Sibling relationships are complicated. All family relationships are. Look at Hamlet. — Maurice Saatchi
It had reached the seventh year of me and my sister’s bitter war and I could tell she was just getting started. All first children will testify to the fact that no matter how brief, they could always remember the moment of peace and tranquillity they experienced before the others arrived. Being the new child on the block, she was met with nothing but hostility from me and that was returned in equal voracity with her resentment. Nothing, even the two-year difference, could deter her, and with my reputation as the first born on the line, I couldn’t refuse a challenge.
By the seventh year of our fights that were punctuated sometimes by short fleeting moments of peace, I knew that I needed one thing to change the tide of the battle, a gamechanger, I needed reinforcements. I was eight and my sister, six, when we began petitioning for another sibling. Most boys my age wanted a little brother so they could have someone to play FIFA with or actual football or whatever it is other boys that age liked to do. I, just needed another soldier who could help me fight my sister. While I was badgering my parents for a brother, Rita was on her own agenda, bringing in good points for a sister.
Neither of us really understood how the baby thing worked and it mystified us beyond anything else. While I thought that babies just appeared on the doorstep with a list of clear concise instructions, Rita had a theory that when a mother wrapped one of her other children in white cloth and wished really hard, it would magically turn into a baby, relegating the previous child into nonexistence. While Rita’s idea made no sense, I made sure to keep my mother within sight at all times when she was holding a white blanket or napkin, just in case.
When my mother got pregnant, Rita and I gaped at her stomach and how big it was getting, more than that, we asked questions on what gender it was, knowing that whoever was inside could be the solution to either one of our problems. “Is it a boy?” I would ask, jumping to sit beside her as she was watching Tv. Rita would take this as a cue and go from the other side, “No, it’s a girl!” she’d shout, as if trying to convince the unborn baby to be a girl by the force of her will alone.
My mother would sigh like she always did, tired of our bickering. Had my father been home, he would have probably shooed us away, giving us some task to do but as he was barely around during the day, that left three of us. I don’t know whether it was us or maybe the stress of giving birth to a third child in Nigeria, but while she was on perhaps the fourth month of her pregnancy, our mum travelled to stay with our aunt in London.
For some strange reason, we weren’t to say a word of her pregnancy to anyone. The same thing happened with our travel plans, they were kept as top-level secrets not to be spoken of outside the confines of the house. I don’t know but maybe it was a taboo, or maybe it was considered rude. Regardless, I’m still not sure till today which is more ludicrous: my sister’s theory on childbirth or the thought that I could one day be able to keep a secret. “Yeah,” I’d tell my little audience at school, leaning back into my chair as their eyes were on me. “We’re getting a little brother and he’s not even going to be born here, but yeah, it’s not that much of a big deal.”
We were to join my mother around her due date in June but until then, the reality of which way the wind could blow began to dawn on my sister and me. If it truly was a girl, then I was in deep trouble. The thought of not one, but two girls against me was deathly scary and it kept me up at night. Rita, of course, would take full advantage, using anything within her disposal to destroy me. And the same was vice versa if it was a boy. The following weeks were filled with an almost manic show of kindness on both our sides.
“Here, brother dear,” Rita would say, passing a cup of water as we were eating dinner. “Oh no, loving sister, here, watch what you want.” I would say, giving her the remote as she entered the room. My father, who was watching over us at the time was confused, surprised and maybe relieved at the thought that Rita and I had settled our differences but what we were really doing was braving the calm before the storm. And what a storm it was.
It was the morning of June 14th when my father, calling us into the living room, told us the news: my mother had given birth, to a baby boy! I jumped up as high as the AC, leaping with joy as Rita gave a weak smile. I was smug in return, letting her know who the real victor was. Sure, she had given a good fight but now it was time to pronounce the true, rightful champion: me, and maybe the new unnamed child too
The name, of course was definitely something in question and while I thought that Anthony was such a good name, having two couldn’t hurt, the rest of the family didn’t agree. It was one evening that my father called me into the room and asked what I thought the baby should be named.
“Hmm,” I said thoughtfully. “What about ‘Jude II’?” I said, proposing his name.
“No,” he said, scratching his chin. My father’s voice is very deep, making even quiet, calm statements sound like declarations from on high. “He should have his own name.”
We were lying on the bed thinking of what this new member of our family should be named while unbeknownst to us, his name had already been given by the one person who had vetoed the decision: my mother. All of us were named after catholic saints, Anthony, Rita, and it was fitting that this new baby was to be named Peter.
It was when we were going to meet my mother that Rita and I discovered that when my father travelled, he travelled light and in style. My mother would have practically carried our whole house with us whenever we travelled, taking fish, meat and all sorts. “But mummy,” I would cry under the annoying weight of my bag. “Don’t they have snails in London?”
“Tony, just be quiet for a minute and make space there for this Maggi.”
My father by contrast carried only two suitcases, a big one for some things and a smaller hand luggage, asking my sister and I to do the same. It felt strange somehow to not have our hands boggled by bags and luggage and it made us feel empty, like we forgot something. While, with our mother, we flew Economy, our dad booked us all in Business allowing us to fully enjoy flying for what it was in our minds — a luxurious activity.
Rita and I took advantage, raising our cups as the attendants passed by. “Yes,” we would say in our haughty voices, “I would like more tea.” The attendant would smile as if sharing a private joke with my father as they poured the hot chocolate into our cups, filling our egos.
On the flight, I could help feeling a small resentment for the rest of the family who Peter had met before me, his big brother. I wanted to be the first one he saw and for us to share a deep brotherly bond, one of those unspoken ones that crosses borders and continents.
We arrived in the morning and in the evening, we finally got to my mother and our new brother. I don’t know but from the first time I held him and looked into his eyes, I knew that while I had gotten the brother I had dreamed of, I had not gotten a partner. The following months and then years would prove me right.
Peter was born with an independence that Rita and I woefully lacked. We were criers and complainers but Peter separated himself completely by being a different breed of Azekwoh. While we would have thrown tantrums when the channel was changed from Disney, Peter would fix you a look that translated into You peasant, why has my channel been changed? Put it back or you’ll pay. And you would. Despite the fact that I’m almost a decade older than him, Peter would fight even me if he feels I’m in contempt.
Peter had no allegiance in Rita and I’s war and declared, instead, a third side, consisting of only him. We both watched in horror as both our wishes were trampled on by this tiny newcomer for whom the word ‘No’ had no real meaning. Rules, to him, were suggestions and though he didn’t cause much trouble for our parents, to Rita and me, he was another thing. Giving us the same respect you’d give to mugs or annoying shoelaces.
One night, I watched him tuck himself to sleep, marvelling at how ready he seemed. At seven, he already looked like he had it all together in a way neither me or Rita could ever hope to get to. He shifted slowly on his bed, sucking the edge of his pillow and in one of those early moments, I saw him for what he was. Not a young, innocent child who we had wrongly tried to impose our own traits on but rather, a new, fresh soldier, who maybe not now, but someday, would join my side in this aged war.