It has been years…and for that I have only myself to blame. I was not a good father to you. How are Anita, and the twins? I hope they are doing well. The last time I saw them, they could fit in the cusp of each of my hands. I’m sure they would be at my knees now. Ndudi and Ndidi — good names you both chose.
The doctor says I have a few months, maybe more, maybe less, but time is an arrow that neither falters nor reverses, it only marches on. And with each new day, I find myself here, filled with life, and regret. I find myself searching for these words now, and the strength to say them, to you, my son.
You left me because you said I was poison. And I did not stop you from leaving, because you were right.
The blood that runs through our veins is acid, and it burns everything it touches.
I had a sister once. You had an aunt. I never told you. Because I was scared or because I wanted to forget…I’m not sure anymore.
But I had a sister, whose name I cannot write, because to name is to give power, and I will not do that.
Her name meant joy, and the first time I saw her, she looked down at me with eyes filled with the beauty of the world. She said she’d always be by me. She promised.
When she walked, it was like she was scaling the universe, and when she breathed, it was like she inhaled the stars. Such was the vibrance with which she lived. Such was the joy she brought to all around her.
Our mother died two days after.
Her body…it didn’t take well to my birth. And our father, he collapsed into the bottle soon after. The woman he had loved, through his life, through the war, now lost to him forever.
It was too much for him. Too much.
But my sister’s spirit never dulled, and she marched on, smiling, looking, and teaching me, her little brother, the stories of the world. She would try on my mother’s clothes sometimes, her white dress and her scarlet heels, and she would put on shows for me, pretending to be characters from a book we had read. The heels would clack on the floor, and I would clap at the sound they made. Smiling.
She loved stories, and so did I.
There was one story she would always tell before we would go to sleep on the bare mattress while our father cried through the walls. She tried to make sure her words were louder than his cries, but I heard them.
And I still do.
The story was of Mọ́remí Ajasoro, the great warrior princess who battled the forest people that threatened her land, using her wit and strength to save her kingdom. It was a story of valour and perseverance.
She loved that story, and so did I.
Time’s arrow marched on and we were now adolescents, navigating the confusing world in confusing new bodies. Our father was a decrepit drunk. His mind was a house that had once been beautiful but was now ruined by age and abuse.
We paid our way through school.
I got a job with Baba who taught me how to become a woodworker under him, and my sister sold akara on the street.
It was little, but it was enough.
In those days, there were boys who came from far away, thugs, who wanted to reap where they did not sow. And one day, their leader, an elephant of a man, came to the town square to demand tribute. It was simple: either we paid the gang every week, or every week, they would take a girl from the town.
We said no, we would not bargain with brigands.
And by the first month, we had lost four girls.
My sister and I lay at night and she had her eyes on the ceiling, motionless, as still as stones, in the way they were when she was thinking.
“I can do it,” she said.
I looked at her. “Do what?”
She looked back at me, and smiled. “Mọ́remí was just one woman, and she conquered all the invaders. I can do it.”
I looked at her, my heart thumping in my chest, sensing something my brain had not yet caught up to. “What are you talking about? We should sleep. Tomorrow is the festival.”
She looked back at the ceiling. “I can do it,” she said. “I can save our town. All on my own.”
Maybe I should have stopped her. Maybe I should have said something.
But I went to sleep and let the conversation drift to where dreams go.
The next morning, I woke, and my sister was not beside me.
I looked for her everywhere. I shouted her name, and asked neighbours and the girls she worked with. Nobody had an answer. Nobody.
Our father was passed out from another long day of drinking.
For seven days and seven nights, I could not eat, or drink, or think. My sister was gone, and I could not fathom where she had gone to. But, at night, my heart would crash into my ribs. It knew something my brain had not yet caught up to.
The gang did not take any girl that week.
On the eighth day, we found her. But…she was not my sister, not completely. Not anymore.
Her clothes had been torn, her body had been bruised, her bones had been broken and blood oozed from between her legs. Those men, they had done things to her…things that had broken her.
Our doctors, they did their best, and I stayed by her side, every day, and every night, to keep her company, to try to make her laugh, to tell her stories.
But she only looked up at the ceiling, her eyes still, motionless, like stones.
On the twelfth day, the cloth was placed above my sister’s body.
On the fourteenth day, I buried her behind our home.
I packed my things up, but before I left, I went to my father and told him how much of a bastard he was for not being there when we needed him. For being only an empty shell when he could have protected us…protected her.
I left him because he was poison, and he didn’t stop me, because I was right.
I went to a new school, a boarding school for boys in the town next over, with money my sister and I had saved. It was little, but it was enough.
I wanted a new life. A fresh start.
Days in the school were good, and some of my best years were from there, but, as I write now, I remember. At night…it was strange. Very strange. The boys would whisper that they saw a ghost of some kind. A young woman, with obsidian eyes, a white dress, and shoes…blood red heels.
She made only one sound as she passed — the sound of her heels clacking against the floor.
The boys would writhe in fear and soil their beds, screaming.
The strange woman, Madame Koi Koi they had begun to call her, never visited me. I slept peacefully at night. Sometimes dreaming after staring at the ceiling, motionless.
One night, I woke up to ease myself. That was when I saw her, her pale cadaver face with dried veins, and I cried, because hers was a face I had seen before. One of the first faces I had ever seen, who told me stories and would lay with me when the night became too dark.
I fell to my knees, tears streaming down my face, and I asked her, “Why?”
The apparition looked at me with eyes as blank as clouds and as still as stones. Eyes that were unseeing, that were once filled with joy, and she said, simply, “Promise.”
Then she was gone.
You had an aunt, and I had a sister.
But she is gone.
I don’t know how, or why she became what she is now, but I know this: when a spirit so strong, is broken by the world, that spirit cannot die. It rages against the twilight, and is turned, and twisted…into something else.
I have lived with this for fifty years and now pass the story onto you, my son, so maybe you can see where you come from, where I come from, and understand.
I was a man, married, when I found that my sister had not told me the full story of Mọ́remí Ajasoro.
You see, after she had defended her kingdom from the forest people, the river spirit demanded a sacrifice, as tribute. She would not accept cows, or fowls, no…she would only accept one thing: Mọ́remí’s only son, Ela.
Some say that the people of the town swore to be her children after that sacrifice, but Mọ́remí was not the same. Her eyes had hardened into stones, and her love for life was snuffed out. Some say that she died, some say that she still roams the Earth, terrified of the water. I cannot say for sure, but I know this: when a spirit so strong, is broken by the world, that spirit cannot die.
Ndudi and Ndidi. “Patience,” and “There is life.” Good names, powerful names.
I hope to hear from you again, just one more time before the dark, but if I don’t, I will treasure the memories of you in my heart every time I close my eyes.
I wish you a good life. Appreciate what you have, in this moment. Always.
Because time’s arrow does not falter, nor reverse, my son.
It only marches on.