In the back seat, I lean my head back and lightly close my eyes. ‘Faith’s asleep,’ I hear my brother tell my mum. I pretend that I don’t hear him and continue ‘sleeping’. He tosses out an insult to test me; my eyelids flutter but I keep up the ruse. I like being in the car with my family, listening as they chatter and argue in front of me. My mum squints at and questions the GPS on her dash-mounted smart phone while my brother obstinately tells her to go a different way. For as long as I can remember he has sat in the front passenger seat, to avoid getting car sick, while I sit in the back, in my own quiet world, watching as the streets change and the cars flash by.
My mum and my brother almost share a birthday, with just one day, St Patrick’s, keeping the celebrations separate. ‘If I’d have been born on the 17th, would you have called me Patrick?’ My mum looks at him blankly, before answering in the negative. Instead, he was cursed or blessed, depending on whom you ask, with an Indian name. An Indian name difficult to pronounce or spell and commonly bestowed upon female Indian babies. But after 33 years of repeating, spelling and explaining his Indian lady name, my brother changed it. He turns 34 as Max. I had hoped this decision would cause a stir, some kind of disquiet amongst the family that could provide me with leverage in the preferred child stakes. Alas, they’ve taken it on the chin, neither mum nor dad particularly offended, each of them happily stammering their way towards acceptance. I see it as my sisterly duty to stick with the old name.
After Max’s and St Pat’s day, we meet on mum’s birthday for our annual combination celebration. The least invested in the party, I call Vietnamese food. Mum decides we’ll road trip to the dense concentration of pho joints in Cabramatta and after some lazy googling I pick Pho Viet. The bright diner blinks neon at the street, mid-week regulars huddled over steaming bowls of soup with one eye on the wall mounted TV watching averagely-annoying Australians cooking in competition and talking about it. Mum barrels in and picks our table, her two overgrown ducklings trailing behind.
Hungry and tense from the peak hour drive, we quietly scan the menu. Mum gleefully selects her favourite congee ($11), Max his regular rare beef pho with extra noodles ($10) and I randomly settle on Bun Ram Suon ($11). The food arrives quickly and we begin to hack through our jumbo portions. I douse my heaped bowl of vermicelli noodles, salad, crumbed and sliced pork chop and spring rolls in the sweet, spicy, sour and garlicky sauce and it sings. I’m distracted from my deftly balanced bowl by a teenage boy who sits close by with his dad, the elder slurping through a pho while the boy eats a Pizza Hut pizza and asks loudly if he can change the channel on the TV.
We interrupt steady bites to engage in our regular familial chat: Max and I tease mum, mum tries to encourage healthy, positive debate, we tease her about it, she bemoans the fact we’re teasing her, world keeps turning. The TV above us now plays an episode of the show about averagely-overweight Australians trying to shed kilos and talking about it. The boy eating the pizza watches, rapt.
I uncharacteristically foot the meager bill and as we drive home mum and Max again negotiate directions while I nod-off in the back. My belly is full, my eyes are heavy and I doze in and out of sleep listening to their enthusiastic back-and-forth. Doesn’t really matter what they choose to call themselves, the little gang I’m in with these two will always be the same.