The memories have mostly faded now. But there is a day, whose memory I believe will last forever in my mind. John and I were on a swing and my father was pushing from behind. It is my final memory of John.
We were laughing and my father sang a song in Yoruba. I remember its tune but not the words. “A wise man builds up his children, for they are his only true legacy” is the English translation. Father was humming the song and John sang along, word for word. I watched him, as we were moved high into the air. My older brother, in my eyes was perfect.
When it was time to go home, my father held both of our hands, waiting for the cars to slow so we could cross the street. I could hear John struggling in Father’s grip.
“John!” Father yelled.
“Daddy!” he squealed, and a car came out of nowhere. There was a slam and Father’s hands left mine. He didn’t get there fast enough.
I’ve seen a car hit a woman and drive right off. I’ve seen a police van with its siren blaring hit a man and call soldiers to beat him up for obstructing traffic. That was the first time I’d seen someone get hit by a car. There was no sound. My father claims now, that the events in his eyes, happened in slow motion. But for me, everything went by at super-speed and it all happened in silence. I heard a slam but there was no noise. My father’s scream was a hollow reverberation that shook the earth.
I read in a book once that our grief makes it seem like the world is aware of our sorrows. That they are silently comforting us in our times of need. That somehow, when we experience the worst, the world stops for a second, to observe.
But the truth is, apart from the drivers that whizzed by, poking their heads out of their windows to view the wreckage, nobody really cared that my perfect brother had been hit.
Age has erased some things from my mind. Now, forty years on, I still remember the seconds before the accident. I still loved my mother, then.
If I had gotten married, I wonder if I would’ve yelled at my husband the same way if he, like Father, came home with only one of my two children.
“You killed my son! You killed my child!” she screamed.
Maybe anger runs in my genes. Maybe I was meant to go instead of John. He must have taken my place.
I don’t remember what his voice sounds like but I know he would always say my name in a sing-song voice.
“Angel!” he would say.
There was an advert for Hulik Malt Drink when I was younger. The main character was a child who sang cheerily as he drank from his cup, “It’s a taste of heaven.”
At some point, I replaced John’s real voice with that little boy’s and it always makes me smile, just thinking about it.
Age has wiped a lot of my memories though, and I know that it will still steal a lot more. I think back often because as I grow older I feel time shrinking and myself fading farther away. There is no remedy for old age and no solution to grief. John has got to live inside me. I have to pass that memory down to someone, at least. So he lives on. So his story doesn’t just end on a road beside a park in 1985.
He was always kind. He was always lovely. I wish I remembered more about him. But in my eyes, he was the angel. Not me. I was and still am too flawed to bear such a name.
John is tasting heaven, now. I know it.