Maryam tells me she hates her little brother, Ishmael. I tell her I hated my little sister, Anna too, or thought I did from time to time. I tell her it's natural, especially when there is a fairly large age-gap between siblings. I ask her if it looks like Annie and I hate each other now. She has to agree that I do not. In fact, Annie and I are great friends. I tell Maryam that someday she and Ishy will be friends too. She scrunches up her face, displaying her disbelief.
Maryam thinks that Ishy is a pain. He's a crybaby. He always tries to come into a room where she and her friends are playing. He tries to be a part of their group, which is not something little girls are interested in. They want to whisper, tell secrets, and talk about almost-grown-up things, like boys. Twelve year-old boys. No one has time for seven year-old Ishy.
But when her friends aren't around, Maryam has to admit that Ishmael, for all of his annoying behaviors, can be the brother every little girl would wish for. When the neighbor boys pick on Maryam because she likes to read instead of playing their games, Ishy steps between them and defends his sister. He doesn't like it when anyone picks on her.
You might imagine that catching them at a time when Maryam is in a tolerant mood is difficult. More often than not, pictures of the two of them show Ishmael doing something annoying and Maryam with an expression of total disgust. Once, I caught her off guard. Ishmael sneaked up from behind, grabbed her and planted a kiss on her neck. Maryam smiled. The fact that she turned around and swung at him afterward is irrelevant. I caught that fleeting moment that I'd been waiting for.