The sky was a smoldering pot of heat as I watched Fortune’s mother lift his open head off the scorched pavement. It was one of those dull Saturday afternoons, where if you were not playing or working you simply sat and watched the thirsty sky suck up the large puddles of dirty water that dotted the streets, one at a time. Fortune had not been playing or working and he never watched the sky.
My mother spoke to my brother in a cool calm voice, repeating the same words, ‘Fortune, get up now’ her tone was persuasive, though her eyes were pleading: ‘I will kill you before you kill me.’ I read the words from her lips. I could not hear her over the avalanche of noise around me. Her jaws were slack and her lips—I had only known them as two flints in a stone jaw because she was always making fire with her words—seemed now to be trembling.
I took one small step forward, shifted my weight from left to right and hugged my chest to steady myself. My body was reacting to the heat more than usual; the tiny rashes on my neck had now enveloped my entire arms and chest. I let my hands fall to my side to keep from scratching them. The sun was unforgiving, taunting, almost distracting.
A large crowd had gathered. It was mainly small groups of local people, who, despite repeated clicking of tongues and fingers to show their sympathy, could not hide their delight and excitement at this free distraction from the ordinariness of their daily lives. A few curious passersby tutted and shook their heads, heaved loudly and made various other gestures of distress before continuing on their sojourn. A pity-filled comment made it to my ear occasionally, from the long stream of conversation flowing around me: ‘’uhn uhn, the devil is a liar’’ a large woman standing beside me muttered, as she fanned her oddly pale face with a wide hand-held fan that would have fit perfectly in her lip-stick covered mouth. ‘’he was such a fine, strong boy’’. The woman beside me, whom everyone living on the street knew as Mama Prosper, lived a few houses up from ours in one of the better houses on the street. There were exactly four of these ‘better houses’ on Ikeja Close, the only reason they were better was because they were newer, had gates and a usually functional water system.
The crowd consisted of shocked onlookers, genuine sympathizers and ardent gossips. I was centre stage. They had gathered when I called for help, wailing the customary ‘somebody please come help me o!’ It had been my duty. And as my brother’s body gave a final struggle for breath; thick dark blood like engine oil leaking from his white coconut skull, I prepared myself. Prepared to raise alert, to hold my mother’s failing body, prepared to grieve.
I had given a few moments until he was completely still, then I let out a heart-wrenching cry. My lungs were angry from the heat so there was real pain in my voice. My head pounded almost as hard as Fortune’s did against the worn road. I had only waited to see if anyone would notice my brother was dying. I waited to see if the world or at least this small desolate square in the big revolving sphere would snap out of its lethal trance and decide that this dying boy is something out of the ordinary. They did not. Even the kpof-kpof and pure water hawkers did not notice that the road was no longer its usual dusty gray but a deep dark river of red. Their only concern was that the living buy and they would sell until they could afford to live. My mother did not stop folding the yards of bed sheets and materials, which she had soaked in the morning, and hung up to dry on a line attached to the algae covered wall in the communal backyard.
I had to tell my mother that her only son was lying on the side of the road like a dying dog, in a shrill voice that had brought many slaps to my darkened face, my mother often saying it was too loud with a scowl on her beautiful, hard face: ‘come on shut up! Are you trying to wake you dead father?’
My mother had stormed out of our small flat in the small bungalow at the edge of the street that was like any other lower middle class residence in Lagos, with ancient architectural experiment of varying wretchedness. There was a gutter the size of an average bathtub running along the front of every house. The gutter continued onto the next street and every street after that forming a never-ending network of sewage. This was the same gutter that Fortune crossed over, every day, to buy foodstuff or run errands for my mother. Yet this was where his feet, swift as they were, mistook gravity for ground and betrayed his balance. The visitors who only came to our house at night, always sat gingerly while talking to my mother, their eyes all the while on the door of the bedroom. They would say how agile he was, how his feet did not even touch the ground after they had eaten the bowls of steaming beef stew my mother brought out in gleaming white china bowls. It was true. Even as his overgrown body cut through the thick air, his head met the ground long before his feet did.
My brother was a big boy. My mother said that was why all the women living on our street were jealous of her, especially our next-door neighbor, Aunty Efemelu, who prayed at 6am every day, without fail. Aunty Efemelu always prayed with her window wide open, thanking god for keeping her from the hands of witches and wizards as she slept, at the top of her voice. ‘Father, lord god, it is not because I am beautiful or because I serve you like no other-‘Her voice would get even louder, cutting through the fragile morning air. ‘You have blessed me with a husband and even though we do not have any children, he is alive and well…it is only by your power’. She would continue her verbal, spiritual warfare, destroying demons and sinful women who only had a house full of bastards and barstools and men. My mother would laugh in her wry way and stick her tongue out in jest. ‘Some people are just jealous of my husband’, she would lean in and kiss fortune to rouse him from sleep. ‘Or is he not my husband? Wake up my handsome boy’ she never waited for an answer.
My mother’s deep throaty voice thundered over the entire street. It hit a huge dome in the sky and bounced back onto the ground, causing massive dust balloons to rise. The dust settled, coating my arms, neck, and chest in a thin gray film. I started to itch, picking the soft scabs off the mosquito bites from the night before. I wiped my bloody fingers on my white cotton dress.
By now, the whole street had congregated in front of the house. The gutter had stopped flowing. The smell nauseated me. I covered my nose with my hands as some men struggled to lift fortune’s legs out of the rotten pile of human waste. Neighbors rushed in and out of our house, fetching water from the water drums in our kitchen with huge bowls and buckets. They threw the water on Fortune’s body to wash the thick black sludge off, diluting his blood. No one told me to do anything. Everyone was busy washing, carrying, wailing, crying. My mother had not moved from Fortune’s head. I did not feel like crying. The sky was beginning to darken, which meant it was going to rain heavily tonight. I wanted to go inside and heat the leftover vegetable soup but I knew there was no kerosene left in the stove. Fortune was supposed to buy some.
En route to her next existential crisis, Chiamaka Amadi is a 16-year-old coffee lover and people watcher. She finds pleasure in simple things like pringles, post-colonial African literature and good psychological thrillers. ‘What’s more important than me?’ is her favorite rhetorical question and she is entirely convinced her stories are remnants of past lives trying to take over her current life. Chiamaka is happiest when she is tweeting “social commentary” on her ever-evolving twitter page https://twitter.com/unimaginable_Me