Thursday, 9 April 2009

Cainism: sibling rivalry gone wild

Some time ago my children returned from a weekend sojourn at their father’s house with visible flesh wounds. To their (very small, admittedly) credit, they told me what had happened when, with beetling eyebrows and pursed lips, I enquired.

‘We got into a fight,’ said my son, then 15. ‘I bit her.’

My daughter, then 14, said, ‘And I hit him in the nose.’

Their father and his girlfriend had gone out for dinner, leaving two apparently sane teenagers in the house, and in their absence pandemonium had broken loose. As much as I’d love to point fingers at their dad, in this case it wasn’t his fault: sibling rivalry can be a terrifying thing.

My own brother, then about 16, tried his very best to kill me when I was 15. Our parents weren’t there and an argument blew up about who had to walk to the café, four blocks away, to buy bread for lunch. I thought it was his turn; he thought it was mine. While I was happy to argue the point until I was blue in the face, my brother found a shorter path to this conclusion: he grabbed me by the throat and squeezed. By the time my uncle came in (by happy, for me, coincidence) I was unconscious and my brother still had my neck in a vice grip. He had to be physically pulled off me.

It’s not a pretty thing, sibling rivalry, but it’s been around forever. The term ‘Cainism’ for birds that kill their siblings in the nest is taken from the Biblical tale of Cain and Abel, the first two children of Adam and Eve (a story that crops up in Islam and Judaism too) – when Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t, Cain was so incensed that he killed his brother.

My own children, now almost 18 and 19, are spending the next three days together, unsupervised, in my son’s flat in Stellenbosch. When I dropped them off there today, I said, ‘Please don’t spend all your money. And don’t kill each other, okay?’

They larfed.

I hope they’re still larfing tomorrow.

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meggie said...

I do beieve I once stabbed my brother with a fork. According to him, I almost killed him, but in reality it was a minor flesh wound.
Luckily we have grown into the best of friends.

tonypark said...

I pushed my brother over once and he hit is head on the corner of a steamer trunk and it (the head) opened up. I thought I'd killed him.

He whipped my a** several times afterwards, so I consider we're even.