“Frank, that’s not the right way to put on your sandals,” I said to my younger brother who had his left foot in the right foot sandal and the right foot in the left. He stopped walking towards me and stared at me very confused. He was lax and calm, permissive and naive. He was always on his own and asked too much questions about everything. I hated it whenever he puts his questions to me, like the day he asked me about death.
“Where do people go when they die, brother?” he asked me.
“They go to heaven or hell,” I answered.
He became silent trying to absorb my reply, I guessed.
“Where do you want to go when you die, brother?” he continued.
“Heaven of course,” I said.
“What about hell?”
“No one is to go there,” I replied.
“Is the place not nice, brother? Tell me please, what is there? Why don’t you want to go there? Is hell really a bad place?”
“Hell is something meant not to talk or worry about…”
“Is our dad in hell or heaven? Is Mr. Okeke our neighbour who died last week in hell? Which do you think grandpa is in now? Which do you think people want to go to?”
I was silent.
“I don’t know where I will go but as you proffered heaven, I guess I will like to go there too when I die,” he murmured. “But brother, why do we sleep and wake up? Why can’t we be awake all day?”
“We need to rest our bodies after being stressed out by the daily activities. Can you now let me be, please?”
“Ok brother. I just wish I have superpowers like Superman or Flash or Spiderman or Green lantern.”
“I just want to be like them so I can…”
He had lost all his front teeth and was always jeered at by his playmates for having no front teeth like the grandparents in the villages. They accused him of not throwing his fallen teeth to the lizards so they could carry them to the spirit world for the spirits, themselves, to replace them in his sleep. He always cried whenever he was called grandpa.
“Put it the other way round,” I continued. “Put your left leg in the left sandal.”
“Ok” he replied as he did as I told him.
“And then your right leg in the right sandal.”
Chinwe, my only sister who came before a brother that came before Frank was busy dipping, or rather, soaking the last piece of bread she had into her cup of tea. We had bread with tea as breakfast. She never liked eating in time and never finished in time as well. All her meals, she nibbled them as if they would never ever get finished. It wasn’t as if she was lazy but she took extra care putting bit by bit of anything she ate into her mouth── it was something of joy to her. Mum had tried severally to make her stop but nothing changed or happened. One of our neighbours had told mum that Chinwe definitely would stop the attitude with time and should exercise patience with her. But to me, my sister wasn’t that type of person that stopped an attitude easily or completely, neither was she a person who forgot nor forgave effortlessly too, somehow, someway, she always retaliated. Her retaliations were often crafty and unexpected── she was very good at it. Despite these traits, she loved playing with her teddies. Teddies were her closest friends. She went anywhere with them even to school. She slept with them, ate with them, bathed with them and did so many things with them. She often talked to them like they were actually humans. She fed her teddies water during her plays. Her teddies were different persons at different occasions in her plays. Sometimes, the teddies were babies and she carried them at her back using a wrapper to hold them in position, sometimes they were friends and she told them everything I and my brothers did to her she didn’t like, sometimes they were her enemies and she flogged and tortured them mercilessly. She hated interruptions during her plays too.
“Hurry up!” I said to her. “We are already late. Mum is waiting for us at the shop.” The shop was where we spent most of our holidays each time school vacated. We never visited any of our uncles or aunts── they always claimed to be busy. I wondered why they were constantly busy throughout a year, the following year and every other year. We loved it when we were on holidays── we never slept early or woke up early for anything. We just did things as we liked and wanted.
“Hurry up!” I reminded Chinwe again. She was busy running her two fingers inside the tea cup to make sure that the balls of milk at the base of the cup entered her mouth. That was the part she enjoyed the most.
“I am coming,” she returned.
“Will you…” I flared. She looked at me and understood my countenance. She knew what would have happened if she had wasted more time. She immediately dropped the cup and got into her sandals. We left for the shop.
Emeka, who came after Chinwe, left a while ago. He was a restless, carefree and always in haste person. He played a lot and fought a lot. He hated being bored. So at anytime, he was always doing something── either fidgeting things or jumping up and down on the sofa. He had scars on his legs and arms── all were the results of his numerous fights and falls. There was a wound on his left shin. He got it from a fall while trying to jump over a fence in the neighbourhood. He spoilt the television set two times. He spoilt the iron, the radio, tore the sofa and disfigured so many things in the house. Mum had locked most of the valuables away in her room because of him. But the day I broke a plate, mum flogged me so hard and reminded me to be careful with things.
“Don’t you know you are the eldest and must lead by good examples? You must not break plates. Things are very costly in the market. You are the one who taught Emeka how to spoil things in this house, I suppose. Be very careful!” She reminded me. Emeka was rarely scolded for spoiling things. I was always blamed for not seeing and stopping him. I could not even remember how many times I got things spoilt in the house.
I remembered the day he ventured into the bag Chinwe kept her clothes.
“Brother, see what Chinwe is hiding in her bag,” he reported to me with a small package in pink, white and blue stripes in his hand, directed to my face.
“Why did you go to her things?” I questioned him immediately I recognised what he held. That was when Chinwe entered the room.
“Why did you go to my bag of clothes?” Chinwe screamed on seeing what Emeka was holding.
“I will tell mum that you bought bread and hid it in your bag. Then you have to explain how you got the money,” Emeka attacked her.
“That’s not bread, give it to her now,” I commanded Emeka. He hesitated but finally handed it over to her. Chinwe left in annoyance.
“That’s not bread.” That was all I could tell him. What he got from her bag was an ALWAYS Sanitary Pad.
I also remembered how I got locked inside the Thermocool deep freeze by Emeka during one of our curious plays. We wanted to see if the Thermocool deep freeze light still shone from within when its lid was closed. We wanted to know how it felt to be in a cold weather just like the people we had seen in the movies. Therefore, we threw a dice to determine who entered first. It fell on me. So I entered and he closed the lid. Immediately I noticed the Thermocool deep freeze light never shone when the lid was closed. It was dark all around and I was inside with other food items. I began to freeze, I pushed the lid to get opened but I could not. I screamed and fidgeted but nothing happened. I shivered. I struggled and pushed upwards again, it was still nothing. I grew tired, calm and wished for anything to come take me. I started wishing many things: I wished I was dead already, I wished it was my brother that was inside, I wished I never agreed to enter first. I should have disregarded the dice we threw.
Then the lid opened, forcefully I pushed myself upwards and scampered out of the Thermocool deep freeze. I met the weirdest smile of my life right before me. The smile came from Emeka who stood feet away from me because he knew what was coming.
“I am sorry, brother,” he said walking backwards.