My Brother Curtis
I don't remember exactly how he sprang up from a little baby to a toddler who was learning to take infantile steps. But I could care less. I was deeply transfixed in my own world of school, trying to keep up with the "Bookworm" title I had achieved. I never paid any attention when he would move around with his make-believe steering wheel, honking and pushing people out of the way as he drove his imaginary car. He would almost always metamorphose from the driver he was to "Buzz light year" and then to "Captain Planet" all in a day. But to me, he was just a little boy who was engrossed in cartoons, Lego and miniature cars – just like all the others.
At night when I would keep my feet in cold water to keep myself awake so I could study through the night, I would watch my brother sleep on the couch and snore like a little pig who had had a hard day playing in sloppy mud. Like always, he waited for someone to whisk him off to his room. But that wouldn't be me! I didn't care. I refused to see the angel he was; a little youngster who dreamt about wild horses and had adventurous little feet. When I came back from school one day, I saw him standing in front of the garage, soaked to the flesh in who-knows-what. He wore a deep gratifying smirk that told me he had been up to something mischievous as usual. I looked closely at him... not with love or affection, but with indifference and disgust because I couldn't understand why such a creature could not embrace the simple rules of personal hygiene. I rolled my eyes at him and walked past as he stared back at me with his happy beady eyes.
For the years that followed I again don't remember how he grew up or how he got to primary six. But my morning class session was disturbed one day when a teacher pulled my brother by the ear to my class and asked to see his sister. The whole class stared from behind and I can still remember how heavy my head felt -- It was almost like a thousand eyeballs had been transplanted on it instead of hair. I followed them quietly, not knowing what my brother had been up to this time around. But I didn't defend him that day. I didn't tell the abusive teacher she would hurt Curtis' ear and I watched as tears ran down his face. "Why has he not been doing his homework?" the teacher asked, sprinkling saliva all over my face. I was filled with disgust but I managed to reply, "That is his nature, he never does any school work at home. All he does is to play and play and empty bowls of Jollof from my mother's kitchen". The teacher looked at both of us furiously and pulled my brother off again for his punishment. I could hear his piercing cry from where I sat in my classroom and it should have filled me with pity. However, I was more concerned with the thousand eyes that gazed at me again as if they were aware I had just betrayed my only brother. I was unperturbed. "My brother is lazy," I thought to myself.
I never told mum or dad about the incident in school. And I could see through my brother's eyes that he hated me the more. At dinner that day, he ate less as he fixed his eyes on his plate and played with the meatballs. Mother kept asking him what was wrong with him but he didn't utter a word. He rather ran off to his room at top speed and that puzzled everybody at the table -- apart from me. When dad asked me if I knew what was wrong with my brother I just shook my head and chugged in the last drop of my pineapple juice from my glass.
In the days and years that followed, I completely lost track of my brother's progress and boarding house helped me do a good job out of that. Often when mum or dad would visit me in school, I never asked how my brother was doing until they brought up a topic on one of his adventures that put him in trouble like always. "Why can't your brother be like you?" Mum would often ask and I sat there like the fool I was, gloating in self-satisfaction.
In my fourth year in high school, when I had come back home for the vacation, I watched quietly from my window one day, as my brother sneaked an innocent-looking girl into his room. I should have gone to his room to question him like the good sister I was supposed to be. But rather, I drew the curtains and continued reading. I don't know how long the girl stayed in his room, but as usual, I didn't care.
That night I was awoken by the loud cries of Curtis and the merciless whip of father's belt. Father had caught him watching pornography and masturbating in his room. I just stood at my door, shaking my head, and then I went back to my room to sleep. Again, I would not defend him because I did not care. But the next morning, Curtis did not come down for breakfast. Mum and Dad thumped on his door and threatened to beat him to stupor if he didn't open up. However, we were all surprised when dad broke down the door to realise they had been talking to an empty room.
For three days we searched and even though I was indifferent about Curtis' hide and seek game, mother dispatched me to go to the homes of his friends and colleagues to find out if he was there. One afternoon as I sat in a couch and watched from a distance as my mother wailed, the phone rang. My dad wrote down the details the man on the other side of the phone gave. They had found my brother and they were to go to Nungua Police Station. Uninterested in the unfolding events, I gave a flimsy excuse so mum and dad would let me stay at home. And so they left without me because I didn't care. I expected that they would be home early with Curtis, but as at 10 p.m. in the evening, they were not back yet. The house was unusually quiet and I could hear myself breathing. A sudden chill engulfed me and I became nervous all at the same time. As I sat there contemplating on whether to call mum and dad or not, I heard the honking of a car. They had finally come back. For once, I was extremely glad to see them, and I rushed to go meet them. I had almost forgotten why they went out in the first place until I saw dad's ruffled hair and ghastly look and mum's red puffy eyes. I looked in the back seat and asked "Where is Curtis?" Instead of an answer the sobs intensified and in one blinding epiphany, it hit me. CURTIS WAS DEAD! From nowhere tears coursed down my cheeks as I sat helplessly on the floor. They had found his body on the beach near Nungua the day before.
That night, I could not sleep. I could almost see Curtis standing in front of me as I tried to touch the images of him that stood before me. But it was only my eyes that were playing tricks on me. I walked to his room and I stared quietly as I absorbed every detail in his room. It was then that it dawned on me that I had never tried entering his room before. I never knew the colours that adorned his bedroom walls, or what materials his pillows or sheets were made of. I never knew which of the carefully displayed toys and video games was his favourite. I was a stranger in my own brother's room. I could only choke on the convulsive tears that streamed down my eyes. As I passed my hands through the books on his shelf, an exercise book caught my attention. It had "COMPOSITOIN BOOK" written on it stylishly. I smiled when I saw the blunder. I flipped through the pages and I saw an essay that read "describe your sister". I began reading it and what I saw filled me with deep regret.
"My sister is Tiffany. She is skinny and mad most of the time. I think she is 31 because she is twice as older than I am. I am 13. Tiffany has a good heart even though she never shows it. We both come from the Eastern Region of Ghana so we are all the same. She doesn't come to see me often in class to bring me snacks like other sisters do, but I know she is busy. She doesn't hug me or play with me, but I love her anyway. She is so intelligent. In future, I would like to be like her so that mum, dad and my teachers will love me some more."My hands shook uncontrollably and I was disgusted at my self – at my selfishness. I should have been defending him that day when Mrs Thompson pulled his little ears. I should have prevented her from caning him. I should have asked why he was dripping wet the day I came home from school. I should have helped him with his homework. I should have asked who that girl was as he sneaked her into his room. I should have pleaded for him when dad whipped him and I should have advised him not to watch pornography again. I should have sent him more snacks in school and hugged him to shreds. But no! I was uncaring, indifferent, unconcerned about his childish ways. He was different in his own right and I should have asked mum not to compare us.
I wept throughout the night.
Eunice Awurama Adofo is a writer, a poet, a dramatist and a feminist. She is currently studying History and English at the University of Ghana, Legon.