Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto – Four Of Us
“Frank, that’s not the right way to put on your sandals,” I said to my younger brother who had his left foot in the right foot sandal and the right foot in the left. He stopped walking towards me and stared at me very confused. He was lax and calm, permissive and naive. He was always on his own and asked too much questions about everything. I hated it whenever he put his questions to me, like the day he asked me about death.
“Where do people go when they die?” he asked me.
“They go to heaven or hell,” I answered.
“Which do you want to go when you die?”
“Heaven of course”
“What about hell?”
“No one is to go there,” I replied.
“Is the place not nice? What is there? Why don’t you want to go there? Is hell not better than heaven? Is our dad in hell or heaven? Is Mr. Okeke our neighbour that died last week in hell? Which do you think grandpa is in now? Which do you think people want to go to?”
I was silent.
“I don’t know where I will go but since you said you want heaven, I guess I will like to go there too when I die,” he murmured. “But brother, why do we sleep and wake up? Why can’t we be awake all day?”
“We need to rest our bodies after being stressed out by daily activities. Can you now let me be, please?”
“I wish I have superpowers like Superman or Flash or Spiderman or Green lantern.”
“I just want to be like them so I can…”
He had lost all his front teeth and was always jeered at by his playmates for having no teeth like the grandparents in the villages. They accused him of not throwing his teeth to the lizards so they could take it to the spirit world then the spirits would replace his teeth. He cried whenever he was called grandpa.
“Put it the other way round,” I continued. “Put your left leg in the left sandal.”
“Ok” he replied as he did as I told him.
“And then your right leg in the right sandal.”
Chinwe, my only sister who came before a brother that came before Frank was busy dipping, or rather, soaking the last piece of bread she had into her cup of tea. We had bread with tea as breakfast. She never liked eating in time and never finished on time as well. All her meals, she ate them as if they would not ever get finished.
“Hurry up!” I said to her. “We are already late. Mum is waiting for us at the shop.” The shop was where we spent most of our holidays each time school vacated. We never visited any of our uncles or aunts; they always said they were busy. They were always busy throughout the year, the following year and every other years and I wondered. We loved it when we were on holidays; we never slept early or woke up early for anything.
“Hurry up!” I reminded Chinwe. She was busy running her two fingers inside the tea cup to make sure that the balls of milk at the base of the cup entered her mouth. That was the part she enjoyed the most.
“I am coming,” she returned.
“Will you…” I flared. She noticed my countenance. She knew what would have happened next if she had wasted more time. She immediately dropped the cup and got into her sandals. We left for the shop.
Emeka, who came after Chinwe, left a while ago. He was restless and carefree and always in haste. He played a lot and fought a lot. He hated being bored. He was always doing something anytime; either fidgeting with something or jumping up and down the sofa. He had scars on his legs and arms; all were the results of his fights and falls. There was a wound on his left shin. He got it from a fall while he was trying to jump a fence in the neighbourhood. He spoilt the television set two times. Our parents locked most of the valuables away in their room because of him. He spoilt the iron, the radio, tore the sofa and many other things. But the day I broke a plate, mother flogged me so hard and reminded me to be careful with things.
“Don’t you know you are the eldest and must lead by good examples? You must not break plates. Things are costly now. You are the one who taught Emeka how to spoil things in this house, I suppose. Be careful!” She would remind me. Emeka was rarely scolded for spoiling things. I was always blamed for not seeing and stopping him. I could not remember how many times he got something spoilt in the house.
I remembered the day he ventured into the bag Chinwe keeps her clothes.
“Brother, see what Chinwe is hiding in her bag,” he reported to me with a small package in pink, white and blue stripes in his hand shown to my face.
“Why did you go to her things?” I questioned him recognizing what he was holding. That was when Chinwe entered the room.
“Why did you go to my bag of clothes?” Chinwe screamed on seeing what Emeka was holding.
“I will tell mum that you bought bread and hid it in your bag. Then you have to explain how you got the money,” Emeka attacked her.
“That’s not bread, give it to her now,” I commanded Emeka. He handed it over to her. Chinwe left in annoyance. “That’s not bread.” That was all I could tell him. What he got from her bag was a Sanitary Pad.
I also remember how I got locked inside the Thermocool deep freezer by Emeka during one of our curious plays. We wanted to see if the freezer’s light still shone when the lid was closed. We wanted to know how it felt to be in a cold weather like the one we saw in the movies. Therefore, we threw a die to determine who would enter first. It fell on me. I entered and he closed the lid. Immediately I noticed the freezer’s light never shone when the lid was closed. It was dark all around and I was inside with other food items. I was freezing, I pushed the lid to get opened but I could not. I screamed and fidgeted, they were to no avail. I was freezing and shivering. I struggled and pushed upwards, nothing happened. I grew tired, calm and wished for anything to come take me. It was dark inside. I started wishing many things, I wished I was dead, I wished it was my brother that was inside. I wished I never agreed to enter first; I should have disregarded the die we threw. Then the lid opened, forcefully I pushed myself upwards and out of the freezer. I met the weirdest smile of my life right before me. Emeka was smiling and he stood feet away from me because he knew what was coming.
“I am sorry, brother,” he said.