Whenever I remember Dede, I would sit alone in my room, stifling my sobs with my pillow.
I would think of him until my heart ached, knowing that he is gone.
Dede came to live with us seven years ago.
He was a little boy around my age—eight years old—who had eyes so wide they never seemed to blink. His hair was full in some areas and parched with ringworms in other places. His arms were thin and gangly they stood out of the sleeves of his oversized tee like writhed broomsticks as he raised his thumbs to his mouth to suckle on them, loudly and delicately, with such intensity befitting of a famished beggar that he produced gurgling sounds that reminded me of my baby brother, Chidi’s laugh. His feet were broad but his legs were lean, so lean that if exchanged with his arms, they would make no difference.
Dede had a mouth sharper than the fork I was using to eat noodles where I laid on a couch in our parlor, burrowed under thick blankets, that evening he was brought home by my father. Immediately my father swung the door open, he rushed in, dashing recklessly toward me, hugged me so tightly I could smell the mango he had eaten, and then turned his head to ask my father who was still clenching the door’s silver knob, “Is this my sister, Ola?” and even before my father could answer, he continued, “She’s so pretty.”
My mother scrambled to separate him from me, scolding him lightly that he shouldn’t hug or hold me down as I was ill.
“Oh!” Dede answered, dipping his head down, staring up at me through the top of his eyeballs. “I’m so sorry. You’ll be fine, oh?”
I gazed unblinkingly at him, too stunned to answer, marveled by his appearance and how dirty he looked in contrast to our impeccable home. He looked nothing like I had hoped when my parents told me that they were going to get me another brother, one closer to my age who I could play with because Chidi was still one, and could not come out to make paper boats with me when it was raining or build sandcastles with me in our backyard. I had expected someone plump and light-skinned like myself and Chidi, with hair so long it drifted about in the wind and nose so thin you’d ponder if they breathed well through it.
My parents told me that night, while Dede wolfed down a plate of noodles, his eyes fixated on the SpongeBob cartoon displayed on the flat TV in the parlor, that he had been adopted from the orphanage near my father’s company, and that according to them, his parents lost their lives in a terrible car accident; Dede was the only survivor. This explained the little ugly scar on the corner of his forehead.
I warmed up faster to Dede than I thought I would. He was spirited and knew things I didn’t know were possible. And, on those rare days I felt energized because my heart wasn’t troubled with illness, and our family’s nurse wasn’t called in to check up on me, we would sit on our verandah and he’d teach me how to make those little parachutes that floated up and up to the sky that they soon became tiny dots and we would burn our eyes trying to spot them. And, in those rainy evenings darkened by a serious power outage, we would slink under a blanket and he would tell me stories, our bodies advancing closer than normal. I leaned in once on one of these occasions and kissēd him although I didn’t know why. He tasted of peppermint and home, and he kissed back, his fingers weaving into my skirt. It was the first and last time it happened, but whenever I bathed, I would try to touch myself as he had done, but it never felt the same.
As my illness worsened, and my surgery date drew nearer, I became anxious as I had always dreaded hospitals and needles with vile emotions, and also, one of my friends had told me that a doctor once forgot his phone in her cousin’s stomach, and had to operate him again to remove it. Dede would come to me those times and would cheer me up, reminding me that I promised to introduce him to my classmates once school resumes and that my parents had bought a uniform for him. He would tease me to laughter and we would play until I grew tired. On the night before my surgery, I had asked my parents if Dede could follow us to the hospital and they consented.
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On that day, Dede said to me in the hospital, his eyes teary with emotions that showed he felt my pain, “I will wait for you here in the corridor. I will make the biggest parachute so we’d sail it together when you come out.” Then, as the doctors wheeled me away to the theatre, he waved at me, but I was too weak to wave back.
When I came to a week later, I mumbled for Dede, but my mother said he was in school, and when I asked again, a month later, my parents told me that his uncles had finally come for him while I was in the hospital and that they didn’t tell me so as not to mess with my healing process. Every day, I thought of Dede, and I wondered why he never waited. I would write love letters to him sometimes, which I put in parachutes, hoping they would float to him and he would know I missed him.
Seven years had come and gone, and since last month, I would sit alone in my new room, crying until my voice grew hoarse. My parents would plead to know what is wrong, but I don’t dare to tell them what I had seen while we were moving out of the former house, the old hospital files hidden under the water-slugged rug which read:
“Heart Patient—Ola Elu. Donor—Dede Jude”.
I just sat alone in my room, crying, crushed with the realization of why Dede left and knowing he was still close to me—in my heart.
And, I would tap my fingers across my chest, hoping that those little sounds would tell if there was a little conscious part of him there, how sorry I am that my parents adopted him just so they could harvest his heart for me.