desk clerks at our hostel had warned us of the same thing. However, somehow we ended up on those very streets. The sky got darkened and it looked like it may rain. Along a nearby fence, ladies of the night talked to possible customers, and all I can smell is perfume and smoke.
Instinctively, I grabbed my sister’s hand as we made our way through the crowds, desperately looking for a familiar landmark or street sign.
Just then, a noise comes from my sister’s pocket, the GPS was working! We walked (almost ran), as fast as we could, until we saw a street we recognized.
We finally arrived back to our room, breathless from laughing. Momentary fear forgotten, I hugged my sister tightly.
I recalled a time when she was little and we were crossing a parking lot to a store. I told her to “keep hold of my hand.” She didn’t listen. Instead, she let go and walked in front of a car. The car screeched its brakes while blasting the horn. When the moment passed, my heart was beating out my chest. I was about to scream at her for not listening when I saw her crying.
“Are you going to ever let go of my hand again?” She shakes her head “no,” and I give her a hug. I promised not to tell Mom and Dad.
The person that now stood in front of me was no longer the child who I needed to make sure looked both ways before crossing the street. This was a young woman; a mother.
Me: “I am sorry I left you on the street,” I tell her with tears in my eyes.
My sister: “I’m sorry I left you alone and celebrated that guy’s birthday,” she tells me, also with tears in her eyes.
We hugged again, and I squeezed probably a little too tight.
We grabbed many cervezas, packed, laughed and stayed up way too late. On the trip home the next day, I could still see the ancient canals of Xochimilco, the vibrant blue walls of Frida Kahlo‘s home, ruins of Teotihuacan and heard the scuffle of the street performers.
But what I saw most was my sister sitting next to me on the airplane, a little more mature with a little more confidence, a young woman who was become my best friend.
Author: Tiffany Parker
Image: Gloria Martin/Flickr, and Author’s own
Editor: Deb Jarrett