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It was late when Tee knocked on the door. The man he came home with had his hand on his arm when I answered. They smelled of alcohol and smoke.
Tee removed his friends hand and smoothened his tight T-shirt before saying,
‘Ife, meet Ese, my sister. She’s here for the weekend.’
‘Hello Ese. Its nice to finally see you’ Ife said, offering a weak smile, ‘Tee keeps going on about his wandering sister, I hope we didn’t wake you?’
His skin gleamed like smooth honey under the incandescent light of the veranda, making Tee’s dark skin look even darker.
I smiled back. ‘No you didn’t, I hope you guys had fun.’
‘We sure did.’ He replied.
Tee looked at him cautiously and then they paused before they both started laughing and walked into the house. I locked the door.
‘You look tired.’ Tee said. ‘You should get some sleep’
‘Will you sleep with me?’ Ife yawned.
His jean was so tight, it made his butt look like two wraps of pounded yam pressed beside each other.
‘Yes I’ll be in the same room with you’ Tee replied. He mumbled goodnight and without another word, they both vanished into his bedroom.
Tee was outside when I woke up. He was wearing only trousers, counting reps on a homemade barbell. I sat at the doorstep, watching. He pulled the weight up to his knees, then to his shoulders before lifting it high above his head. The veins in his arms swelled like they would pop. He laughed a little when he saw me and dropped the barbell carefully and stood up.
‘Where’s Ife?’ I asked.
‘Gone’ he said.
His chest glistened with sweat. His brown shorts glued to his thighs like a second skin. He was panting.
‘Panla’ I called him.
He laughed hard. That’s what everyone used to call him because of how skinny he was. His hatred for food was only second to my love for it and our system was perfect until daddy found out.
‘Remember the beating that made me start eating more than you?’ He asked.
I nodded, snorting with laughter as the image of my brother screaming and jumping with each landing of the belt surfaced in my memory.
‘Do you remember Dotun?’
Dotun was our neighbor. He was Tee’s best friend for the four years his family lived in the flat above us. They were in the same class and they did everything together. When his family moved to Jos, I thought my brother would die. He cried so much and would not say why, even when my father furiously decided to give him something to cry about.
‘Help me bring my towel’ Tee said, opening the bag of millet by the well.
His bathroom was neat. His towel hung over the water closet. Two condoms swam in the toilet bowl beneath. I looked at them for a moment before taking the towel away.
For a long time I had wondered when I would ask my brother the question that had been on my mind since the day Dotun moved out. As I closed the toilet door behind me, I realized that it was no longer a matter of ‘when’ but ‘how’.
Outside, Tee tossed millet seeds on the well. A cigarette dangled between his lips. I watched him silently.
‘Why are you smiling?’ he asked.
‘Nothing I said’ pursing my lips to hide the mischief on my face. My heart skipped a beat, it was now or never.
I handed him the towel and walked beside him to the doorstep where we both sat.
A swarm of pigeons descended on the well. They struggled between themselves for the grains even though I knew that Tee had put out more than they could finish in a day. He always did.
‘Ife loves birds too but he hates chickens.’ Tee said. I turned to look at him but he did not take his eyes off the birds. He knew.
He stretched his hand to me and I took the cigarette. Then he started to tell a story, something about him, Ife and a black cock.
The irony was not lost and I choked on the smoke. Tears streamed down my eyes but I could not stop laughing and choking.
He looked at me with a sad smile on his face.
‘Don’t die oh’
I stopped laughing and coughed until I could breathe again.
Then I asked him.
‘How long have you been together?’
He looked into my eyes and turned back to the birds.
I nodded silently. After all these years, I was a bit surprised by how ordinary this moment was. I gave the cigarette back to him.
He took a long drag and let it out. As the last wisps of smoke poured out of his nostrils, he started to talk, with the speed of a person vomiting words that refused to stay down.
‘He told me his parents have found a wife for him. They want him to pay her bride price next month’.
‘What is he going to do?’
‘He doesn’t have a choice’ Tee shrugged.
My mouth became dry.
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Nothing’ he said, as simply as I wished the world was.
I wanted to reach out for his hand and squeeze it, to reassure him, to tell him everything would be fine.
But I wasn’t in the mood for lies and so we sat in silence, watching the birds picking the grains with their beaks, their chirping delightful like sweet music.
‘I was wondering how long it would take you to find out’ Tee said.
‘Well, if it’s any consolation, I’ve known for years’
The surprise in his eyes vanished as quickly as it appeared.
‘Well if I had known that, I’d have just flushed my toilet’