by Frances Ogamba
You have a sister, an elder one, the one with skin like chocolate cream. The one with hair that is dark like the shell of boiled palm nuts. The one with eye balls as brown as your mother’s favourite purse. You love your sister because despite the age gap, she allows you ransack her bag and cart away her best clothing. She only scolds you weakly when she discovers; her love pouring into your ears through the telephone. She is brilliant, and her excellence has spurred you your entire life, making you scale bars higher than your thigh muscles could, making you smart despite the fact that your brain finds it alien.
Your sister, this one you are in love with lives in Lagos, a city nine hours bus ride from home. She visits only during short holidays or when she can take leave off work. Her coming means extra money for you and your other siblings. It also means more food for the house. Her coming means salad for Sunday meals, egg sauce for white yam, fried fish for beans, and Hollywood movies at late nights.
Your sister must return to her work place and you will miss her. So you see her off to the bus park and wait with her for a few hours before the bus seats fill up. While you wait, you count buildings with her. You do snap chat with her and laugh out loud enough to make the next passenger frown and hiss. You comb her hair. She combs yours. You tell her about the new man, the one that lives in Thailand that is crazy about you. She gets a seat by the bus window and the bus prepares to leave. You tease her about her breasts and she laughs shyly, telling you to go away. You follow the bus’ pace until it crawls out of the park, then you wave vehemently as though your fingers were the wings that would convey her safely home.
You have not heard from her since 1pm when she called and told you they were taking a lunch break at Benin. You do not tell your mother (because she has high blood pressure) that you are worried about your sister. You do not tell her that her phone rings but nobody takes the call. You do not tell her that it was exactly how Chinenye, your cousin travelled a year before and was not taking calls until the news of his death in an auto crash travelled down first before his mangled corpse followed. You do not tell your mother these things, so when she asks, you say your sister is fine. You say she will soon reach and call everyone.
You are afraid. You know because you can feel the drops of sweat trailing the walls of your cranium down to your chest. You push away bad thoughts and what-ifs. What if the driver was sleepy or drunk? What if the bus crashed into an oncoming truck? You conjure up a picture of a corpse and put your sister’s face to it. God forbid! You delete the picture and try to pray. You try to imagine life without your sister and the imagination comes out bleak. There is no life without her. You die the day she dies. You browse the name of the bus she boarded and start dialing all the phone contacts on the website. Three of the mobile lines go through.
‘Sorry ma. We will contact all our drivers and get back to you.’
‘Okay ma. Your complaint has been noted.’
‘None of our buses has reported any accident. We will still check ma.’
You wait until your spine hurts from worry. You want to cry. You want to pray too, but you have forgotten how. Fear wraps you up and solidifies into another being standing by as you pace the compound. You dial her number again and it is switched off. Did your constant calls run the battery down? Did the Red Cross put off the phone to enable them concentrate in their search for survivors? You feel cold and warm. You swallow your heart countless times as it tries to escape through your mouth. You wait and your hope oscillates on the sound of a phone ring from anyone who may have news.
An unknown number calls and you pause before you depress the green button, because you know this could be it, the details ― the town where it happened, the truck they ran into, the morgue they have taken her to.
‘Sorry, I was in deep sleep o. I am home now sha.’ It is your sister. You can imagine her face now, sweaty like when you both played after school as children. You remember her frown and the manner they crack her features up like broken floor tiles. Loss is as expensive as near-loss, you realize. You want to thank God, and then scold her with a raised voice.
But you say nothing even when she keeps asking what the matter is. You only cry and cry.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected]
Frances Ogamba is French graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She lives and works in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She is a Writivism 2016 mentee and was also longlisted for the Writivism 2016 short story prize. She is finishing up a masters in Translation at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Frances was the second runner up in the maiden edition of the Nigerian Voices competition.