The first time I witnessed Osondu empty his bowels on the glistening marble floor, was when he was a toddler. He would slither over to the small heap of already discharged fecal matter, laying carelessly, then he would lodge those little fingers into it, until they were smeared slimy green. Afterwards, those fingers would disappear into his mouth. Disgusting! The whole scenario left me puzzled, the motive behind his action. Maybe, he was just a baby then. What did he possibly know! I assured myself.
So I called out in a vigorously loud tone: 'Mummy!'
My mother scampered from the kitchen, almost sliding off the muddled floor— Osondu had muddled the floor with water and hot pap from his aluminum flask— and maintaining a firm grip on her apron (festooned in a cloud of different stains: dark, yellow, brown, slushy finger like stains), she made her way to the living room.
'What? What is it?'
'See! I motioned towards him.'
'Foolish girl, you cannot clean him up. Why...' She draws closer to me in a bid to throw a blow or a slap as she always does. But I veered away, to a safe corner, to prevent her large hand from finding expression against my small back or my face. Osondu began to cough. Mother attended to him, throwing her knees on the floor and forcing her index and ring fingers into his mouth to exhume the remnants of the fecal matter; for he had gulped down a handful of it. She wiped off the green slimy substance from his mouth which hung empty– he had not started teething— over her apron.
'Chim zobam!'—God save me. Momentarily, she rested a right hand over her head, then allowed it to fall back on her side. She yelled at me to fetch a cup of water. I held my heart in my mouth as my steps hastened towards the kitchen. My conscience would point an accusing finger at me: you should have held back his hand. But I felt nauseated each time he swallowed his own slops. "What if he dies this time? God forbid!" I squeezed out the thought as soon as it walked right in, through the door of my mind. Making my way from the kitchen, bearing a cup of water filled to its brim, some of it splattered over the floor, I placed it gently on her palm. She complained that it was too much. Twitching relentlessly at my skirt, I watched as mother stuffed my brother's mouth with water. But his coughing wouldn't take a moment's rest; he began to gasp for breath.
'Jesus! I'm dead o. Ewo!' She continued to rend the air in loud laments, throwing her hands up and bringing them down intermittently, the way she does each time she was saying a prayer. My mother's prayers are usually accompanied by violent gestures.
'Get honey. Osiso!–quickly! Right a way I disappeared into the kitchen, ransacked the cupboard and arrived with the speed of light, clutching a bottle of honey to my chest. I wondered the possibility of honey stabilizing the poor baby. Yet, it did work such wonder. She held out his mouth over her lap and poured the honey, slowly into his mouth, until she was sure he was completely out of danger. I heaved a deep sigh of relief. Mother also did; she cuddles the baby with one hand, displaying maternal affection, while holding unto her chest with the other, in deep, long breaths.
'This boy you won't kill me.'
Father was not at home when it happened.
Now, I'm all grown and Osondu just clocked thirteen, yet, nothing has really changed. He keeps passing out excrement carelessly, on every corner of the house. The worst part of it is that he would pass some of it into his mouth. We had noticed this impulsiveness when he was two years old. He showed repetitive behaviors while growing up, like hand-flapping, rocking, jumping, or twirling and lack of coordination and clumsiness. His face shrunk like dry leaves. And he was often aggressive.
Mother was gradually being swallowed up by the recesses of sorrow. She could no longer bear it all again. Having invited one doctor after another over to our house to run their checks on him, hoping to find a cure, yet, nothing extraordinary happens. They all say the same thing: "autism has no cure." Each one advised my mother to follow strictly the daily medication administered to Osondu if we wanted the severity of the symptoms to be cushioned and most importantly, to keep my brother alive.
Once I remember, she had invited her pastor and a team of prayer warriors from her church and a vigil was held in our house. But nothing really happened. There was no miracle. Then another long night of defying sleep came— she practically forced me the first time and I refused, but not the second— and the pastor with a weird face and his team of prayer warriors arrived: of women in long gowns like nuns and a scarf stretching down to their backs; of men dressed in baggy plain trousers and fluffy shirt; of the air of pride carried over their shoulders as they held tightly unto those big black bibles like one wielding a sword against a known enemy. But these people did not know their enemy. All through the night, they kept hurling lots of nonsense they called "spiritual missiles," from their lips against a lot of things. Strongholds that had kept Osondu in some invisible chain. Satan. Witches. Demons. We kept calling down fire and blood, as our voices echoed all over the house, and crawled out into the dead of night. Mother had pleaded with my father to join in the mini-crusade held in our house but he dismissed it without a second thought. He felt we were wasting our time. And I also felt same, but couldn't muster the needed courage to tell my mother in her face, else, she would label me a witch. That I was probably responsible for Osondu's predicament and the many known and unknown problems that had assailed our family over the years. So while the heat of prayers rose gradually, I couldn't say much; I was afraid that the demons would slip in through the closed windows by chance, since they continued to call down fire on unseen legions of demons.
Mother soon ran out of words and she began to nod silently like a lizard. But the pastor and his team continued to raise the air of vengeance over Satan and his cohorts, sweating profusely. The prayer came to an end the following morning and the pastor and his team left our house. Before they left, the pastor gave my mother a small plastic container of olive oil. He called it "anointing oil." 'Anoint him every morning before he wakes up and the last thing before he retires for the night,' he had instructed her strictly. She did as instructed and has always been doing; she would apply the anointing oil all over his body and give him some to drink. Then she would end with a long prayer. Still, nothing changed. With every passing day, week, month and year, her sorrow only gave birth to more sorrow. Her frustration gave birth to more frustration.
Countless times, he was locked up, alone, in his room, for weeks. And his eyes wouldn't see the sun. Osondu couldn't tell when he felt a pain or each time he felt pressed. Gradually, I watch my brother's life dissipate before my eyes and I couldn't stop it. He had no friends— no body came to pay him a visit. He had no body except us. He was isolated from the world. Mother had pleaded with my father to allow her to take him out to meet with people, or to enroll him with the rest of the kids at Day stars nursery school; maybe he would get to mingle with the rest of his peers and, probably, have a normal life. He rebuffed her saying: 'Do you want them to laugh at us, that we gave birth to an imbecile? Our son cannot form nor maintain any human connection,' he yelled at my mother like a child. After much persuading from her, he finally conceded. Not to her plea. But he decided to bring in a Physician friend.
"He has a wealth of experience with people, living with such disabilities like my brother," and my father would say.
Dr. Ahmed would come over to our house, only during weekends, when my father would be at home to supervise him. Other days, he was so choked up with work, that there was no time for his family. Yet, no sign of any improvement. His condition grew worse.
One Sunday evening, Father and mother sat at the living room watching the news. I was at the dining table, having dinner. My Mother didn't really take any particular interest in the news, neither did I. You know, longevity in our house and with my father, had reshaped us, forcing us to become almost like him. Mother was only entitled to one friend—Dr Adebayo (whom he had approved of) from the University where she lectures and that was enough for my father. A professor who carried the air of strictness and pride—yet, this pride of his has been subdued by the seemingly hopeless condition of Osondu—about him.
Mary, the child next-door, was the only friend I had at my disposal. She was young and was a year older than me. Her chi had gifted her with such beautiful eyes and dark hairs cascading down her back. Anytime she visited, Mother would haul my brother upstairs, like one trying to escape a ghost, and he wouldn't come out till Mary and I were done playing with dolls. But Mary had seen her dragging my brother upstairs on a few occasions. Then she inquired about Osondu. And why my mother always hauled him like a baby upstairs. Startled by her question, I couldn't tell her anything because my parents insisted it remained a secret. I just mumbled and that automatically dismissed the whole bane of the conversation.
I continued to relish my plate of fried rice and chicken while my parents sat close to each other, on the big sofa. Surprisingly, their hands were fastened together— something they rarely did. A twinge of joy and peace graced my heart. Yet, it only lasted for a moment. Osondu let out an ear splitting scream. But he didn't scream intermittently like he always did. Father turned his gaze at my mother but she turned hers towards me and, instantly, I knew what she meant. I ran upstairs to his room. For months now, mother had refused to attend to his needs. I had suddenly fit into the role of his mother. Entering into his room which was clad with darkness, I felt a twinge of fear crawling up my skin. Quickly, I turned on the switch and Osondu laid lifeless on the cold floor. The cornea of his eyes laid wide open. I couldn't scream; it was as if my tongue had vanished. I couldn't carry him downstairs, he was a bit heavy. Running downstairs, I held my mouth and the tears which welled up within me. My father and mother had started to quarrel. Then I screamed at them. I screamed at the madness which they had allowed to slip into our house. I screamed at the negligence which they allowed to roam freely within the corridors of the house. I screamed at the pain and frustration of seeing my brother suffer. Finally, the tears would gush from my eyes.
'He's dead! Osondu is dead!'
They rushed upstairs to find his cold body lay on the floor, devoid of life.
My brother finally died. Osondu, "run for dear life," as his name implied, never ran for his dear life. He couldn't outrun death.