‘Wait o, wait so Ugonne can walk with you to school, o nwam.’
‘Mama, I am not walking with her oh. I want to walk with my friends. She can walk by herself or with other children in nursery. After all, you are always saying she is a big girl now and I should treat her like one.’
‘Shut that your mouth before my hand finds it. Oho, you are now too big to walk her to school but if it is to help her finish her food , it will not be beyond you. If you know that it was another woman that carried you in her womb for 9 months, biko don’t wait for your sister you hear, and then come back and meet me in this house. Ewu!’
I grumbled and mumbled but my mother paid me no mind as she continued getting my little sister ready for school. Ugonne stuck out her tongue at me and it was all I could do not to give her a knock. It was her first day at school and away from the vigilant eye of my mother. She couldn’t stay still with all the excitement that was running through her 4 year old body.
‘I am not walking her home sha. I have Interhouse Sports practice after school o.’
‘You just do what I sent you. I will send Osugo’s niece to come and get her when school closes. Now make sure you hold onto her hand and look left and right before crossing any road. Are you hearing me, you this child?’
I stamped my foot in frustration. Not only did I have to walk the child to school, I also had to bear the ignominy of holding onto her hand. I was going to be the laughing stock of the whole middle school. It was part of the unspoken rules; it was so not cool to be seen with tots from the nursery school, sibling or no sibling.
But I also knew which battles to pick and I chose the one of facing my classmates rather than that of my mother.
I held onto Ugonne’s hand as she skipped happily beside me, not a care in the world. It was all I could do not to smack her and tell her to shut up as she asked question after question about what school was like. The jay birds were singing their morning music all around us. The liles along the road were abloom and their perfume filled our noses. I paid the world no mind. All I could focus on was not getting caught red-handed, walking a baby to school. I could already hear the names and titles the episode would produce.
‘Mummy’s little helper’
The fates however decided I had suffered enough for one morning and we didn’t come across any of my class mates on our way.
I let go of Ugonne’s hand the moment we were safely across the last road.
‘Ike! Ike! Don’t leave me.’ I heard my sister call out but I was walking away as fast as my legs could carry me. We were too near the school gates for our good luck to continue.
I will never know what made me look back. Over the years, I have contemplated the phrase ‘blood is thicker than water’. It is the only way I can explain why I looked back. That and some sudden worry that took ahold of my soul. Maybe she would try and go back home and get run down by a car. Maybe she would collapse with fright. Something happened just before I entered those school gates and I am thankful.
The sight that greeted me as I looked behind me broke my heart forever. She had not moved from the spot where I let go of her tiny hand. Her eyes were filled with unshed tears as she looked around her at the strange surroundings, trying to understand how to navigate the lonely world she had been thrust into. Mama had brought me to school on my own first day and waited till I was safely cocooned in my classroom. I remembered seeing her wipe away tiny tears with the edge of her wrapper as my teacher’s hand replaced where hers had been. Yet here I was, in my selfishness, refusing to do same for her child.
My broken heart broke even further and filled with pride as she took the first step forward, a determined look on her face.
‘Hey, Aje butter, you better hurry into school before the principal decides you are a late comer and you have to cut grass.’ I heard my friend, Osaze say.
I turned around to find him behind me. He immediately caught sight of Ugonne and began to chuckle.
‘Ahhh, they made you walk that small rat to school abi?’ He teased.
Here was my chance to walk away from it all with my reputation uncorrupted. I could have lied and said my mother walked us both to school and had just left. There were so many ways I could have refuted Osaze’s observation but I did not.
‘She is not a small rat. She is my sister.’ I said as I walked back the way I had come, my hand outstretched.
Mama never said anything to me about it so I knew Ugonne had never told on me. But my mother must have sensed that something had changed because she never asked me to walk Ugonne to school again. Time passed and my sister forgave me. Time passed and my primary school reputation was restored. Time passed and we grew – me into the protective older brother, she into the little lady who bucked against the reins of my protectiveness.
She called me two months ago.’Yo lil sis, this one that you have called me today. Rain will fall oh.’
She giggled and I forgot London’s gloomy weather.
‘Stop teasing, Ike. I want to ask you a favor.’
‘Anything for you, baby girl.’
‘Oh when will you stop teasing me so much. I am a grown woman now you know.’
‘And soon to be married and someone else’s treasure. Don’t remind me. I hope that fiancé of yours is treating you nicely, if not eh, I have other suitable candidates.’
‘Hmmm Ike, knowing your choice of friends, I will pass. Now let me ask my favor so you can get back to work.’
‘Alright then, am listening.’
‘The doctor say Papa shouldn’t strain himself after the stroke and I and Mama thought maybe it would be easier for him if you walked me down the aisle instead …’
The strains of wedding music fill the church and she is tugging at my suit sleeve so we can get a move on. Under the white veil, I know is the impish smile she has never outgrown. The child I walked reluctantly to school is somewhere in this full grown woman who is in such a hurry to take this walk.I close my hand over hers and she stops fidgeting. The bridal train is waiting for us to get a move on but I want a moment with my sister. I squeeze her hand tighter and she squeezes right back. I lift her veil and she breaks my heart for the second time.
‘Stop peeping, Ike.’ She scolds.So brave, this one, so much more than that cowardly nine year old boy. I make good use of my second chance and hold my head up high as I take my sister’s hand and walk her down the aisle.
Song of the day: Maroon 5- One More Night