I remember the first time I became aware of you.
It was on one of those nights when I was startled from sleep by the realization that the cold seeping into the lower part of my body had nothing to do with the direction of the fan and everything to do with the fact that I was once again laying in a pool of my urine. I had failed the growing up test again.
I started to cry. I wept not because of the recriminations that would follow from our mother in the morning. I was not crying because of the humiliation that awaited me in the morning in the hands of Anwuli as she stripped and left me naked in the bathroom till she was ready to bathe me either. I was used to all that. Looking back now, I think I had even developed a thick skin to most of it. I was an old man in a four year old body. Been there, done that. Anwuli, mom, dad and their reactions to my bed-wetting had become a part of my life…
It is strange how I had memories of all of them before that night. But you, you were just a shadow.
I cried hard that night. Thick skin or not, I still wanted mom to be able to lean in and hug me in the morning without holding her breath for fear that a whiff of my urine might assail her pampered nose. I was tired of Anwuli and the scare her Nixoderm painted face gave me on the nights she remembered to wake me up to pee. I wanted to be free of the mocking songs of ‘Atole’ that she composed to haunt my every waking hour. I wanted to be able to drink as much apple juice or milk anytime of the day I choose.
I remember how cold it got that night as my urine and tears seeped into my bedclothes and reinforced the chill of the night. I was sitting up in bed, sniffing and wondering how to make it right when you walked into my room. I have no previous memory of you before you walked into my room that night but when you did, I knew it was going to be alright.
“Why are you crying?” You asked.
“I peed on the bed again.” I replied in a small voice full of shame.
“Ok.” You answered.
You made me get out of the soiled bed and helped remove my damp clothes. You took me into the bathroom and rinsed my body ever so gently. You found me new bedclothes and help me dress. You then took me by the hand and led me into your room where you tucked me in your bed and gave me your teddy. Mine was soaked in pee.
“What if I pee on your bed?” I asked after you had gotten into bed with me.
“Then Anwuli will have plenty clothes to wash tomorrow and leave us to play our football” you replied. I chuckled at the thought. I didn’t pee again that night. I don’t remember ever peeing on the bed again.
Mom says you cured me but I think it was Anwuli’s threat the next morning to tie a snake round my waist if I continued with my ways that did it.
That was 22 years ago. I flew in yesterday from Dakar to meet your newborn daughter. She is tiny and beautiful and precious in ways I hope to understand someday when I am a father myself.
It is 3am now and I can hear your son, Olumide sniffling. He is 4, the age I was when you made your first appearance in my memories. Everyone talks about how much he looks like me but that is just because I look like you. I wonder if I have started to make an appearance in his memories.
22 years ago rolls away as I lie in bed and listen to your snores, your wife’s tired breathing, the drone of the air conditioner and Olumide’s sniffling. These are the sounds that accompany the night. I can recognize the sounds your son is making. It is shame mixed with fear, topped with loneliness and wrapped up in the chill of the night. I have been there, done that.
I turn on the lights and make my way quietly to your son’s room to repay the favor of many years ago. He takes my hand gladly and my heart misses a beat as his tiny hand hold onto mine for dear life. When he is cleaned up, I give him my bed and settle into the sofa facing him. I have no soft toy to share so I tell him a bed time story instead as he falls asleep.
Your house-girl’s name is Beatrice. I imagine she is a kinder version of our Anwuli. I will have a word with her about stories of snakes on little boys’ waists in the morning. It worked for me and Anwuli. Who knows if it will work for Olumide?
For now, I listen to the sounds of a child breathing, his security and dignity restored, and I know what it feels like to be a hero.
You, my brother, were my first hero.
Song of the day: Mariah Carey – Hero