Show of hands; how many of you have a scar somewhere on your body that was the result of a stupid decision and/or rough play?…
1… 2… Whoa!
There’s a lot of us.
Ok… How many of them are in obvious places e.g. your face, arms, legs etc?
Still a great number! Impressive.
I have a few scars myself and most of them are a result of rough play. The most obvious being my chipped teeth (note how I use teeth and not tooth).
I would tell you how my teeth got their chips, but I’d rather not, it’s not a note-worthy story.
I will however tell you about Nneka and how she got the spring in her step.
– – –
You know how in every neighborhood, there’s this one kid that every other kid finds annoying, not because he/she is not friendly or nice or good playmate; they find the kid annoying because their parents would always use that kid as a yardstick.
“Why can’t you be more like so-so-so, (s)he saw me coming back from the market with my bag and offered to carry it for me. You saw me and you were still playing ball with Ekene and Moses!”
“So you came 22nd in a class of 30 students, ehn?! And you want me to clap for you? So-so-so came 1st again! How many heads does (s)he have that (s)he’s coming first and you are dragging with bottom of the class?!”
“Look at this foolish block-head boy! So-so-so is learning French on his/her own and you are here telling me they prosponded (postponed) the date of your exams!”
We all hated that kid and in my neighborhood, Nneka was the annoying girl that made our lives miserable.
She was cute.
And most of all, she was able to push herself, without being prodded, to set targets and achieve goals.
We were 12-ish at the time and she already wanted to be the 1st female president of Nigeria, funny thing is, she probably would.
She had such devotion to her studies and she seemed to always ask the right questions in class.
She, for lack of a better adjective, was the perfect daughter/student/child and every adult loved and adored her.
Tobechukwu, her twin brother, felt a strong negative emotion towards her. It was not hate, but it was much greater than dislike.
Tobe, like his sister, was athletic, smart, respectful and hard-working, but his stellar qualities were easily eclipsed by blinding light that was his twin sister.
She was the apple in their parents eyes, yet he – born just moments after her – was just the last of the four boys in the family, nothing more than that.
Tobe was my closest friend at that time, so I spent a lot of time with his family, and I will tell you now, Tobe really was more of a vestigial child than anything. Relegated to one small corner and forgotten.
The three elder brothers dotted on their kid sister and picked on Tobe. It was unfair to the boy and although he never complained, the disregard was killing him inside.
“I wish I were never born”, I heard him say so many times I lost count.
“I wish she would just die!” He said this only when she had done something to steal his light again.
This second thought was, to my unobservant mind, an extension of the first. A harmless expression of Tobe’s anger. That stopped being the case when Tobe did the unthinkable that nearly cost his sister her life.
It was inter-house sports season in our respective schools and we would always practice, at home, the sports we tried out in school.
As can be expected, Nneka bested Tobe and my chubby self in everything. The most hurtful part was the ease with which she left us behind.
I did not count myself in the race, I was too heavy to really compete with them, I just ran or jumped for the love of the game. Plus I’d rather be out playing than home ‘reading my books’.
The real battle was between the twins. They had just turned 12 and Nneka had already started the gradual transition from girl to woman – bringing her to the cusp of womaninity. Her body was already showing signs of puberty and she was, for the first time in their lives, taller than her brother.
She would always tease and call him short-stuff, resting her hand on his head and just making his life hell.
She meant no harm by all the teasing and Tobe knew that, but he was struggling to not react to her hurtful words.
Back to the racing and jumping, Nneka was always the first across the line and she had this wide grin she would flash at us slow pokes behind her that made me smile, but it irked Tobe to no end.
One day after our practice, Nneka thought it a good idea to race Tobe up the stairs in their 2 storey family house. Again, I was not really a part of the race, I just joined because I have always had a great spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie. (*Clears throat*).
This race up the stairs was a tightly contested one and, as fate would have it, Tobe won this time. Before he could bask in the glow of the blue-moon that was his victory, Nneka said with a wide grin on her face.
“Don’t let your head swell o! I allowed you to win”
“No you did not!” He replied heatedly. He fought and bruised his arm against the banisters and railings all for the sake of victory. “I won fair and square!”
“Eh?!” Tobe looked confused when he asked that question. I panted my way past the energetic siblings to find somewhere to sit and catch my breath while they argued.
“Shebi you passed me to win this race abi?”
“Ehen?” He asked with furrowed brows wondering how that doesn’t prove his victory.
“Do you think you can actually pass me if I really wanted to win?”
“Stop making excuses. I won..” his argument was cut short as Nneka continued with her logic.
“I let you win the unimportant things so that you won’t complain when I take all the big things!”
“You are my small brother and I’m just looking out for you”.
“I am not your small brother”, Tobe countered weakly in a voice that belied his anger.
“Of course you are”, Nneka continued, putting her left hand in her still-boyish hips and lifted her right hand to count her points. “I am older than you…”
“By a few minutes”
“14 minutes to be exact. I am also taller than you. That makes you my small… Kyaaa!!!”
Tobe did not let her finish her sentence. He suddenly palmed her viciously on her chest which sent her sailing down the long flight of stairs.
For those ajebos unfamiliar with the term ‘palming’, it’s a street lingo (jargon) for shoving in a painful and brutal manner, usually the prelude to a fight for kids.
“JESUS!!!” was all I could cry from my place of rest as I rushed after the tumbling girl.
It was a vicious fall.
She made an attempt to right herself in the air, clutching at the rails that lined the stairs, but her arms were too weak to stop her fall. All she could do was try to save herself as she tumbled ceaselessly down the long flight of stairs.
When she finally came to a rest at the landing of the stairs, she lay immobile and unmoving, filling our young hearts with a new sense of the word ‘fear’!
Tobe raced after me to check the well being of his sister, but all we could do when we got to her was stare in shock and terror as blood poured out of her left thigh where a small piece of hard white mass poked out from her skin. The bleeding thigh was so obvious that we almost didn’t notice the blood collecting under her temples.
In that instant, I and Tobe exchanged a glance and somehow were able to read the other’s thoughts as clear as we could hear the erratic pounding of our young hearts against our ribs.
“WE ARE DOOMED!!!”
Sure, we both had our different reasons for thinking that way, but the end result was the same.
His was quite obvious. The vestigial child dared to harm the Phoenix in the house. A commoner, a lowly plebeian actually laid his hands on the young empress. A fate worse than death awaited him and we knew it.
Mine was rather selfish. I was supposed to be reading my books. I, Kane, snuck out to play rough-play and by virtue of being there, I have hurt someone’s child… The neighborhood sweetheart no less!!!
While words failed either of us at that moment, I was screaming and wailing in my heart.
“ORI-IYA MI O!!!”
“MO DA RÀN!!!”
“AYE MI TEMI BA MI!!!”
Six hours and a hospital visit later, Nneka was admitted with a broken femur, severely dislocated shoulder, fractured ribs and a small gash on her right temple.
“Let us be grateful that she is still with us”, a nurse had told her mother at the hospital, “These kind of accidents are usually fatal. We thank God for her life!”
While I and Tobe were truly filled with thanks in our hearts, we weren’t able to express it properly for another six days as the beat down we got from our parents was another thing altogether.
They would not listen to us when we claimed that it was just play that we were playing.
“WHAT KIND OF ROUGH-PLAY IS THAT?!!”
Neither did they care to know that I, Kane, had no hand in this bloody mess!
“SHUT UP YOUR MOUTH YOU FILTHY LIAR!!!”
Amidst tears and snot and bruises and a thoroughly sore body, I cried out to heaven from the depth of my heart…
‘Eloi Eloi lama sabbatani!!!’ (My father, My father, why have you forsaken me!!!)
Somehow, the story of how she fell down the stairs twisted from Tobe’s anger to our jealousy of Nneka’s all around awesomeness.
I never got to see much of Tobe after that day. Both our parents were convinced that the other was not a fit companion for their child.
Nneka, on the other hand, became less of an evil spirit to her brother. His overreacting opened her eyes to see just how hurt he had been by her teasing and insults.
She recovered completely, she just had a slight limp in her left leg where the femur had broken.
She still made a point to say hi to me whenever she saw me, at least someone keeps I was innocent. It’s not much, but I hold on to her kindness to this very day.
– – –
I was gonna add some measure of profundity at this part, but on second thought… Nah!
I’m hungry… Who knows how to prepare Oha soup?