Timi, My Brother
Timi did not die. No. How could they tell me that a boy of twelve, bubbly in the morning, was dead this afternoon? Was that the way people died? He had left for his own school before me. Sound. Students’ envy could be pernicious. Many of my classmates, in order to excel above others, had gone into evil, into inventing noxious lies to pull one another down. They just wanted to disorganize me mentally and get me perform abysmally in this test because I had come first in the first term. They had played the trick on Ejezie and Elo, two brilliant students in our class. They had also tried the ruse on my friend Cornelius, who had been unbeaten to the first position from our first year until I did it. Now I was their target. No way! They had failed. My brother, Timi, was not dead. He was alive. Healthy. In his school right now.
Although I muttered those words to myself before we started writing our test, I still felt uneasy throughout its duration. I battled with my mind over its proclivity to dwell on the gossip. It kept drifting out of the hall; I kept pulling it back to finish successfully this business—the test.
About an hour later, I was through. I handed in my answer script, picked my pack, hopped down the steps of the hall, and headed for home.
Outside the school gate, I prayed as I trotted that no setback would greet me in this class five; for as I considered my answers in that thirty-mark test, I realized that evil rumours could affect a weak heart, like mine. I knew that the rumour had slightly influenced some of my answers. Nevertheless, I believed that no matter how bad my score turned out to be, it would never near the shoreline next to the deep sea—failure.
“This is where it happened, Chinedu,” a voice shouted.
I stopped. On my right was a bush sparsely burnt a day before. It was along the road to our house. Standing there were two boys between eight and eleven years. They had no shirts on, and their bodies had been turned the colour of ash by the harmattan grazing unoiled skins and drying ungreased lips. Hanging down from each of their necks was a catapult, and their trousers had big holes in both knees. I watched them for a while, but they continued looking at me silently. I turned to resume my walk-and-run.
“This is where it happened, Chinedu.”
I stopped and faced them again. Who knew my name there? Were they joking or what?
“Your brother, Timi,” the taller and fairer one said and, with their machetes, they both pointed at an excavated portion of ground before them.
“Did what?” I asked, still unable to recognize them. “My brother, Timi, did what?”
They kept silent, but still pointing at the portion, which looked totally different from the other parts covered by soot.
I took off again. I ran until I stopped at the slope near the entrance to our compound and sat down to catch some breath. The harmattan was really dangerous to a heart engaged in strenuous activities at this period. It taxed the heart exceedingly and made one feel like a tubercular patient. It was about two o’clock, the second week of February, the season many people in our area hunt games in the bush. Our place was semi-urban, and the atmosphere was blanketed by harmattan haze.
I looked down the road. Unbeknownst to me, the two boys had been running after me with their long arrows and machetes. Seeing me resting, they stopped running and started walking. At a certain point, they halted and stood watching me, gesticulating, perhaps whispering. I sensed danger. Not any from them, but the possible reality of the rumour in school. My mind, however, dismissed the fear and pulled me up to my feet again.
I reached the entrance to our compound and crossed. We had no gate, for the community itself had a vigilante group who secured lives and property at night. Long ago, this security outfit was absent as peace reigned everywhere. But armed robbers started visiting the area sporadically when people began flocking there after Governor Sullivan Chime restored power by reinstalling the electrical installations vandalized by hoodlums about twenty years ago. To combat the crime, Awgu elders formed a vigilante group and employed able-bodied men who patrolled the place at night. Now calm had been restored, and most people bothered less about gates, especially the expensive ones.
As I walked into our compound, an immaculate white cloth hung on the low wall of our verandah flashed my eyes. I rushed forward, believing it was someone’s school shirt. There on the floor lay Timi in his school uniform, black trousers and a white vest, his face down, his schoolbag beside him. The cloth on the wall was his shirt. I called his name, held his right thigh and shook him, but he did not stir. I turned back. The two boys had run into the compound. It was now that I recognized them—Jezie and Arum.
“Here is Timi’s arrow,” Jezie said and threw the weapon on the ground.
“And this is his machete,” Arum said and threw down the machete.
Bemused, I shook Timi again and felt his body from head to feet. But no life was in him.
“Timi!” I shouted.
“Look at his right hand,” Arum said, pointing. “I’m the one who came to your school and asked your friends to inform you of the…”
I lifted Timi’s right hand. There were small cuts and a smudge of blood on the back of his middle finger.
“What happened?” I could not make sense of the cuts and the blood.
“An animal,” Arum said. “An animal bit him when he put his hand in a hole.”
“At the place you saw us on the way.”
My heart thumped and I felt a hollow within it. “What type of animal? What was Timi doing there during school hours?”
“He told us that his science teacher, also his form teacher, had asked him to bring a live rodent. He asked your father to give him money to buy the animal from the teacher, but your father refused and said he had no money. When Timi got back to school, the teacher expelled him, demanding that he should either pay for a rodent or bring a live one himself before rejoining the class. Timi rushed to our house with his arrow and machete and begged us to help him hunt the animal. We went with him into that bush near the road. As we were excavating a hole, Timi put his hand in it and touched something on the tail. I also put in my own hand and felt the animal moving its body. We thought it was either a rat or rabbit. When Timi put in his hand again, the thing bit him.”
“What bit him?”
Arum hesitated and drew back. “Snake.”
“Jesus!” I said.
“Before we could administer first-aid herbs,” Jezie took over to wrap up the story, “Timi was already fainting and drooling. We carried him home here in the hope of meeting your parent. But we saw nobody. So, Timi died.” He shuddered and sighed.
“Why didn’t you two take him to hospital straight away? Don’t you know that a snake bite is venomous?”
“We know,” Jezie said. “We searched for an egg he would drink to vomit the poison. But we didn’t see any.”
“You should have taken him to hospital immediately!”
“Are we supposed to bear the blame for the death?” Arum asked, defiantly.
“We tried our best to save him,” Jezie said.
The two boys exchanged glances and scurried out of the compound.
I looked painfully at my lifeless younger brother. Filled with sorrow, I turned my face towards our front yard, gazing but looking at nothing. Then the memory resurfaced of a conversation I had had with Timi immediately I returned from Aba where I had gone on holiday. He had also come on holiday from Enugu to our town, Awgu.
For three days, I had begged Timi to go back to Enugu. When I raised the matter again on the fourth day, he impaled my heart.
Timi had been living with Uncle Chieme, Daddy’s younger brother. He and his family resided in Enugu. Timi had lived with Uncle Chieme for five years before Uncle got married. Fortunately, his wife had twins in both her first and second births, four children in three years.
“I’m not going back there again,” Timi had said to me on the fourth day we were discussing the matter at the verandah of our house.
“Why won’t you go back there?”
“I said I’m not going back to Enugu again. Finish. Stop troubling me.” Timi got up, but I pulled him by his shorts and he sat down again.
“Why won’t you go back there? Is anything wrong?” My voice was low and balmy.
“Brother Chinedu, I said I’m not going back there.”
I held his trunk. “Okay. If you don’t want to go back, just give me your reason. Then I won’t bother you anymore with the matter.”
“Excuse me.” He stood up and went inside.
Five minutes passed, yet he had not come out. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. I stormed into the house. Timi was on a sofa at the sitting-room, polishing his shoes. What an insult! I stared hard at him but he did not budge. He rather started whistling a tune by Shaba Rank. As if that was not enough, he tuned another one by Shaka Demus, and clinched the songs with reggae, Chase Them Away, by Maxwell Udo. I shook my head vigorously, I bit my fingers and lower lips, I blinked hundred times in ten seconds. I could not speak. The words in my heart were so numerous, so heavy, so sharp that even my mouth was not at present the appropriate channel to offload them. They were too hot. Out of the room I flounced and resumed my seat at the verandah.
About fifteen minutes later, Timi came out, dressed in a scarlet polyester shirt, blue jean trousers and black leather shoes.
“Brother Chinedu,” he said, his two hands in the back pockets of his trousers, “I hope you wouldn’t mind? I’m going somewhere now.” He tilted his head back, and began to swagger, the peak of his red baseball cap facing backwards, covering his nape.
I jerked myself up, yanked his hands out of his pockets and dragged him backwards, counting on my enormous pounds for victory should he fight me. “Sit down here! I’m discussing with you and you’re walking out. What does that mean? Where’re you going?”
He just chortled lightly and sat down, making me look like a fool. After some moment he said, “Okey-dokey, you wanna know why I don’t wanna go back to Enugu, right?”
I had the impulse to slap him and ask him where he had learnt the strange language, but I controlled myself and simply said, “Don’t ask me any question. Just tell me why you decided not to go back and continue your studies. You just started secondary school.”
He bent and started retying his shoelace, humming as well.
“Timi!” The insult was becoming unbearable.
He straightened up sharply. “I’m tired of washing fucking children’s clothes. Are you now satisfied?”
I could not believe it. “Is this your reason for not going back to—?”
“Isn’t it enough?”
“It isn’t, Timi. Uncle Chieme took you when you were still very young, when you could hardly wash your own clothes yourself. He didn’t mind your tender age. He has been feeding you, paying your school fees and doing other things for you. Why is it too difficult for you to reciprocate now that God has blessed him with children? Why can’t you be useful to him now?”
He sprang to his feet and pointed his left fingers at me. “I know your plans, but they won’t work out.”
“Yes.” He looked defiant now. “You want to drive me away from my father’s house? Do you think you are the only heir he has got?”
“Timi!” My jaw dropped. I wiped my eyes with my hands. Was it someone that had just spoken through Timi? Had something gone into his head? I called him again. But Timi did not answer. He hurtled to the yard and walked out.
I stood gazing at the compound, dispirited, my hands scratching confusedly my head. I felt my heart impaled with a serrated skewer, sawn. I had thought I was advising my brother to do the right thing. I had explained to him many times why he should return to Enugu, and he had witnessed himself that Daddy resented his decision. But his brain had gone far with an idea I myself had never nursed. He had started imagining how our father’s property would be shared without considering that our father, Ekenna, was not even up to a petty-bourgeois, that he was just an itinerant trader.
That was how Timi contumaciously refused to go back to Enugu. So Daddy reluctantly found him a school in Awgu here, and he started class one.
Now Timi was dead. Had he taken my advice, he might still be alive. But his stubbornness was unparalleled. It was this that had earned him the name Timi, instead of his real name Jude. If he was quarreling with anybody, he would be saying, “Tiem ihe, beat me, if you are not afraid.” No amount of talk could dissuade him from challenging the person, even when the hierarchy of strength disfavoured him. Other children, in mockery of his often unreasonable doggedness, shortened tiem ihe to timi, which now became the proper name Timi.
I turned my face again and stared at Timi’s corpse. Tears sprang from my eyes and began to line my cheeks. I bent down and shook Timi again, but he remained as immobile as a heap of pounded foo-foo.
We mourned Timi for about a month and Mummy almost went mad. She had adored him, even more than me. She kept sulking, partly reproaching Daddy for refusing Timi a paltry amount of money, and mainly Timi’s teacher who demanded a live rodent. Had we not kept her in check throughout that first week of the death, enough to cool her temper, she would have gone to Timi’s school to attack the teacher, or even hurt the school representatives that came to console us.
As I ruminated over the death now, I didn’t know whom to lash. Should I blame the teacher for demanding a live rodent? Should I blame Daddy for refusing to give my brother that paltry sum? Should I blame my brother, Timi, for refusing to heed my advice? One thing, however, I was certain: I was now an only son. Tears!