I have only minutes to live. Perhaps hours, if I am granted such a boon, but disappeared are the dreams of days. My brother is gone.
My frantic brood have summoned a doctor, but I know what the answer will be. Months ago, consulting physicians told us we could not separate, for fear of a fatal loss of blood. And so, with my brother ailing and paralytic, I carried on. Bound his legs together to move him like a puppet. It was a strange sensation, to finally control him. To move his legs to my will, instead of simply synchronizing.
Audiences never believed how independently we lived. Even with two sons (of our 21 total children) accompanying us on this last tour, they gulped and gasped to learn we were capable of separate wives, of creating family legacies to carry on our twin names.
In our younger years, we astounded them with Battledore and Shuttlecock, bouncing the shuttlecock between our rackets as skillfully as two Olympians. I knew my brother’s drinking had started to affect him when he started missing.
“When he drinks, do you get drunk?” a brash youngster once asked, noting the list of my brother’s head, his drooping eyes, his rummy breath. I set that youngster yelping with a quick smack of my hand to his backside.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
But no, the drink did not affect me, not immediately. Only when my brother’s decline became more pronounced did I realize how close to death knells our entwined fates may have been drawing. Hence, the physician consultations; and their dire news.
People ask us always the same things: How do you do this? How do you do that? They revel in the minutiae of living: the delicacies of dressing, eating, evacuating and procreating. Such questions they would consider improper if delivered to others; but all is fair game with people deemed monstrous. Our life’s work has been to show them how human we are.
I ask you now, what more human failings could we have had: married to squabbling sisters, falling prey to purloined promises made by Confederate loaners? In new centuries, I fear we may be judged. The North has won, and our Southern farm life will now be reviled, because we did as so many of our neighbors did, and purchased the labor of others who were not free.
Ironic, perhaps, that in these last moments, I know myself a slave to death; for there is no escaping the dark chains that will drag me down beside my brother. I woke to his body, a still cold weight beside me. “Then I am going,” I pronounced, and our sister wives heard. Thus began the desperate seeking of doctors, who will come, I am certain, too late.
My brother is already drifting through afterlife depths. I wonder what he sees; freed of those mortal glassy eyes, freed perhaps, of me? For the first time since we were born, we are both truly alone.
I hear a circus audience, marveling at this last feat. How can you keep living when your brother is dead? How long will it be before you join him? Why do you not claw and pummel at the man whose very existence has plagued you? Whose death now dooms you?
I begin to mumble, in my native tongue, which I have eschewed for so long that even a Thai could no longer understand me. Certainly, though, my family cannot follow me through these last cerebral moments. My last speech, delivered to God’s ears alone.
For whoever can understand, I mutter: "My brother was no burden. He was the closest companion a brother could ever dream. Our joined life was a miracle, a wondrous opportunity to demonstrate the heights that all humans can reach, no matter how inauspicious their beginnings. We cried, at times, but more often, we exalted. I would not live differently, had I a chance to start anew."
By now, my body should be crying out in distress, but I feel only calm. I dread what is coming, but my mind delivers only peace.
As the hours slow to ensanguined minutes, I remember to ask the doctors in English: “Please, push him closer to me.”
For more on the death of Chang and Eng Bunker, read this article.