When we let them decide…


I will never forget the sun in my sister’s eyes. On a weeknight, as we waited the hours of eight for my father’s return, and ten for my suit-wearing mother, she told me of her longing to visit City Park. And I wouldn’t think we’d find ourselves there days later, in our denims and whites, standing amidst no one and the quiet calm of it.

Everywhere was a little bit wet that afternoon, because it had rained only hours before. And the sun made rainwater glisten against everything it fell upon: first on the brown swing set and then on the verdant grass. It didn’t smell of rain that afternoon. It smelled of oranges, freshly sliced, tangy oranges, but only when she began to swing, her body becoming one with wood and wind. And I remember how she begged, please will you push me, like I wouldn’t do it, like I needed begging to do those types of things for her.

With my fingers spread apart and head tucked beneath my shoulders, I gave a push enough to have her almost touch the cloudless blue sky, unsure what my sister was feeling in that moment. I’d never seen a person laugh to tears before, never even heard such was possible. And maybe I thought to myself, as my sister performed this paradox, that I would know why she hadn’t noticed my undone shoelaces or helped me knot them into double eights. As strange as it seemed seeing my sister-a young lady growing to a duplicate of my mother-oscillate on a swing set, there was this impenitent brazenness in the act. It was the first time I’d seen her be a kid, doing something a kid would do. I couldn’t describe that thing in her eyes each time her body reached toward mine. Was it tears? Was it the becoming of laughter? It could’ve been anything: that blue in the sky, the way her body seemed to draw breath from mine. And even in its ordinariness-whatever it might have been at the time-it commanded my entire attention. It said look, watch, listen, see how skin and colour become emotion. But I wouldn’t listen. I’d stare half an hour at a girl on a swing, until she’d call back to me, with my wrist in her grip, saying “let’s go”.

I keep this story buried inside of me, filed under treasured memories of the undecided rainy season, when she first told me she didn’t know what to do with her life, when I looked up to meet her eyes in question, and saw the sun caged in their sadness.

It doesn’t help that my mother tells people-relations and strangers alike-that she died of a disease I cannot pronounce or that my father silently acknowledges this lie. They all say the same thing; she was their daughter, she was supposed to go to the university, she was supposed to study a professional course, get married, help her parents out, like gods saying let there be light. And sometimes I wonder if gods cry the way my father cried a little over ten o’clock that night, minutes after they found her body stiff in bed.

‘It is not our fault Jide’ I remember my mother saying ‘There is nothing we could’ve done’

‘We should’ve… we should’ve let her decide’

‘This is what happens when we let them decide. That’s why we have to make these decisions for them’ she said ‘she chose the coward’s way out. And I will not raise a coward! My sons will not be cowards Jide! Do you hear me? They will not!’

‘She was just depressed…’

‘Which deti depression is that Jide? The devil will not use my children in the disguise of depression! We both know your daughter’s problems did not start here, so don’t even start with that nonsense’

‘Ndidi… she is your daughter too’ he said, beaten, as though he’d ran the way home, which he probably did ‘What will we do?’

‘Leave me alone Jide, leave me, let me think… Abi is it now you realize we cannot call this depression?’

They never called it depression, the thing that led to my sister’s suicide. Not even now, as my mother removes her photos from our album on the wall. She picks at them, almost with the intent to rip them off. If only she knew how much her daughter looked like her, loved her. But love meant little in a household foreign to it.

‘Eleven thousand people will write the exams. A fortieth of that will get admission… less than point-zero-five percent. I just want to make mummy proud, you know, just this once’
‘Oh… me too’
‘I-I really do…’ she said, rubbing the counter ‘I also want to go to the park’