Early the next day, I felt a banging on my door. I say felt instead of heard because someone was literally pounding on my door so loudly it rattled the little glass candle-stands that lined the window sill. I flipped over in bed- maybe they would go away.
“Nigga I’m gonna kick down this door if you don’t open up”. Judging by the urgency in the voice, I was sure the owner was perfectly capable of carrying out the threat. To be honest, there wasn’t any doubt who could be intruding so early in the day. I dragged myself out of bed to confirm my latest fears- it was Soso interrupting my sweet 5am sleep.
I opened the door wordlessly and walked back, still in my socks. The air-conditioner was on full blast and I had absolutely NO intention of giving it up for anything. I climbed back into bed and pulled the duvet over my head. Soso shut the door behind her and sank into my chair.
“why are you still asleep?”
“because it’s 5am” I groaned.
“well we’re supposed to go jogging by 6am”
“and that’s 1 hour away”. Sometimes I wonder how the girl could walk through dark places at odd times and not be paralyzed by the terror. But then, it was Soso- she probably knew anyone who was bold enough to walk in the dark.
“it’s good to be early. Oya get up!” she ordered.
“go away, Soso”
She yanked the duvet away from my face. I clutched desperately at it, hoping to catch the last possible minutes of my precious sleep. She started tickling me, and her chubby fingers bypassed my flesh and hit my ribs. That was something my sisters always used to get me to “co-operate”- they knew I couldn’t stand being tickled; I’d kick, punch, run…just ANYTHING to save myself from the assault. I let go of the blanket and rolled out of bed, more tortured than amused.
“and, the champion is up!” she announced gleefully, like a boxing commentator.
How could someone have THAT much energy at 5am?!
I walked to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, swapped my three-quarters for jogging shorts and dragged a Grateful Dead T-shirt over my head. I returned to the room for the rest of my “gear”- my running shoes, android phone and a new pair of socks. I sat on the bed and wearily dragged them on.
I suddenly looked up to see Sotonye staring at me funnily.
“what?” I asked.
“nothing. Just that when you dress like this, you remind me of my elder brother”
“you have an elder brother? You never told me of a brother at all”
“yeah…he died when I was fourteen”
I straightened up and looked at her. She wasn’t joking.
“he was like my best friend. We used to do everything together. My mum says we never fought the way other siblings do. Everything my parents bought for me, they got for him. People used to think we were twins back then- matching clothes, matching bikes…we even used to play football together. There was this time his friends refused to let me play with their team because they said I was a girl. Dagogo took me aside and told me I shouldn’t mind them, they were jealous that I was a better dribbler than they were. He even lied that his ankle hurt and they subbed him out. Can you believe he sat out the whole game with me?”
I didn’t have any words to say to that. I just looked at her with what I hoped was the right mix of sympathy and respect. Soso was the kind of person that hated anyone who dared to feel sorry for her. I gazed silently and nothing soothing or appropriate to say came out.
“really?” I finally mustered.
“yeah he did. He used to stand up for me even against my parents. My dad said we must have been married in a previous life, the way we bonded so much. Once he even fought a senior that punished me in secondary school”
“yeah he did. He was suspended for 2 weeks because it was a prefect he fought. But he never apologized to anyone. He felt he owed it to me.”
“wow that was SOME brother”
“true. One night I was coming home late from Church and He came out looking for me. Before he got to me, some guys stopped me and started asking questions. I was scared, even though they didn’t make any threats. There was just something WRONG about those guys. You know the feeling, right?”
“yeah I do”
“well we met me on the road talking with them. He got angry immediately he saw them. He was like ‘what are you guys doing with my sister?’. They got into an argument and one of them grabbed me. Dagogo just lost it and attacked him. He didn’t know they were armed.”
“Oh my God…”
“they stabbed him four times- twice in the stomach. It was really messy. These guys were just kids and they did a very messy job. The knife was small and D.G was big. They had to stab just at the sternum and drag the knife upwards to get his heart. I remember thinking, ‘wow, so stabbing someone isn’t as easy as the movies make it look’. Weird, right? I’m looking at my brother getting stabbed and my mind is so disconnected that I didn’t feel anything at all. It was when they hit his heart that they let him go. They must have been as surprised as I was cos…they were suddenly confused. I caught him as he fell, his blood just spurted like a broken pipe. His blood was so warm and sticky that I absently thought ‘this must be why they call us warm-blooded animals.”
My mind raced as Soso told me how he croaked her name, with the blood gurgling out of his mouth; and his final words were “I love you, Soso…”. I swear I could see the dark night, the silhouetted hoodlums slinking away, the crooked smile on Dagogo’s face as he sputtered his last words.
“His body went limp in my arms right there. I dragged his Dagogo as far as my little frame could. I ran to Belema, his best friend’s house because it was the closest place I could think of. He was the one that called his elder brothers and they carried his body home. They called my dad outside and gave him the news quietly. I don’t even know what they said to him, I saw him clench his teeth and inhale sharply. It was when my Dad started shedding tears that the reality started setting In…my only brother had just died because of me”
The anguish washed over me like someone just dumped a tub of dirty soapy-water- I could taste it on my tongue, I could hear it bubble in my ear canal, I could smell the soapy water as it stuck in my nasal passages.
“When I woke up the next day, I went to his room to remind him we were supposed to take our mountain bikes down a new trail he said he’d show me. But his room was empty. I went to ask my mum if she’d seen Dagogo. It was the amazing number of uncles and aunts holding her back as she wept and rolled on the floor that reminded me that he was really dead. I kept thinking “D.g would be alive if he hadn’t come looking for me that night” Soso finished
I got up from the bed and threw my arms around her. “It isn’t your fault”, I whispered.
“I’m still trying to believe that. If only I’d left immediately church closed, he wouldn’t have died”
“Soso, if it could have happened another way, it WOULD have happened”
I wish I could accept that, Ekene” Soso said.
And she nestled her head against my shoulder.