In all the dreams I have had of my brother, Nur, he is dressed the same way as the last time I saw him in real life— twenty years ago.
I summon that day every day of my life since he left home. And though it has been two decades, the only thing time has taught me is that while it heals some wounds, it lacks the ability to blunt some memories. Such memories sting with every visit.
Many times I wonder if it was my fault, if none of it would have happened if I had simply taken the knife to Mother myself and had not sent Nur.
He had just returned home from the football field that evening. The trees at the backyard were swinging leisurely. The roosters had returned from wandering, and the sky was an ash colored furry sweater. I would wonder later why everything had gone on normally so close to a tragedy. No forewarning. No chinaware repeatedly falling from my hold while I cooked, to tell me something was not right with me or with the day. Nothing.
His trousers, the one he took from me despite the fact that it was shaped for girls, were rolled up. A tailor had, on Nur’s request, turned it to what he and his peers called “pencil trouser.” He looked like he had just stepped out of a shower. He always complained that he sweated too much, that his skin was not meant for the caresses of the Nigerian weather. His red and white striped face towel was over his neck, looking tired of wiping sweat.
I remember everything. He bounced into the kitchen where I was finishing up my cooking.
“Food isn’t ready yet? Chai! Hunger drove me away from field”, he complained, not looking hungry at all. He looked lively, as always. He reminded me all the time of the smoke that spiraled round the house whenever Mother lit incense stones or sticks; reaching everywhere, unrestrained, pleasing everyone.
He heard the cackle of a child from the room next to the kitchen and looked at me, his eyes asking, “Who is it, this time?”
I laughed a laugh that told him it wasn’t any of the many visitors we dreaded, those who came with their entire families and stayed so long we had to become hostile towards them—to trim their comfort. I told him this was our paternal Aunt, Anty Murjah and her baby, Khalil. Nur’s eyes filled up immediately with excitement, and his face lit up. He loved the one year old Khalil in a way that dwarfed my love for Nur himself. And Mother once swore that my affection for Nur could be sufficiently shared within every single person on earth, and there would still be some left.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked and almost ran out to meet him, shouting “Khaleeleeleel!”
“Please, wait. Mother asked me to bring this knife to her. She wants to slice a water melon. Give it to her”, I said, handing him the knife. He took it and dashed out. On his way to her room, he met Khalil crawling out of the guest room.
“My Khaleeleeleel!” Nur hailed and was already stooping to lift him up when I came out and reminded him that Mother was waiting for the knife. He didn’t lift Khalil again. Khalil was laughing and looking up at Nur expectantly. Nur laughed too and made funny faces. And then, he threw the knife up and caught it expertly to amuse Khalil. I swear by Allah that I was going to warn Nur against throwing that knife a second time, but Khalil was laughing so joyously at the spectacle before him that I began to watch and laugh too. And then,
Nur threw the knife one more time and failed to catch it. The knife flew from him but did not crash to the floor. My breath was hanging as I watched, bewildered, unable to move. The knife buried itself inside Khalil’s right eye.
We all began to scream. And scream. And scream. And as everyone—mother holding the water melon, her head, bare; my sister adjusting her wrapper; Father holding his iPad in one hand; and Anty Murjah sleepy eyed—trooped out of their rooms and began to utter “Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un!” from Allah we come and to Him we shall return, I was not oblivious of Nur walking backwards, a stricken lost look in his eyes, his lips trembling. Perhaps he was saying something. He continued to move backwards until he had left the house.
Anty Murjah never understood how anyone would throw a knife up to amuse a baby, and in between her loud painful cries, she let everyone know that she didn’t understand.
They buried Khalil the next day for it was already time for Maghrib prayer at the time of the tragedy.
Incense smoke, no matter how original or expensive, how sweetly it smelled or how far its smell traveled, will disappear. It disappears. It fades. We never saw Nur again since that day he walked backwards out of the house, the stricken lost look in his eyes.
Post image by Alexander Mueller via Flickr
About the Author:
Hauwa is a young Nigerian writer who writes poetry and prose. She’s inspired by any pair of lovely eyes. She has a couple of poems in an online chapbook, ‘Reshaping Obliterated Faces: Ten Female Nigerian Poets’. She is a student of Bayero University Kano.