Home is to dissolve into a spiral of air,
Disappear into emptiness and become nothing.
Whenever we are asked about the day we will never forget, it is most times likely to be a memorable, happy day. For some of us, it is asking us to relate that moment when our unending night begun; our long, long night that will never dawn.
A year has passed, but it still feels like the moments never passed. It hangs in the air like a cobweb looking down on me. Today marks a year ago he did it. And it’s just like that day: gloomy, unexpected rains falling in March as if the sky itself were shedding tears for him. I crumpled to the floor against a tall cupboard, beside the bed where he lay still and quiet. A hand rested on his chest. His smile was satisfaction. Bittered, I cried over him and wailed his name with a croaky voice. Arms held me, restraining me. Someone was saying, “hello, we have a case” and it was grace that I didn’t ask him to shut the fuck up. Hemense could not be dead. Then a stupid boy asked me to man up. To hell with all the demands of masculinity. I wanted to grab his shirt. Do you know who lies there? My best friend! My heart! My heart! I only glowered at him-and returned to Hemense.
It felt as if my world had ended. Rather it was the beginning of a dark moment that would never end. I wish I had never left his side, not for once that day. Why was I so intoxicated about the joy of receiving our French test scripts over staying in the hostel with him as usual whenever he felt so weak to go to school? I ran from class that day, shouting, rumbling down stairs. People glanced at me as if they could not place my type of madness. I shouted because I was excited my writing well had earned me excellence. Excellence meant a step up the ladder of attaining first class. I shouted because I couldn’t wait to show Hemense. The long line of boys outside the hostel looked at me with raised eyebrows and awe. One was so focused on me; he stumbled into a gutter of stench while hoisting a keg of water. I said, “Ha! Sorry, bro.”
My footsteps echoed off the steps to the second floor. I forgot about Hemense saying he was ill and barged forcefully into the room. The room was empty, except for him. He lay so strangely still on the bed with a smile. Remembering his ailing state, I nudged him affectionately. I sat beside him and straddled my hands over him. My desire was for him to open his eyes to my smile. But the eyes never opened. Just then, my hands fell on the note under the palm placed on his chest. My heart lurched twice. I had known that instant, wishing it not to be true.” Suicide Note” was written boldly and beautifully over the cover of the formed envelope.
My breathing started to hitch. My hands quivered. Tears came from all sides and formed in my eyes. Weakened, the paper envelope fell to the floor. I sent a shattering cry into the air. And then the rains started to fall.
I stretch out on my bed, a bed that was his that semester. Funny how life plays us farther than we can endure. I ended up getting this bed space this semester of my second year. Every night I lay face up and cry. I ponder on why he did it and I feel like the worst person that could ever be. Why was I so blind to see that his depression had eaten so much into him? All I did was pull him under the embrace of my arm, telling him it would be okay. There must be something I could have done to help him. I suck in mucus. Tears fall out of my eyes. I was too blind. Once when we were six, I had caught him in the middle of trying to consume the content of his mother’s hair cream. He said it would make him die. I snatched it away. Anger swelled like a mass of water inside of me. He cried silently and said I would not understand. Not knowing what moved me, I reached out a hand and slung it over his shoulder. He pulled into me and cocooned in my hug. I rested my head on top of his. You will not tell mum, he cried. I won’t, I said, rubbing his shoulder.
People asked me how I coped with him. They said he was too quiet, too reserved and his parents pleaded I should talk to him. They said life was not for the dull; one needed to be active to survive the sway and toss of life.
“That’s what they call me every time: dull. I never get anything right. And sometimes I feel like their burden”, he told me one day with suppressed spite.
“No!” I countered.
He looked at me with wet eyes. “Imoter, I see it in their eyes. Their perfect children bring back A’s and B’s. I bring back E’s and a sure F. Look at you…”
I placed a finger onto his lips and hushed him. He swallowed a sob.
“Don’t say that. You are going to make me cry.”
“I broke a plate yesterday,” his voice started to grow intense, “And they shouted so hard my head hurt. Emma took an outburst on me and asked me why I am too fragile to get anything right. You need to see the way he pushed me, my brother. Mum watched silently and shook her head.” The way he said “my brother”, voice ragged, hurt, crushed and disappointed, waned my heart.
I slipped my hands into his and we held hands. All I said was that it will be alright.
“It pains Imo. It sears like fire, my worthlessness. Very funny when I tell myself I want to be a lawyer.”
“Hey”, I wiped the tear off his face. “If there is going to be any stunning lawyer, it’s going to be you. I believe in you “.
But he needed more than my belief.
We sat side by side on common entrance day. I had slept at his house and I stood behind as he studied with bent shoulders. At a point, I asked him to come to bed. He shook his head. He hardly talked. He communicated via gestures.
His pen shook in his grip. Tears clouded his eyes. I quickly filled my script and watched out for the pacing invigilator. Reflexively, my hand snatched and exchanged our papers. I smiled at him. His countenance was grave, dull.
I protected him in school. No one was happy when he was added on the team during compulsory P.H.E sports. The broad-shouldered boys taunted him a lot. They called him funny and olodo; the one who was reserved for the back. I rose up to them. I knew I couldn’t match them, but I stood my ground, mustering courage. Some said, “stop protecting this sissy”. One girl hissed at him. “Stand up for yourself abeg!” But Hemense was too weak. He said,” What bothers me is more than standing up for myself. I painted something. Can I show you? No one but you can I think of showing”.
His painting was a careless splash of colours.
He tried it again when we were about to take our SSCE exams. He said he would fail us; he would bring us shame. He felt he was a burden to this world, and that we were better off without him. He was holding a syringe filled with sniper when I caught him. Our eyes locked and the syringe fell to the floor. Anger surged inside of me like a mad hurricane. But somehow, tears came. We lay on his bed that evening and he placed his head on my chest. Then I started to tremble because I felt I needed to tell someone this. His pathetic voice interrupted my thoughts.
“I couldn’t do it because of you. I was trying, but the thought of you weakened me”.
I exhaled. And because of fear, I came out firm.
“We would apply for the same university .What’s your choice?”
“You choose. I’m paper. I don’t own my life and it sucks.”
Dread made my stomach turn.
I sprang up then. I spread open a notebook of some of his drawings and made to the middle. Tearing out a piece of paper, I wrote down names of possible universities we could attend. I ripped them into slips and crumpled them into small balls. Fetching them, I spread them on his plastic table.
He scoffed with an air of boredom. He seemed tired, as if something heavy pushed down on his shoulders.
“Choose. Please…” My voice neared tears.
He exhaled, reluctant, but he reached out and picked one. It was the smallest, surrounded by its fat counterparts.
“Open” I smiled, dragging in air deeply.
He hissed weakly, slackened, rolled and rolled it around his fingertips before he finally opened it.
“Imoter, UNN? You know that University is for the brainiest. You and I know I wouldn’t even pass my external papers, J.A.M.B and UTME. Even if I do, I can’t reach UNN’s demands”
“When will you start trusting yourself? When will you trust GOD?”
His lips parted and all that expelled was a sigh.
Then he said, “Be there to see the shock on my parents face when we tell them”.
In the dimness of the living room, his father closed his newspaper and pulled out his glasses theatrically.
“Are you sure?” His voice was deep, incredulous, and pleaded a change of mind.
In class, he told me that he heard his parents deliberating over his choice of school.
“But they haven’t out rightly opposed you, right?”
“No. They said that if I can pass my exams, then fine. They couldn’t even conceal the certainty in their voices that I would surely not make it.”
The way he said it, voice a slur and as if everything disgusted him, I got motivated to air out something I had been considering for nights.
“I have an idea on how to get yourself”.
“Yeah”, he said with disinterest.
My heart staggered, because I would tell our counselor.
But I only hesitated at the door. Guilt ravaged my insides. It felt like I was stabbing him in the back. In my head, I appeared before our counselor and blurted out with labored breaths, “Hemense needs your help more than anything in this world”.
But how would he take it?
I spurned around, went back to class and found his head lay on the desk. I sat next to him. He was reading affirmations: This is my depression speaking…. I don’t really want to die, I just want the pain to end…I’ll prove everyone wrong, I am not a failure. I am a perfect creation of God…
Emotions pushed through my heart like a fist and tears flowed into my eyes.
I draped a hand over his shoulder and rubbed his shoulder as an approval.
He started to attend F.C.S. They gathered in a JSS2 class to clap hands and sing. People in sweaty faces bursted into tongues, the word rolling off their tongues so fast in incomprehensible sounds. It was a heavenly language whose effect would heal Hemense. It was encumbering bending down my neck and having to pray fatigued. This people, they seemed not to get tired. I endured because of Hemense. Our class prefect had led him to Christ and there was this relief the glow of the Lord provided for him. He said his demons had at least detached from him, even though they seemed to be a distance away, crouching and waiting as if they were a wolf pet.
“They still walk with me, but at a considerable distance, like hawks hovering, not wanting to give up.”
He started to smile, at least with me. But his heartless demons never gave up. They attacked from every direction. With the strength of the LORD, he tripled his study efforts, head bent over a book anytime a teacher left the class. His parents asked him to start showing them his test scripts. Whenever they saw his 5’s and 6’s – an improvement – they would merely cluck at the back of their throats. And Hemense would break into tears in his room.
“Hey!” I would grab him tightly.
“Can’t you see? I bet they keep regretting my birth to have to manage having me as a son. Emma and Terna are totally enough”.
One evening, while he slept, I was helping his mum with the dishes. I was yet to arrive at my home and was still in my school uniform.
“You need to advise that special friend of yours to reconsider both his choice of university and course”.
She paused and held wet hands over the sink.
“Don’t get me wrong. I am his mother. I want the best for him. He just can’t handle that course. You and I know he’s too fragile “.
She paused and shook her head,” No o. He needs to school here so that I can have eyes on him”
“Can you entrust him into my hands?” I asked.
“Aren’t you schooling elsewhere?”
“No ma. We would like to attend the same school and study same course”
“Well, if you say so. But if it all comes crashing down, I told you. Afanyo a van ka wan masetyo.
“Mummy, are we not going to church again?”
We turned to see Terna dressed in a white and black stripped native shirt. His face was calm and innocent, jaws more tensed, an older version of Hemense.
“Unbelievable! It’s unlike you to ask me such a question. You are up to something”
“No! I…”and he trailed off.
I don’t know what happened to GOD but somehow, He must have slipped into being a past source of succor.
Hemense focused on getting everything right for his WAEC exams. We couldn’t see at home often because my mum had insisted on having a tutor come to prepare me for my exams. She was blunt and direct with me.
“The thought of my son taking WAEC fills me with dread. I know you will pass as you always do. But one needs to ensure such by all means. By the way how is Hemense? Quite a while since I have seen him”.
He made 5 C6’s. The rest were D’s and E’s. His Mathematics was an F.
He held the printed copies of our results side by side. Mine were replete with B’s, a C in math and a D in Economics. He said nothing. But I saw the despair in his eyes. We paid and left the cyber cafe.
His dad breathed in and out. His mum scratched and smacked her head. Emma was holding a plate of soaked garri under his mouth as he fed himself. Terna was leg crossed. The movie on TV played undeterred. No one said anything. They never did. But his parents saw him through getting admission. He scored 200 in J.A.M.B. I made 263. Coincidence, or better fate, made us get English and literary studies over Law.
When we applied for hostels, I got room 208. He got room 217. But we were on the same block and in Alvan-Ikoku’s male hostel.
We literally did everything together. In the chaos of rushing for seats, we always ended finding a way to sit together and always on the first column. I stayed in his room for almost more than half of the night anytime we were given assignments. We read recommended texts together and tried to make sense of Aristotle’s Poetics. On our class WhatsApp group, there was no aid either when everyone kept typing complaints of how confused they were of the book.
Our parents called. My mum called every day, gay on the phone, urging me to make her proud. I don’t know what his’ said on the phone. Whenever they talked, Hemense answered in monosyllables.
Then he started to fall sick occasionally. If he could not attend class, I would stay with him in his room. I would cook when he was asleep and plead him to eat when he woke. He only ate a small portion. He curled in bed when asleep, and I only left for my room when he was fast asleep.
I recommended we went to the hospital. His roommates supported my idea. He would say no, that he just needed sleep to recuperate.
“Hemense, speak to me,” I once looked into his eyes deeply.
His head fell. When he looked up, his eyes looked wet. His face told me he was exhausted.
He couldn’t speak. So as usual, we stretched out on his bed and he placed his head on my chest.
The day we were having the French test, I came to his room dressed in a pink shirt and shoes. He was seated on his bed, legs hugged to his chest. One of his roommates was at the stove and when he lifted up the lid of a cooking pot, it fell to the floor with a clang.
“Don’t tell me you are not coming to class today”
“I love you….”he blurted out.
I could feel eyes on us.
“I love you all “, he said, eyes moving all over everyone present in the room.
He wished me well. I gave him a quick hug and told him that when I will be back, we would go to the hospital whether he liked or not. His smile was small.
I ended taking him to the mortuary.
I wipe the tear off my eye. Though my hands are shaking, I manage to open the folded paper that contains his suicide note. I have kept it over the months and now a year.
I am sorry it had to come to this. But you and I know my life has been a messy cupboard. I went over my life these last few days and it made no meaning to me. I just feel useless and worthless. That is why I started to sleep too much. Sleep became the only escape and waking up a punishment. So, I thought about it and decided that death would be permanent relief. I have prayed and hope God understands and would forgive me.
The tears running down my face feels cold. I look up to breathe air before I continue.
I owe my happiness to you. If there was anything that made me happy, it was you. You did your possible best, was by me when I was even tired of myself. Thank you for everything and know I love you.
Please don’t be angry. I just had to do it. Breathing was hard. My life was like water leaking through my fingers. I am glass shattered on the floor; a broken boy whose fate was written in dark ink. Please move on and only cherish me in your memories.
When people begin to lash out about me going to hell or being wicked, foolish and selfish, pay them no heed. Only those who feel this understand. I never wanted to take my life but….
I love you, Imoter. Make the best of life.
I close the paper. His lines ring in my head: I am glass shattered on the floor; a broken boy….
Today, I close my palm over the pieces of this broken boy.
I am sitting under the shelter of a hut- shaped building called the art quadrangle. I check my watch, the last thing I bought before he died. It reads 6:45pm. I pick up myself and walk out. In my head, I would faint before reaching the hostels.