You collapsed on Friday.
When you recovered, you told no one. You went about with business, as if such occurrence was not a rarity. You did not give it much thought as the weekend slipped away, not until Monday when you woke to a text on your phone. Your phone was on Ultra Power because there had been no light the previous night, so you did not read the message immediately.
You went about chores, joking with Mum as she prepared for shop. Your brother was sleeping.
“He slept late,” you told your mum.
She snickered as though she did not believe your brother had spent the night reading but was not pressing because it was you, not him, that said it.
Later, when she left, you attacked the dishes. They sat in a pile in the sink, plates with strands of leftover spaghetti. The leftovers sat like frozen worms, surrounded by drops of red sands. These drops were bits of pepper your brother did not eat last night. You washed and thought of the break, of December.
Of your collapse.
It’d come like a thief in the night, a thief who did not wear shoes so as not to alert the sensitive neighbour. Had you received a call from your pastor with the warning to be careful because of a collapse, you would have discarded the admonition without a second blink. You felt, at that moment, like Goliath, shocked to the bones at the audacity of the tiny shepherd to challenge him with a sling and a stone.
After washing, you did not sweep, rather stepping into the compound. Everywhere was quiet. No kids playing catch. No late morning worker hurrying to the workstation. That brittle quiet that comes with insecurity.
You set yourself in the middle of the compound and angled your neck so you were staring at the sun. A minute later, you looked away, disappointed it hadn’t burned your eyes. A soft breeze tossed the mass of hair rocking your skull the way a player tosses basketball across the court – with much attention.
Your brother stood at the entrance, his lips stretched in a yawn. He looked like a hunter ravished by hunger, in desperate need of something heavy.
“What time did you sleep?” you asked, in your native tongue.
“4. Mum asked?”
You nodded. “She didn’t believe you stayed up late.”
He had left the entrance. You noticed his height wasn’t dwarfing you, the way he had some three years ago. It struck you, the fact that you were growing too. A young man.
“I’ve washed the plates,” you told him. You spoke Yoruba, because only then would he understand the unspoken message – it’s your job, brother, to sweep.
That was why it was good to try Yoruba, once in a while.
A name popped into your thoughts. Debbie. She’d always encouraged you to speak the language. “Don’t sacrifice your dialect on the altar of civilization,” she would say. She knew French too and even though your fingers had almost glued together once while begging her to teach you, she’d opted to converse in Yoruba.
You made a mental note to pop her a message.
You remembered the text. You ran inside.
You sit on the smaller of the two sofas and nurse the word, sofa. You check the dictionary and find that sofa means: an upholstered seat for more than one person. You manage a small smile at your brother.
“Don’t tell me,” he says.
“You’re right. As long as it can host more than one butt, it’s a sofa.”
“I still haven’t forgotten basic words,” he says.
You nod. Your eyes return to the phone. The text message is still open. You run over the words again and tell yourself not to attach anything to it. They are just words. Somewhere inside, the small black man shakes his head in pity. It is the same man that whispered the words late Friday night, the words that made you do the things you’d vouched to never do again.
Hate balloons in your heart.
“Hope you’re good,” brother asks. A collection is opened before him. The cover design sports I Said These Words, and underneath the caption, a man screaming into the universe. A subtitle reads, poetry for the deaf.
Wait, is that a subtitle?
“How’s she?” he is asking.
He nudges at your phone. “You’re reading her message.”
“She’s fine,” you say. You adjust in your seat. “Hmm, there’s something I need your opinion on o.”
Your brother perks. The way you said o, that way peculiar to you, is what bonds you both together. The freeness of your dialogue.
“Something happened Friday night, and no, it’s private. So, I wake up this morning and find that Debbie has sent a text. I ignore it for hours, and when I finally stand up to it, I realize it’s like a recap of what went down on Friday.”
Your brother gives you the wait-up-bro-I’m-lost-here look. “Okay?”
“Thing is, what happened was private.”
“You said so once.”
“Just listen. I mean, personal. No one saw it happen. It was a mental collapse and I alone took part in it.”
The stare on his face rebirths. Now, he’s rising. He’s dropping the book and he’s closing the space within you.
“I’m not telling,” you scream as he approaches.
He presses you to the chair and slaps the phone away. You try to duck but his arms, the length of a point guard, draws you back with the ease at which one swabs away a fly. Your neck is under his arm and he is pulling at the flatness of your cheek. “You better talk.” You’re wiggling under his weight and pushing away and he’s smiling until you pinch the side of his midsection, tingling so much he lets up.
“I’m not…saying…a word,” you say, your breath coming in rasps.
He rests at the edge of his seat as though he’d be glad to launch another attack. “You are wondering how she knows, right?”
“Yeah.” You add a nod, just so he’s convinced.
His eyelids flap close and you think they’re shut, but then, you can see his eyeballs again. “Well, I know how.”
Your shoulders droop. “How?”
“Tell me about the collapse,” he says.
You smile and pick your phone. You look at him, smile, then stand. He settles into the chair and resumes reading. There’s silence again, that dangerous silence of insecurity, as you return to the room and prepare to reply Debbie’s text.
P.S: The image included in the post is in no way a form of advert. I included it because I felt like. December’s halfway gone and I’m just putting up my first post. Apologies for the inconsistency. Perhaps I’d write more. Perhaps.