I have a growing fascination with West Africans and particularly Nigerians and Ghanaians. I say growing because everyday, it deepens. This my growing fascination with our West African brothers (and brother here refers to both the brothers and the sisters) started when I read Chimamanda Ngozi’s Half of a yellow sun – Truly the best book I have read . I loved the book because on top of educating me about that dark part of Nigeria’s history known as the Biafra War, it exposed to the larger than life Nigerian personalities. I mean, who would not fall in love with Kainene and Odenigbo ‘s self-assured mannerisms. I mean, Kainene is not beautiful but throughout the entire book I am in thrall of her- because she approached the world like its hers, to pick the little things she wanted from it, like the face creams from Europe. I suspect that there is something in the West African culture that teaches little boys and girls to approach the world expecting to beaten, tormented, spat on – and in return, the little boys and girls must have this larger than life personalities in order to survive. You can imagine my joy when I learnt that my good old employer was sponsoring me for an all expenses paid trip to West Africa in the unimaginative name of training! But, that is a story for another day. I would like to introduce the topic at hand, the Nigerian way. Nigerians always begin a story with “This”. In Lagos, when asking for the price of a taxi ride, you start with “This your taxi o, how many Naira to Ikoyi”. Ok, I made that up, but you get the drift. So on to the business of the day, This my Brother Bob o!
Bob is my brother. Same mama, but I suspect different fathers. He is 25 this year. I am 32 this year. Which obviously means that I am 7 years his senior. When he was born, I was just starting class 1 but I remember being fascinated by the small yellow looking baby that my mama brought home. When I was 9 and he was 2, my parents, in all their wisdom decided to ship me to boarding school. To this day, I cringe at the thought of shipping of a 9 year old little girl to boarding school. But don’t get me wrong, my parents did this in what they believed were my best interests. However, my considered view is that I lost something. Something to do with human contact and parental nourishment by being shipped off to boarding school at such as a young age. I left home at the ripe old age of 9 and never went back home because after that there was High school which was a boarding school and thereafter, University (where I got a room and could invite my boyfriend for sleepovers). And whenever I went home for short school breaks and somewhat long ones at the University, I always felt like a visitor. I lost intimate knowledge of our house. Like knowing the corners that always attract spiders and the drawers my mama kept the rat poison. The contact with a house that makes it home. That intimacy you develop by sharing the toilet seat with your brother, father and mother.
So this my brother Bob, I barely knew him when I left at 9. My most vivid memory of him when he was a child was this rare evening when we were having an almost nice family talk and my father asked me what I would like to be when I grew up. Off course I said Doctor and when it got to Bob’s turn he said Businessman. I remember sneering and thinking, how unambitious – this had something to do with the fact that at my age, my only picture of a business was my father’s old dirty retail shop that sold sugar in 250 gram packages and 100 grams of yellow cooking fat wrapped in clear plastic. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I would say that there is something special about hearing a 6 year old child say they would like to be a Businessman. Right there, is a seed to be watered. Regrettably, I think my father missed that ship.
So one day, my brother was a happy and sometimes moody 10 year old, getting injuries from playing football and climbing on the back of trucks and the next minute I check, he is this half grown man, that comes home at 4am leaking of cheap liquor and asking my poor mama to open up – and almost giving her a heart attack worrying where he might be half the night. But even worse, breaking her heart when she sees in her son, the not so pleasant pieces of her husband. And this my brother Bob, he sleeps all through the next day in my mama’s house, gets up at 6pm, showers, puts on his cologne, gets onto a boda boda and yeah….you guessed it, he is home at 4am waking my poor mama up. This my brother Bob, has managed to flunk his way through University and is now at home waiting for the University to announce the retakes for the 5 units he will be retaking. This my brother Bob has one steady girlfriend but the whole village knows he is cheating on her and sleeping around – Lord, I pray ameweka condom mpangoni!
I am often called home to talk to this my brother Bob. To dissuade him from his self-destructive habits. To try and hammer some sense in him. Boy, don’t I hate those talks? Because I know deep down, since I am no trained psychologist that can keep asking him the same question over and over again until he bursts into tears and falls into my arms and tells me about the emptiness he feels inside, I need to have some level of connection and intimacy with my brother for him to open up to me and tell me what ails him. I lost my opportunity when I stopped sharing the toilet seat with him about 2 decades ago. It’s a little too late.
But every time, mama calls, we all troop home like faithful members of her battalion and try to talk but most times threaten Bob into behaving and making life a little bit bearable for the woman in whose house he lives. And I always leave home, with a heavy heart . A heart bleeding for my mama by seeing the torment that Bob is causing her. Wishing that I could connect with Bob and find out what really troubles him. What moves him. What void he is trying to fill by sleeping around and abusing alcohol. But I never do anything about it. Because I am an emotional coward. Maybe something I lost by not sharing a toilet seat for two decades with this my brother Bob.