My sister was born in Trinidad in 1969. She spent most of her childhood in Nigeria, in the heart of Hausaland. Her mother was there and not there, her father just not there and her brother was her greatest betrayer. My sister lived with secrets and swallowed anger, and a wounded lioness she was.
When I met her, I was 12 years old and enduring a painful first form experience in one of the best schools in Barbados, The Combermere School. She was fresh from Nigeria via London, 15 years old and enduring the indignity of being called ‘Unga Bunga’ by the school population; I was ‘Dela-freeko’. Naturally we gravitated towards one another.
Some years later, when I was fifteen, we became next door neighbours. It was really during that period that we became close. We began to depend on each other’s company for sanity, owing to the difficult times we were both having. We would talk over the wall separating our houses, keeping each other strong.
On her 21st birthday she was gang raped, beaten and left for dead for her father to find her the next morning. My sister had to again swallow down anger and frustration, dying little by little inside. The following year, I was raped and never did we cling to each more. We struggled to slay dragons and demons together, and we didn’t always win.
We would drift apart over the years; drift apart and return to our friendship always becoming closer. She would struggle with quiet, secretive alcoholism and bitter frustration, but remained a warm and friendly soul, happy to laugh at my stupid jokes and forever encouraging me to reach for all I wanted in life. I would do the same for her. We fed each other when hungry, shared money, clothes and books. As they say, she was my side, and I was hers. I loved her as she was, wounded and hurt, generous and open. I watched as she struggled with her pain and memories, kept secrets buried. She taught me what it meant to love someone unconditionally, because it’s hard to watch someone you love hurt themselves, struggle in vain, hurt that much.
She introduced me to her friends as her sister, and for years I would squirm a little inside, because there were times when I wished I could stop being her friend, and to be her sister was even harder. Watching her destroy herself, and to se her spirit dying was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Then her life changed. She met someone, he got her help and gave her two babies. She changed. She was still in so much pain, but her children gave her a vision of something else for herself, kept her going. Even if it was just for a little while.
We began a Coffee Friday ritual: Massive cups of coffee, cigarettes and so much conversation, so much talk of spirituality and growth—love.
Then we missed two weeks in a row; the first time in almost two years. She was so tired, and felt so bad, she told me when I callled. Then a shocking test result: a high white blood cell count. Lukemia was our suspect. I knew better. Her swallowed anger and lost voice to express what she and I alone with brother knew about her life—her rape, her abuse is what broke her heart and killed her. It is what turned her blood into poison an attacker in her body; much metaphor there.
I know how the anger, dispossession and violence of men, can kill a woman. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I prayed and ask God/Goddess to take her quickly, becuase the cure was worse than the DIS-ease. I thought she had suffered for life enough.
Myself and a couple of girl friends went to the funeral home, to braid a crown out of her hair, to choose the clothes her soul case would crumble away in; and I was never angry because she died. When you wipe someone’s tears long enough, you can’t begrudge them their ultimate freedom.
Her brother wrote and read her eulogy, and I kept thinking what metaphor, what bitter irony. Except now, you, me and the universe know that what you have read is her real eulogy.
I stay with her babies now, and help them to get through life; just the way she asked me to. And you, love your people; they are loaners. That’s what she taught me. Now every one I meet gets the love she gave me, because I pass it on. Love your people the way they are, not the way you want them to be. It’s the closest we come to God’s love for us.