Today makes it 4 years and I could say that when I think of my younger brother I only remember happy times but that would be a lie because sometimes, I also remember how stubborn he could be. If you did not want something done, ask Chinedu to do it when it was time for football and you would hear all the reasons in the world about how irrelevant the errand was in the grand scheme of life. My last memory of him was when he was only 9 years old but even then he had developed such a strong character. He would always struggle for the biggest meat and being my mother’s favorite, he would get it only to give me over half of it. He would threaten to report me for staying outside past 6 pm but still cover for me when our mother asked of me.
Interacting with people in my little town now, I can’t help but notice how little people appreciate the gift of family. Every morning when I leave home for school, I notice our neighbor, Mama Chike flogging Chike because as always he is late for school. I now notice how my classmates bully their younger siblings at school, nobody wants to be associated with their younger ones. This was a weak attempt at being regarded as cool and I remember doing that to Chinedu, now I deeply wish I could take it back. However, nothing reminds me to appreciate family as much as the harsh breeze that surrounds me whenever I walk by the big stream. After all, that was where my tragedy began.
That day didn’t start any differently from the Tuesday before it and nobody could have guessed how badly the day would end. Chinedu and I both left for school early as usual and Mama made a loud comment about Mama Chike not waking her son up early as we walked out of the door. I held my brother’s hand all the way to school because I needed to protect him from these stupid motorcycle riders and those car drivers that thought they had arrived. When we got to school, as usual, Chinedu begged me to allow him lay his head on my thighs and I would oblige but within seconds, he would be sound asleep. I remember rubbing his cheeks and making sure he was comfortable at least until people started walking into the school compound.
I got home around 3 pm that afternoon this was about an hour later than expected so as I stepped into the house, I saw Mama peeling yam in the kitchen and immediately I dropped my bag in preparation to serve my punishment. To my surprise, she looked up at me briefly, asked how the day’s extra lessons were and reminded me to go with Chinedu to wash our uniforms at the stream. Chinedu covered for me like he normally did so that day instead of a regular walk to the stream, I decided to indulge him in an exciting game of catch. He laughed hard and loud as we played and I had no idea this would be the last time I would ever hold my younger brother so closely.
We got to the stream and I started washing while Chinedu was playing with the other little children. I had noticed Nneka and Chioma when I got to the stream but those girls were time wasters, if we started gisting I would definitely end up with getting strokes of the cane for late coming from Mama so the best choice was to avoid any contact. I was almost done rinsing all the clothes when Chioma and Nneka appeared beside me.
We started gossiping about school romance and as expected we were at it for hours. It was getting dark and some children were leaving the stream so Chinedu came to ask me when we were leaving. If I had listened to him when he asked, that would not have been the last time I would have seen my brother’s brown eyes but instead, I yelled at Chinedu, “Go and finish washing our clothes, I am busy. Do not give me any excuses and do not come to me until you are done”. Nneka and Chioma burst into laughter, Chinedu looked longingly at me for an apology and when he received none, some tears dropped from his eyes and he ran away in embarrassment.
We finished the gist about 30 mins later and imagine my surprise when I noticed that Chinedu had not finished washing the clothes. I grumbled about how annoying the boy was but settled to finish rinsing. By the time I was done just a few children were lurking around the stream but Chinedu was nowhere in sight. I assumed the boy would be at the swimming part of the stream as he enjoyed swimming so much but he wasn’t there. I stupidly thought he ran home in embarrassment so I packed up the detergent and went home in annoyance.
I got home past 6 pm and immediately started reporting Chinedu to my mother, I talked about him leaving the stream without me and demanded that my mother give him a good lashing. Our lives changed when I noticed the confused look on my mother’s face as she said: “Chinedu is not at home”.
It has been 4 years since my mother uttered those words and about 4 years that she uttered any words at all. When I think back to that day, I only remember us walking and shouting “CHINEDU”. We walked the entire extent of the stream and roamed around the town searching. I remember my mother’s emotions begin at anger and end in pain. I remember the transition from her blaming me for stressing her to sitting down on the floor at 2 am just sobbing. I remember her friends coming to give us food 3 days after Chinedu disappeared and I remember watching everything like I was outside my own body. I remember not knowing how to act because how do you behave when you are the cause of raw pain and destruction to your family. For months every time there was excitement in the town I hoped Chinedu was back and whenever someone knocked, I ran to open the door. Some days, I would blame Nneka and Chioma, but most days, I would blame myself.
All of those are memories of my past thoughts. Today, I do not have the time to relive my brother’s disappearance, I have managed to walk and talk so in some ways, maybe I have managed to recover. However, my mother does not have such luxuries, she does not speak and makes no effort to move. I am now 18 and Chinedu would have been 13 by now. Some of my mates think of university, I only want to take care of my mother. Every day, I allow myself just one thought about Chinedu and today it is “I hope your only memory of me is not me yelling because I remember so much more?”