He was born seven days before I was born. His growth was rapid. Before we both turned 13-year-old, he had already grown into a man. Broad chest, deep voice, and he had a way of walking like a man who had sailed on life's tumultuous ocean several times. We all knew his mother was unhealthy mentally. He would yell at anyone who referred to her as a mad woman.
'She isn't mad. She is just different!' he would scream when he's angry with anybody that tried to offend her.
The half baked building behind our house was their Jerusalem. The owner of the land had attempted to chase them off the place, but his efforts were futile. After several attempts to achieve that, he felt defeated by her reluctance to exit the building. It used to be the hideout for the area boys in our estate. But, she drove them off the place. And that brought peace to the houses around it, especially ours.
* * *
Unlike most mad women I had seen on the streets of Lagos, she was exceptional and quite simple. She didn't have a name by which she was popularly called. Nobody could say which day or time she came into our estate. At first, many didn't know that she wasn't sane. Her abode was swept endlessly at intervals; she despised a dirty environment. Whenever people passed by her and greeted her, her responses were often meaningless or contradictory. I guess this was what made people to begin to doubt her sanity. Within a short time, news about her spread like the wind.
I hadn't spoken to either of them before, until the night her last chapter was read in the heavens. It was exactly 12 o'clock in the morning and it had begun to rain an hour earlier. A sharp rough cry was heard from outside my window. It was her voice. I jumped out of my bed, and walked towards the wall adjacent to it to switch on the light. The contrast between the darkness that I woke up to and the light from the old dangling bulb in my room made me feel a slight headache. I sneaked into the bathroom to get a vivid picture of what was going on outside. Looking down from the window, I saw his dark face, and he saw me, too. I couldn't hide my face anymore because he had seen me already.
'Please, give us water.' his pale face sent a sour feeling down my spine. I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. I sneaked back into my room to get sachet water from the fridge. When I returned, I whistled at him, and threw down the water, as many as I could throw at him.
He knelt bedside her and forced some water into her mouth. But her teeth were tightly glued together. Her legs were against each other like two fighting siblings, and her wrapper was no longer concealing her essence; I could see it clearly. The moon shone brightly on them. My eyes tilted slowly as I assessed her tiny body. She looked skinnier than I had seen her in the last few weeks. My eyes moved from one part of her body to another. I hadn't seen the innocence of a woman before. Then I began to imagine my mother's look beneath her dresses.
'I don't think she looks like this. Even if she does look like her, her bosom seems bigger than my mother's. If not so much, at least, a little bigger than hers.' I whispered to myself. He must have realised that I was busy thinking about something else that was unimportant to him. He stretched his hand towards the ground, picked up the wrapper and placed it on her body. 'Sorry,' I felt awkward. 'Is she okay?' I added. He looked at me again. I could see the friction between his lips. They wanted to tear apart and let out a loud cry. His fingers began to sink into her flesh, deeply and slowly.
'Be strong,' I shut my eyes, afraid to believe that I had seen how human beings die. 'You'll be fine.' I added.
'No!' he finally let the boy in him cry.m. I thought he wasn't emotionally all along. I expected that he would cry. I had this feeling of joy, maybe I should call it satisfaction, when he screamed like a kid. He wailed as he continuously hits the corpse in front of him. I guess he was expecting a miracle, but it seemed too late for one to happen. He looked up at me as if to tell me that my help came rather too late. His gaze was fixed on me. I could feel his grip in my bones.
'Why didn't I wake up before now? I could have set the alarm. Maybe she wouldn't have given up on her struggle for breath if he had called for help. Even if he did, who would answer his call?' I couldn't stop the thoughts that flooded my mind. I slipped into the bathtub.
'Dear, are you okay?'
'Yes, mother.' I walked gently towards the door to confirm that it was locked.
'Do you need help? I'll wait outside, you can call me in if I need to help you with anything.' I thought she had gone.
'No, thanks, mother. Go back to your room.' I slipped back into the bathtub. 'I'll be fine.' I quickly added. I turned on the water tap so that the noise of it would let her know that I was busy in the bathroom.
* * *
It was a cold morning, but the sun smiled brightly. I woke up late. Thank goodness it was a Saturday morning, mother would have scolded me if it wasn't weekend. I battled with my duvet for over thirty minutes. Finally, I got out of the bed and I looked outside the window to let my face have a taste of the morning breeze. I saw them dancing; the rags that she used to wear were spread out on a line. Now, the breeze blew them to and fro.
'Dear!' mother's call jolted me out of my thoughts. I heard her footsteps approaching my room. Quickly, I ran to the door and welcomed her with a fake smile.
'You look beautiful,' I tried to clear the doubtful look on her face, 'and gorgeous, too.' She lowered herself to drop a kiss on my cheek.
'I have a date with your father.' her excitement was obvious. 'He's such a sweetheart. And I have to dress to make him feel good.' she blushed. 'You can only understand this when you become a man.'
'Okay. Have a splendid experience with him.' I shut the door as she walked away from me.
'I will do, baby!'