My brother’s terror had only just begun the moment my father referred him to me. Paper on hand, his face a confused mask of apprehension and utter agony with a note instructing me to take a thoughtful look at his report card from school and, by coming to a conclusion, determine the appropriate punishment his poor soul deserves.
One glance at the report was all that was required to shame whatever reservations I had into a corner, and with all the carefully refined spite- however superficial- I could muster, plant the very idea that even God had felt let down at the poor performance of the youngster at his last exams.
It made sense to exaggerate a relatively trivial incident like this to enormous proportions that would involve the divinity in order to knock him off his perch and have him suffer within even as he suffered without.
“God gave you a brain to think with, a hand to write with, a mouth to speak with, and a heart to meditate with; and in the end look what you have achieved with all of these ragged scores!”
“Olodo iranu!” “If I were God, I would turn back the hands of time and omit the thought that gave you life!”
I was having the time of my life dealing these uppity remarks at my brother who, all the while had his head bowed in sad resignation, weeping his eyes out, his body spasms more energetic as my words wore him out. I looked and acted my part in every little detail as masterly as it took. Had I been asked to become the reaper, I would have gladly obliged for I was kicking ass, and my foot was way up my little brother’s he would have my toe nails for teeth if he survived this bitter episode.
Like fire that starts with a rage and then, with time, eases out with a reduction in intensity, I quickly grew tired of mouthing more threats and sent him to knees with an attempt at striking him with the back of my fist. If my father wanted me to do this, I thought, let him not leave with the impression that I went all soft on my brother. Those years of punishing me for the same offence had paid off, eventually, and in flying colours too. I made him walk the length of our backyard compound with his knees until they oozed blood from the slightest thought, before letting him off with an assignment that involved composing a letter directed to my father that described his plans to perform better and what punishment he risked if his plans failed.
My job, excellently executed, a fitting smug of a smirk cracked on my face, I enjoyed a few minutes chat with a friend on my cellphone when, like a bolt of thunder out of nowhere the news that announced the release of my results from the recent semester came upon wings as black as a deleted memory and the rotten smell of decaying flesh filled my nose and nearly incapacitated my nerves. Within minutes, pictures were made available, everyone got to see how far they had either fallen or climbed up the wall of academic progression. It was like I was impaled on a stick, and yet would not die. Someone, somehow wanted me to suffer a measure of pain equivalent to nothing I had felt before but yet keep me alive long enough to endure it.
My G.P had been blown out from the sky into little bits here and there, what little was left was not enough to convince my father that I was still the boy he always boasted of with pride and irrepressible candour. I wished it were a dream, but if it was, it has lasted long enough for me to believe it isn’t. There is no waking from this, karma had just taken a bite out of my rear and hell shall freeze over if my father got wind of this news. Maybe my tombstone shall read:
“Here lies the boy who started out on top of the wall but ended with the sound of a fall. His CGPA reads nothing to write home about, and as a consequence he has been summarily banished to the afterlife to start all over. With luck, he shall be a better student, and if not- well let’s hope his father never dies.”
For a whole week I was stunned out of consciousness, doing all I could to evade direct conversations with my father, and banishing the very mention of “school” or “exam” from my lips. The eggshells were everywhere, and I would be the worse for it if I tripped the slightest alarm that would set the wolves at me. Eating was as unpleasant as not eating, and since I couldn’t do without food I propped up my appetite with a paperback fiction I palmed off a friend’s room before I left school, which, for the record was of little consequence.
The food went down with the unease of an ant trying to swallow a cube of sugar. The first person to notice my misery was my little brother, who never went anywhere without his probe, he could read the signs but failed to interpret them and when I wouldn’t give him any time of day to put his questions to rest he told mother about my “condition” (and we all know how mothers take such news).
She immediately invited me to her room and tried to crack me open. I was as naked as an open book, yet all the more inscrutable as one written in an unknown language. My brother sat beside her waiting to pounce on something yet not knowing what. I fancied they probably thought I had unwittingly impregnated a girl, but even that, I thought, was a mere trifle when compared with the real thing.
After trying till boiling point, and seeing that I wasn’t forthcoming, I was dismissed with and exaggerated grunt of frustration and I arose to leave the room, unruffled. Then my father walked in,
“I met someone at work today who also happened to be a lecturer at your school and he told me your results are out. Have you seen yours?
“What’s the latest?”
The other heads in the room must have connected the dots because a sudden silence came down, it was like I was blessed with the presence of a celestial body in flesh. The words stopped in my throat, unwilling to come forth. And at that moment all I felt was a remorseless remorse at my brother’s undignified abuse at my hands. I had treated him with contempt and weighed him down with an empty ideology, deviating from the appropriate manner of correction. And now I was going to pay for it in full. I thought of lying but I couldn’t because my father would demand proof so I opened my mouth, and nothing came out.
Looking into those black dots in his eyes was painful, standing and saying nothing was embarrassing. I could feel my brother’s vengeance tightly wrapped around my spine, the feeling choked my senses and stifled all attempts at shaking it off. I was alive, but I was dead. To be sure, saying nothing only confirmed the unspeakable, that I had failed him, that I had fallen too far from grace, and I had lost the charm that marked me out from the start, that I had started well but fallen along the way. The silence having ministered the details of my misery to my father, he said
“Your grades have stumbled, right? I understand. Come, let me tell you about a similar incident that happened to me while I was an undergraduate like you”.
The fire I thought I saw in his eyes had gone, he was beaming with boyish charm, my thoughts were chaotic, my nerves could not comprehend anything. I was shocked to the roots of my hairs, if God had come down and declared himself a female I couldn’t have been more surprised. My legs felt like straw, and the weight I had been lifting all week had evaporated in an instant. After the storytelling session I had with my Dad I came to the conclusion that I must seek my brother’s forgiveness immediately. Apparently the story Dad told me was eerily similar to mine, but had a different twist. Two of his friends had committed suicide after they found out their grades had gone to the rats, and so much pressure were on them to graduate first class. It was the most tragic moment of his life, he said,“no grade is worth losing your life over. In fact no grade is worth losing your values over”.
I met my brother outside in the company of his friends deep in argument over something that had to do with movie stars. He saw me, raised an arm to end the clamour, and gave me audience. I said,
“Mayowa, I am sorry for maltreating you the way I did. And I’m willing to make it up to you if you let me.”
He was brief, and sounded like the apology was coming late but he accepted,
“Apology accepted, if you wish to make it up to me, take me and my friends to the movies”. It was extortion, bald and brazen, but this was no time to play victim.
And it was settled.
Less than two weeks after, I saw my father unwrap a gift before handing it over to my brother. It was a Nike Air Jordan sneakers, and matching socks. I was confused, “What is the gift for?”, to which Dad replied, “Oh. Your brother and I had a bet over whether you would apologize to him for the treatment he received from you, well you can see who won the bet.” I was thunderstruck with horror mixed with disbelief, I turned to my brother
“How did you know I would apologize?”.
“That was easy, all I had to do was tell Dad to make up a story about how having good grades was nothing compared to human life. I knew it would get you all mushy. I only had to wait for you to summon the courage to come up to me and apologize. It was sweet.”
My mouth refused to shut itself, I couldn’t tell whether I was supposed to be angry or surprised or confused, Dad chuckled at my confused state,
“I expected you to instruct your brother properly on why he should have good grades, the importance of putting one’s best effort into whatever one was doing. The only thing you did was to prove that you were efficient at dealing out corporal punishment. So it became my job to let you know better. “
I had been suckered by an elderly man and a youngish boy, and my wits had failed to rescue me from the shock of it all. It was the most bittersweet memory of my life. I laughed so hard, I cried. I guess my brother wasn’t so much of an “Olodo” afterall.
Lesson: Always help others get up from their misfortune rather than step on their pain.
Recommended Reading: Tales of Troubled Childhood