“You Are the Colour to the Painting of My Life!” Caleb Okereke Writes Emotional Birthday Message to his Brother
For Edozie because it’s your birthday; and for brothers everywhere.
When I think of life growing up with my brother, I think of frothiness, wispiness and a weightlessness I cannot completely explain. I think of the moments we spent laughing at our Sunday school teacher who limped – understanding that we owned that inch of time; or tittering about our old neighbour who read newspapers upside down.
I think of walking home from school, eating dinner together, waking up beside each other, watching our favourite TV programs, I think of those moments in which I was totally weightless.
I was weightless the first time my brother taught me how to play football in the balcony of our Lagos apartment. He knew I did not like football, he did not understand why, but he taught me anyway. I was weightless when during the days every neighbour had watched the YOU GOT SERVED, he stacked the mattresses in our house (because I was not allowed downstairs) to teach me how to back flip, front flip. He said “Lift!” when I tried to learn his steps, cupped his hands like a saucer, let me stand on them, tossed me like every light and fluffy thing in this world into the air and clapped when I got my turns right.
I cannot exactly say that my brother and I are completely similar. Like two versions of the same story told by different authors, we are loosely similar. I like to read novels running into hundreds of pages and he can barely read past the title. He likes to watch and play football and I do not do either. Besides our similar opinions of life, God, fashion perhaps, we are in fact very unalike. We have different tastes in women, movies, TV shows and sometimes growing up, I felt that he wished for a brother more like him.
I could perceive this wish in how sharply he retorted when I came, sometimes, to join our neighbours to play. Unlike me, he spoke their Pidgin fluently. He could defend himself when some of the bigger boys taunted him and he never let tears stay on his face long enough for my mother to see them. Later in life, I would learn that he did not want me there, because he felt I was not right for that life. I was too fragile.
There was the stage where I wanted to be like my brother – there was a toughness about him. I wore his clothes, played football and told my father that I would join them the next time they drove to the viewing centre – where my father drank beer and my brother, Coke to watch football. I listened to the kind of music he liked, walked the way he did and tried to shake the big boys in our yard with the effortlessness with which he did it. I tried to make conversations with random neighbours; pretended I was interested in video games and made beans my favourite food. However, these moments did not last: they were supple, velvety, yielding easily to the first hurdle of returning to the old ways that presented itself.
I started to feel my brother’s love a little early. He was my only brother (still is) and thankfully, recognising this love muted the voices that told me I was not the right brother for him; these voices that told me he was too exotic, like expensive wine, available for the select few – that I was not that select few.
This love told me I was matchless, it was “Caly, if anyone beats you, come and tell me” and the night I caught him praying, “God, instead of Caly to die in anyway, please kill me” a prayer he would admit in later years to have prayed almost every night.
When my brother started to grow older, I felt him drifting to the resolve of youthful exuberance and it broke my heart. He sagged his pants, powdered his face before school and spent longer hours in front of the mirror. He started to talk back at my mother, longed for more time with his friends than with me. He’d gel his hair, hide to take calls from girls and skipped Sunday services.
I did not tell anyone that I was afraid about losing Edozie; I did not tell him this until recently even. I said prayers every night to God that my brother’s loving heart would not be taken and replaced with the sturdiness that seemed to be in the heart of every other boy. I was not ready to have a distant Brother just yet; I do not think I would ever be ready. This small portion of life we own, I want it always to be peculiar.
Frankly, God did answer my prayer. Today, I have an almost romantic relationship with my brother, one that has really propelled my ideas about masculism. I wake up to his “I love you, Caly” messages on Whatsapp and BBM about every day, hug him whenever I have the time, and kiss him on the lips when I can. I like that people say, “You don’t talk often with your, Brother” when they come visiting. I like that they do not know that he knows everything I know – that I look up to him, that they do not know that I love him and that we are madly in love with each other.
My mother recently moved to the States, and it was only when he told me that he had cried for long one afternoon, chest heaving, catarrh dripping from his nose, that I decided it was fine for me to cry too.
He tries to read everything I write although he hates reading. He doesn’t understand why I have not a single game on my Laptop, no one does actually (The one time I tried installing GTA which is the only game I love from childhood, it did not install, sorry). He listens to me ramble about art, Adichie, about how The Fishermen reminds me of us, and about things, he does not care about. He is very interested in my writing career, wants to know the date royalties are paid and the new magazine I am writing for.
My brother turns twenty-something today. He is growing older and well, so am I. We all are getting older. He is on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer, speaks of driving me to the airport when I have to travel, paying my airfares and buying my dream phone for my next birthday.
He is growing older and I am glad that in this new him. I am present, that I am not just an obligation or a requirement he has to fulfil. That I am not given attention simply because we share the same blood or bear same last name. I am glad that beyond blood and being born in the same family, that even if we were strangers who happened to meet, I am glad that I am his life.
Just so you know, Edozie, you are my life too. You remind me of Jesus, of blissful things, you are a reflection of God’s love for me and no, I cannot explain how much I love you.
I know God was very aware when he made you my brother, I know that a 1000-word and little more piece cannot explain the life we’ve shared but I know too that it does something.
Happy Birthday, Edozie. And before the impatient wives and kids start to come in, willing to make themselves top priority, I want you to know that I cherish these moments, these moments that are ours – these moments in which I am weightless, because I know that peradventure I fall, you won’t let me hit the earth.
You are colour to the painting of my life, seasoning to its soup, epilogue to its story and lyrics to its song.
You are my entirety, my totality.
PS: Nene, I love you too. Just so, we are clear here. Wait for your own birthday.