The Siblings – Episode 1

The pitter-patter of the rain against the zinc roof woke Benjy up. Or was it the mismatched voices of the children? He shifted in bed, his hand hitting the wall as he did so, reminding him of his present location; his father’s house.

He grimaced, his eyes adjusting to the room he was in. it wasn’t the room he slept in as a child. It was the smallest room in the house, a room previously reserved for visiting relatives or church members. A room now reserved for him because he was single. He heard the voices of children again – his two nieces – twins that seemed to bicker about everything, and his nephew who was less than two and teething and so was hellish to be around.

What time was it? He rummaged around on the small bed for his phone, and then remembered he had left it plugged into the wall the night before to get some charge.

6:22am, his phone showed. Barely seven, he thought. Why, in God’s name, were those children awake and causing a hullabaloo already? He settled back in bed. No, he wasn’t going to launch himself into the craziness that lay beyond the door of his room right now. He wasn’t ready for that yet. He wasn’t going to be thrust a crying baby, and expected to laugh, coo and smile a fake smile at the child, pretending that his noise was entirely bearable or adorable. There was a reason he wasn’t married yet, despite how much his father had hounded him about it. He was selfish. He knew this and was ready to live with it. He didn’t think he could love any woman as much as he loved himself. For God’s sake, he hadn’t even learnt to love himself properly, how then was he going to love somebody’s daughter?

Every year, he told himself he was going to stand up to his father, was going to tell him he couldn’t make it for these yearly holiday visits that the man insisted was tradition, and every year, he couldn’t muster the mental energy to say no and so by the twenty-third of December, he often found himself on a plane to Benin, to his father’s house, for yet another tradition.

The highlight of his visit, was however, the homemade meals that were available. Meals that tasted like childhood and memories, in a way the meals he cooked in his one-bedroom, or the ones he ate in the restaurants, never tasted. Every year since his mother passed, he wondered how his father was going to pull off those meals, but every year since she passed, he found that there was always a relative or the other, who willingly prepared those meals for them. And perhaps, if he admitted it to himself, the food was one of the reasons Benjy came every year. Not just the food in itself, but what it represented – home. It made him feel closer to his mother, a woman who had dedicated her life to cooking, for his father, for them, and for everyone else around her.

The house was different this year, he realized. The slight dank air that had lived in the hallway, in the rooms, since his mother passed had miraculously become fresh air. In the living room, white Christmas lights hung from the ceiling, giving the room a bright, welcoming look. Even while they were children, his father had never bought Christmas lights, had never agreed with the fanfare surrounding Christmas and thus while the neighbours celebrated with Christmas trees, lights and red hats, their family home was bland of colour except for the bright red blood of the chicken their mother insisted on killing every year.

Benjy sighed. Why, he wondered, did he do this to himself every year? This blighted walk down memory lane, memories that included his very – alive but timid mother and his overbearing father, a man he rarely spoke to from January to December?

There was a soft knock on the door, and from previous years, he recognized his sister’s knock.

“Come in,” he said, after confirming he was decent.

“Good morning,” Ore said, taking a seat on the Mouka foam.

“Morning Ore baby,” he smiled. She was the last born and that had always been her nickname.

“Stop jor,” she looked at him. “How are you?”

“I’m great”

“Liar.”

“What? I’m great now,”

“You’ve been really quiet since you got here. Plus, you’ve spent a lot of time in…this room,” she looked round the room. “Gosh, this room holds so many…bad memories. I don’t know why daddy insists you sleep here.”

“I’m not married. You and Deji have spouses so it’s only fair you get the bigger rooms.”

“Oh please, what about Mummy’s room? That room is empty.”

For as long as he could remember, his parents had always slept in separate rooms, but the older he got, he realized it was his father’s desire and his mother had come to accept it and eventually love it. Being with his father in the same room for hours on end, could be a suffocating experience, mostly because he was a man set in his ways and who expected total compliance. One of his favourite childhood memories involved him and Ore sneaking into his mother’s room to sleep in her bed with her. One day, his father had shown up in her room, climbed into bed with her, only to discover their two small bodies clinging to their mother in deep sleep. Benjy recalled how the man had dragged them both out of bed, even though Ore was crying and their mother sought to comfort her. That was the last time they slept in their mother’s room.

“Really Ore, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. How’s hubby?” he replied now, blinking away the memories.

“He’s okay. I left him still sleeping.”

“So, what’s on your mind? How are you really?”

“Worried,” she shut her eyes briefly. His baby sister was a pretty woman, they looked very much alike because they both shared their mother’s open-faced wide-eyed beauty. At twenty-nine, she had the face and body of an eighteen-year-old, and sometimes Benjy worried that she had married too early, especially since her marriage was her own way of dealing with the loss of their mother. Ore had never done well with grief or with being alone. Her relationship with their mother had been somewhat co-dependent, their mother needing an escape from their father’s obnoxiousness spent hours on the phone with Ore discussing new recipes or projects she was working on, while Ore, a HR consultant who was constantly in one bad relationship or the other, always called their mother to rant about her boyfriends.

So, when she had announced her engagement, barely six months after their mother’s funeral, and only a year after dating her now-husband, it had smelled fishy to Benjy. When he spoke to her after the engagement, he recognized it for what it was, a deflection from her grief, a need to replace their mother in her life, a need to exist in someone else’s context, especially someone who had been there for her when she lost her mother.

Benjy had never particularly cared for their co-dependency – mostly because he didn’t think that their mother’s quiet and subservient nature was what Ore needed to copy if she wanted to thrive in the world today.

“Why? Why are you worried?” he asked.

“Daddy was asking about grandchildren again.”

“So? He already has three.”

Ore rolled her eyes, lying back on the bed. “You know that means nothing to him. He wants mine.”

“You need to stop letting him control you,” Benjy said.

“He controls everybody,” Ore looked at him. “Including you.”

Benjy opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again, realizing that she was right. Directly, or indirectly, their father controlled his decisions or lack of.  In fact, if truth be told, one of the reasons he wasn’t married was because of his father. Despite the man’s delusions on cultivating a happy home, Benjy knew that their home – and their mother – had never really been happy. He also knew that the real reason he thought himself incapable of loving anyone as much as himself was because he feared he was like his father. Like father, like son, right?

“We shouldn’t let him,” Benjy said eventually, though he wished he said it with more conviction.

“The problem is,” Ore sat up, lowering her voice. “I don’t…think I want children.”

Benjy turned, her admission stunning him to speechlessness. Ore had always been good with children. When they were younger, she had volunteered to teach Sunday school to the children in church and had looked forward to teaching during her NYSC.

“How come?” he asked, when he recovered his voice.

“I don’t think I am capable of doing right by my kids. Also, I don’t want to bring little mes into this world. It’s hard enough being me already.”

“Where is all this coming from?” Benjy asked. “You sound like you don’t…like yourself.”

“All I do, is make bad decisions, Benjy. My life is one whole ball of bad decisions. Maybe, this one decision to not have kids, will be the only good decision I will make.”

“Come on Ore, don’t say that.”

“Wait. Are you going to lecture me about this? You, that doesn’t want to get married?”

“How…I never said I didn’t want to get married,” Benjy spluttered.

“But you didn’t say you want to. Benjy, you’re thirty-three and not a girlfriend in sight. We don’t need a soothsayer to tell us your feelings towards marriage.”

“That’s different Ore. You are already married. I mean, I may not know much about marriage, but I do know that making such a decision about whether or not to have kids is a joint decision. Have you discussed it with your husband?”

Ore looked away, “you’re the first person I’m telling and that’s because I wanted to test the idea out.”

“But…you’ve been married, what? Three years now, right? How have you stayed unpregnant?”

“I may or may not have been on contraceptives,” she replied, with a shrug.

“Without your husband’s knowledge?” Benjy wasn’t sure whether he was impressed or shocked by his sister’s audacity. All their lives, he had known her to be timid, hiding in the shadows, waiting for life to happen to her.

She didn’t respond, instead she stood, ready to leave.

“I can smell breakfast. You should come out before daddy comes looking for you,” she said.

“So, we’re not going to talk about what you just told me?”

“I’m all talked out, big bro.” she leaned forward and hugged him.

He hugged her back, because deep down, he saw himself in her and maybe his life was one whole ball of wrong decisions too. He hugged her back because it was his own way of confirming that whether he agreed with her or not, her secret was safe with him.

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