I sat dozing next to Toju. Somehow, the ceaseless bleeping and beeping of the monitors they’d insisted upon plugging him to had taken a melodious alter and I was lulled into a patchy rest.
That is, until he woke up of course.
“Hey. Fine girl.”
“Hey back. Ugly thing.”
He gave a small chuckle that rumbled in his throat, careful not to loose the reins on his amusement lest it send a hundred splinters of pain shooting through his head.
“That won’t work. We’re twins remember? If you’re fine then I’m fine too.”
I forced a smile, willing myself to tune into the strength in his voice and ignore how fragile and helpless he looked surrounded by all those machines. “How do you feel?”
“Like a Christopher. I hear those only come in crappy flavours.”
I couldn’t hold back the laugh that jumped out at that. “You’re just mad, I swear.
He smile-grimaced and glanced at me. “Better mad than dead. How’s my other heroine?”
“Your only heroine, point of correction.” I looked at him shamefacedly. “I happen to be the babe behind every major calamity that has befallen you in all your seventeen years. God, I’m so sorry To-.”
”You’re not that special fam. Stop feeling yourself.”
I knew that meant he didn’t want to hear another apology on the matter and that I needed to shut up. So I obliged and changed the subject, which wasn’t so hard to be honest, considering several other matters had really been bugging me since grandma and I went heart to heart two days earlier.
“Did you know she isn’t actually deaf?”
“Yeah.” Without batting an eyelid.
“And you didn’t tell me? Seriously?”
Toju looked at me with an expression that let me know my indignation was misplaced. “So that what would happen? All your passions were geared at making her life miserable, what did it matter if she could hear as well as watch you being evil?”
I stared at my hands. “Fine, fine. No need to get so flowery.”
He started coughing and my eyes immediately flew to the monitor in panic, my hand reaching for the bell button at the head of his bed to summon a nurse.
“Fam, chill. I’m good. I’m good.” He used his left arm to block my outstretched one. “What’s going on with you, really? You’re a little weird and its beyond how great I look in bandages.”
I hesitated. Everything was wrong to be honest. All that we’d grown up believing had come crashing to the ground at grandma’s tell-all. I didn’t know what to think, where to start from, who to be sorry to or who most to feel sorry for. My thoughts were in literal chaos. Plus there was still the guilt whenever I looked at Toju.
“Toju, we’ve been sort of wrong about mom all this time.”
He didn’t respond, but I could tell he was paying attention.
“Apparently, she didn’t choose to be scummy from the on-set. She was forced into it, like, thrown head first into the sea with an anchor tied to her neck type of force.”
“And grandma told you this?”
“Who forced her?”
“Her Dad.” Toju turned to me then with an evidently surprised look on his face. “I know, I know. I couldn’t believe it at first either, until I found out that her dad was a pimp and grandma was his favorite girl.”
“Yeah and apparently he was a drug head too so now we know where mom found her first love.”
Toju moved to sit upright in his bed and I got up to assist him. After having to support and move him around that day at the cinema, I’d started getting used to his weight and my body didn’t creak at the effort anymore. “How did you guys even get into this conversation please because this is a bit too unreal for me to digest?”
“I’d indulged in an emotional outburst, going on about how our parents were the bane of our existence but then I’d thought she couldn’t have lip-read all I said because of how fast I’d been speaking, only for me to find she could hear. I became suspicious about her speaking too but she confirmed that was real- Toju, would you believe she poisoned her own self!?”
“At this point, I just might believe anything. What was she gunning for? Suicide?”
“Why did she want death?”
“Because of mom. Her biological father started forcing ‘customers’ onto her when she was nine. Toju nine for God’s sake! He was controlling and abusive and grandma had no one to turn to because her own civil servant father had disowned her once she became all about the hooker life. Initially, she says she’d gone in just for the love of rebellion and the extravagant things in life but she learned a little late that the deal she got was beyond the bargain.”
Toju let out a shaky breath and rested his hand on his forehead. “This is a Nigerian movie, true to God.” He shook his head. “So by some plot twist, she escaped death but lost her voice instead?”
“Exactly. Honestly, if she hadn’t looked so torn-up through out her written narration, fighting tears and everything, I’d be convinced she’d gotten training in fiction writing. How the heck do these things happen? Why is humanity so messed up, like, what is it? Ah ah!”
My emotions were dragging me in so many different directions. I felt bad for mom and as much as I wanted to blame grandma, I knew it wasn’t like she’d wanted it to spin out of control like that. Just like with Christopher, Toju and I. if I’d known my brother would have ended up in a hospital bed, bloodied and at risk of losing his lucidity and even his life possibly, I’d never have looked at Chris twice.
“Life just has a way of giving folks more punishment than they really deserve though, in my opinion. It was just supposed to be a little adventure on the wild side and it ended up ruining her own life, destroying her daughter’s before it even began…and even affecting us Tee. ”
“Yeah but,” He sighed. “I know it might sound harsh but is it life or us though? I mean, the pimp didn’t force her into stuff at gun point, she chose to be discontent with what her toiling father could provide and decided to dance with the devil. I don’t know, sounds like self-destruction to me.”
I was a bit irritated with his comment. He was thinking like a guy – things weren’t always so cut and dry. “Fine, you can look at it that way sir rigidly logical but come on, we all have feelings. She fell in love with someone who should have been her protector and hero but instead he betrayed her. Is it now her fault that some people are just so twisted?”
“Was it her dad’s fault that she grew to be so ungrateful and wayward?” I gasped and glared at him. “Chill before you jump on your emotional rollercoaster again. I’m sad to hear this alright? It cuts me because I’ve grown particularly fond of the old lady – did so much earlier than you did – so it hurts to know that she’s been through such a mess of a life. But I am sick and tired of watching the women I love and care about do the stupidest things solely based on their feelings. So bloody what if she had feelings for the guy? She’s got a brain too! Pimps will be pimps so why would you look for a responsible parent in one? It’s the same thing with mom and even you. Fine she had a rough start but what is stopping her from switching up the game for herself now? What ‘pimp father’ is forcing her to venture into new depths of twisted everyday? As for you, beyond the grief we’ve both faced at the hand of our mother and her excesses, what other real trauma have you had to deal with? Dad is trying. He slacks in many ways but he tries yet you treat him like he’s resident evil and refuse to let him do right by you. Look at me! If I didn’t almost get killed, would you honestly tell me you’d have broken up with Christopher if I told you to, even after you caught him cheating?”
I bit my lip and remained silent.
I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the face. “Tee I-.”
“I don’t want another apology sis, that’s not what I’m after. I just want you to see that when things get messy, half the time it isn’t life or God or whatever. It’s us. We did it. Life doesn’t just happen to be messed up, we often teach it to be.”
He sighed and removed the pillows at his back so he could lie down again, and we stayed silent after that, each lost in their own thoughts.
Dad finally came back a week after Toju’s big crisis. He cleared the hospital bills – heavily subsidized because of all the pro-bono aid he made available to the hospital on occasion and Toju got discharged two days after. He wanted to drop the charges against Christopher – who hadn’t made bail since because his father wanted to punish him for his irresponsible shaming of their family name. Dad was going to go along with it but I was solidly against the motion and so was Chris’s father. He thought he ought to receive the penalty for what he did or he might think he had the right to repeat such. Eventually, he came to a compromise and agreed to go along with dad and Toju’s suggestion that he may choose to delay the payment of bail for a while longer and then punish his son as he deemed fit, without our family having to drag him to court.
Grandma and I grew closer everyday. Ironically, I found out she shared Toju’s philosophy and went to great pains to explain to me why all the bad things that happened to her and her little girl were fundamentally her fault. She held on to the hope that she would some day get a chance to apologize to her for the bad choices that affected her so badly.
That’s partly why I agreed to come back to the city with your daddy. After I gave my life to Christ, I had to run to my mother’s place in Edo state because my father’s family had been turned against me. Your daddy came to find me and convince me to return, that it was possible I could be helpful to my grandchildren even if I wasn’t to my child.
“So you and mom haven’t seen or spoken since she got married to dad over twenty years ago? Seriously?” I don’t know why I was so surprised though. I hadn’t seen the woman since she’d last come to make a drunken scene at our twelfth birthday party.
She nodded. I didn’t even attend the wedding. She wouldn’t let me. Your dad was kind enough to send someone to me with pictures and a few souvenirs from the ceremony.
“Wow. I guess dad has always been the nice guy.”
Yes. He’s a good man. You should treat him better.
I rolled my eyes at that one. I knew better than anyone. In fact, since he’d returned, I’d been making conscious attempts to not antagonize his every word, or make sarcastic comments about his work, or generally behave the way I was so accustomed to. It was really hard at first but one day, Toju and I were playing scrabble and he won. I made such a fuss and made silly jokes about the game and his win in general that, for whatever reason, cracked our father up big time. Just sitting there watching him laugh – actually laugh and look happy over something I’d done –, made me begin to yearn for the very bond I’d been keeping at bay for so long. I decided to actively pursue it from that day.
On our eighteenth birthday, I gave my life to Christ. Although it was directly linked to the witness of grandma and her several ministrations, I didn’t ask anyone to lead me in the sinners’ prayer – as I’d learned it was called. I wanted to talk to Him myself. Let this Jesus know how very much aware of my flaws I was, along with all the issues and baggage I had. I wanted to be sure He knew what He was getting into, promising He could fix me up and all. Oddly enough, I was convinced if anyone ever had a chance, it would most likely be Him because even I couldn’t figure out why I was the way I was sometimes. So I did it with every last thread of hope I could muster, and no decision had ever made me happier.
Now my salvation might not be a grand event to many, but grandma acted like I had found a cure for cancer, global warming, AIDS and had put an end to world poverty. Dad and Toju were equally excited – apparently; I’d been the only one in the house who’d been anti-Christ for the longest time. Toju had taken the step a few days before grandma had even shown up but had been reluctant to tell me because of how vocal I was about my disdain for all things religious. He was scared if he sprung it on me too suddenly, I would withdraw and push him away – despite the fact that we needed each other terribly -, so he’d resorted to praying steadfastly and trying to be my moral compass, while groping his way through his own baby steps in the faith.
No matter how betrayed I tried to feel that he’d not shared with me sooner, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it had probably been the best approach. Seeing grandma, growing to know her, hearing her testimony and being witness to how changed and at peace she was in spite of all the blows she been dealt by life had convinced me of the efficacy of a divine Savior in ways no words could. And I’d wanted the peace too. Badly.
On the morning Toju was to go back to the hospital to get his bandage taken off, I dreamt of our mom. The setting was of the one most pleasant memory I had of her – my fifth birthday. She was weaving my hair and looking at me pouting through the mirror.
Why are you pouting?
I promised what?
That if I was patient with you and daddy that I’ll get the present I wanted.
So Toju got what he wanted! I didn’t get anything. And he gets to have more friends over but I’m older.
Hmmm. So why have you been patient with us anyway? Just so you’d get a present?
No. Because I love you and I want you to be happy with me. But-
Lovely. So you’re patient with us because you love us. Would you still love us if you didn’t get the present though?
I had delayed for a while before nodding, albeit reluctantly.
I think so.
Well that’s good then, because good things may not always come to those who wait, but to those who love? Good things come to those who love.
With that she pulled out the prettiest ballet shoes that could steal any 5 year old’s heart and I gave her the biggest hug my short chubby arms could create before waking up.
The dream made me feel decidedly rotten. Because it reminded me of how much I missed her and how angry I was that the feeling wasn’t mutual. As I sat in the hospital reception waiting for Toju, I kept asking myself all the pointless questions I had asked countless times. Why did she change? Things had started off good for a few years in spite of her past so what went so wrong? How did she go from great mom to demon?
I saw my phone’s screen light up as Toju’s call came in. In two seconds it went dark again –flash. I got up and headed for the entrance where we’d agreed to meet. Upon stepping out of the lobby, I found him. He had his back to me and was clearly speaking to somebody but his height and frame made it impossible for me to tell whom. I waited politely close to the door, not wanting to interrupt in case he was trying to wind up some starry-eyed girl who’d fallen for his ‘nerdiness’. Bits of their conversation reached me however.
“You do still remember our address right?”
“Yeah well, you think you could find your way there with an Uber one of these days maybe?”
“Because I’m asking you to.”
I pushed the frame of my shades down my nose a little and looked at my brother’s back. They seemed familiar enough from the tone of the conversation but it didn’t sound like a friendly familiarity.
But when did Toju learn to be so forceful with babes though? Ah ah, hot boy gang.
I smirked and went back to checking my Whatsapp messages but the next few bits of their conversation that wafted over to me had my head snapping up again.
“It won’t be a bad idea to show up…at least before somebody dies.”
“…I’m not dying…”
“I wasn’t just talking about you…me first.”
“…stay out of fights…I’ve been getting help too.
“Great…I’m sure he’ll be happy.”
“I don’t have a husband.”
“By law, yeah, you do.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. The bits weren’t making sense to me. I walked over to them, talking from a short distance away.
“Uncle, why would you flash me when you’re not ready to-.”
Toju turned at the sound of my voice and as he shifted I saw the smallish woman behind him. Her face was drawn with eye bags that looked too heavy for her slight frame to bear comfortably. She wore a t-shirt and faded jeans, had no make up on and had pulled her hair into a neat bun. If it weren’t for the age in her eyes, she could be my older -curvier- sister.
“Yeah sorry about that. I just thought you might want to see mom after so long.”
To be continued…