Since my dad bought his Nissan Pathfinder S.U.V, the rumour mills had taken their business to a higher level. Everywhere on my street, groups gathered and discussed Jamie’s death, casting pitiful glances at me whenever I passed by. The women who came to console mum played their ‘comforter’ roles very well but I knew better. I could hear them whisper whenever my mum left the sitting room only to replace their scheming lips with plastic smiles whenever dad came in. I heard Iya Yetunde drop ‘wise’ and ‘insightful’ sentences like, “don’t you know they sacrifice the children they love most for their blood money” and also watched as the ‘kind’ women nodded sagely, awed at their ringleader’s unending knowledge on the ways of ‘evil’ men.
Today, dad momentarily stopped
grieving and decided we could go to Ladipo to fix bumper protectors to his new car. I didn’t want to think about James (I was driving so I needed to
concentrate) but he was everywhere and it was impossible not to think about him every second, especially since dad’s eyes were not hiding the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about him too.
James was my older and only sibling, born eight years, three months and two days before I joined the family. While I was in primary school, he was the ‘visitor’ that came to my house from time to time to take money and bags of beverages from ‘my parents’. I remember having more toys than Disneyland because he bought several whenever he ‘visited’. I was feared in my neighbourhood because Jamie (as he was fondly called) would ‘kill’ whoever touched his brother. He taught me to make the senior students love me and threatened the vicious ones till they loved me like I was their own brother. He made it his duty to buy the things I needed for school himself because he knew Dad wouldn’t buy me the little extras that made all the difference. Long before I had sex, Jamie had taught me about condoms, why they were used and how they were used. He also taught me about the benefits of abstinence.
He got a job immediately after his national youth service and moved to his own house in Ikeja too (Mum insisted he could only move if he stayed close to home) and I spent my weekends away from school there. I was there when the diarrhoea started and the vomiting got worse. That was when he told me about the condom that tore years ago and how he felt he might have contracted H.I.V. I laughed it off and told him l was having diarrhoea too (it was a lie) and it could be connected to our regular consumption of beans. He laughed too and told me he would still go to a hospital to find out his H.I.V status. I remember shrugging and going back to the P. square video I was watching.
Dad and I got to Ladipo early and the boys rushed out and swarmed around the car. I took out my wallet,produced a complimentary card and called the boys that fixed dad’s other S.U.V. They called some of their friends and work began in earnest. The battery was disconnected from the car and the welding was done to fix the rear bumper protector. The front bumper protectors were fixed next while the man that wrote the car’s chassis number on the door handles and glasses of the car connected his ‘machine’ to the car battery and scratched away. The rest of the boys each had something to sell: wipers, car air-fresheners, rear-light protectors, a blue plastic to protect the plate number from rust…In the midst of all the commotion, I saw him and I think dad must have seen him too because he froze like he was staring at Medusa.
Before his death, Jamie’s favourite song was ‘AKOMITIPOJU’ by Naeto C and it was just as well because he strutted like a peacock. He walked up to us with Jamie’s swagger; smiling like Jamie; wearing a black T-shirt with the inscription – AKOMITIPOJU boldly written on it and looking almost every inch like Jamie would have been if he was a few inches shorter than his 6 feet 2 inches height. He must have noticed Dad staring so he laughed, “Ahh! Oga, I resemble your pikin wey lost abi die?” Same laugh. Same voice. My dad turned grey and all of his 67 years on earth rushed to the surface of his skin. He just walked away and sat on a wooden chair close to the car. He faced me and continued “Abeg o! This one wey your papa dey do like say im see ghost. Nothing wey James no go see for Lagos o!”
That was when I turned and asked him what he just said in my most you-are-thirty-minutes-away-from-your-grave voice. I think he got the idea and left the car muttering to himself.
I watched him walk down the road wondering to myself what kind of cruel joke Fate was playing this afternoon. Watching this James leave and move down the road seemed like watching my brother leave the hospital to buy plates of ice-cream from the eatery across the road (I should have gone but he insisted, saying he needed the walk to clear his thoughts) only to be hit by a trailer. He died instantly and I never found out his H.I.V status. The doctor thought it was no longer relevant and I agreed. I have thought about that moment for days, wondered why he didn’t hear everyone scream that a trailer was approaching, why he didn’t
hear the trailer’s horn and all those days I have piled up the pain inside but watching James leave felt like losing Jamie again. I broke down and I could see dad weeping from the corner of my eye while the workers watched in wonder.