What’s in a name?

Today, Stephanie sheds the surname we’ve shared for twenty-three years. The surname that was originally, rightfully hers. The one I was given out of love.

She dances with her brand new husband; a dancing style that hasn’t yet been invented, for they are as close as two humans can ever hope to get. She is practically standing on his legs; they are barely moving, lost in a new world they’re about to explore together.

There’s a burning sensation behind my eyelids, tears I dare not release. I tell myself I’m not losing my sister, assure myself that a name change wouldn’t stop Stephanie from being the intimate sister I’ve always had.

What’s in a name anyway?

In my short life, I’ve had two last names. And in two weeks, I’d have a new one as well.

For a day, my surname was Brown, etched in calligraphy on the birth certificate the government hospital automatically issues.

A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. The day after I was born, my mother went home to be with the angels. For four months, she’d borne the weight of her pregnancy alone, had wept every night into her pillow, was practically heartbroken. Because her husband, the man that was my biological father, had been snatched from her in a car accident that made less and less sense as the days passed.

My mother had gotten pregnant with me in the same month that her sister, Aunty Mariah, became pregnant with Stephanie. Stephanie had arrived ten days before me.

Heartbroken, almost disconsolate at the loss of her sister, Mariah was desperate to have the last thing her sister had left behind.

So I came home to my family. I became Stephanie’s sister rather than her cousin. We suckled at the same breast, shared the same nursery, were dressed identically. Many a times, we were mistaken for twins.

When I was a year old, I legally became Catherine Agbaje.

“Are you all right?”

The memories dissipate behind my eyelids at the sound of our daddy’s voice. Over the years, he’s become mellow and sweet in that way only age can bring about. His hair is now more gray than black, and there’s a faint network of wrinkles at the sides of his eyes.

“Oh dad. It’s so hard to watch Stephanie go. I miss her so much already.”

He smiles his expansive smile. “You’ve always been the tender one. Of course you’ll miss her. It’s only natural you feel that way about a sister who’s shared your whole life with you.”

I turn to him and grasp his hand in mine. “How’re you and Mum going to cope when I leave too?”

A cloud seems to birth in his eyes. He blinks it away and leads me to a seat before he speaks. “It’s only natural for children to grow up and leave their parents. That’s how it works. I admit it won’t be easy but we’ll cope. We will cope.” He suddenly chuckles, “But you girls are sure funny. Your sister came to us ten days before you did. Now, she’s leaving two weeks before you. Aren’t you guys something?”

I blink back the rows of teardrops behind my eyelids. “Yes we are. And you guys are the best parents two girls could ever wish for. By the way, where’s Mum?”

“Doing what she knows how best to do.”

I laugh, a delicious sound. “In the kitchen, bossing the caterers around.”

We laugh together, quietly, companionably; the father of the bride, and the sister of the bride.

“Excuse me, but may I have this dance?”

I look up into the brown eyes of Sam, the man whose wife I’ll become in two weeks. I smile at him. “Of course.”

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The life of the party

 

wine cups 2

In her eyes, a little girl hides.

 

This little girl has been through hell and back, a hell that entails the stealing of her innocence by her own daddy, the murder of that same daddy, estrangement from her mother. Life in the trenches.

 

This little girl has grown to become the life of the party.

 

After the silence that ensued as people sipped their drinks, Julie is back on her feet. Where the little girl momentarily lived, there is now a sparkle, a gleam that has sent so many men to their doom.

 

“To Tim.” She says, and there is more glass clinking.

 

Silence terrifies Julie. When you’re silent, other people have the power to abuse you, to demean you, to make you do whatever you don’t want to. So she fills her every waking moment with chatter, with jokes, with flirting.

 

Tim is my fiancé, the man who has helped cure me of some of my demons. He is smiling at Julie but there is concern in his eyes too.

 

When I first met Tim, he seemed the last person on earth I would commit myself to. He’d had a happy Christian childhood, was a trainee pastor, was outspoken.

 

My life and Julie’s couldn’t have been more different. Both abused by our father from the time I was six and she five to the time I turned ten while our mother pretended not to know. Late one night, as daddy violated me yet again, Julie ran the sharpest kitchen knife into his side. Again and again and again. He died in my mother’s laps, on the way to the hospital. My father’s sister took us in with her while mother visited mental after mental institution.

 

For reprise, I turned inwards. Into books and magazine and libraries. Into a world where only my imagination was necessary. Julie turned to parties and short skirts and boys. Aunty Rose was patient, but not patient enough when Julie got pregnant at fifteen. After the abortion, she began to have nightmares. In the ethereal stillness of the night, my sister would shoot out of bed, her eyes terror-glazed, whispering daddy’s name. Sometimes she called to mother.

 

Even though we’re no longer kids, and even though this is a Christian function to send Tim forth into ministry, Julie’s blouse is a little too see-through, her skirt too tight, and her make-up too much.

 

In a way, her demons are mine. We lived the same terror for four years, never knowing whose turn it would be to be raped, making a pact never to tell a soul. But for a while, books were my salvation. Then after Tim, I surrendered to Jesus. The memories of those four years have not been wiped from my heart; the remembrance is yet like an itch under the skin that you cannot scratch. But I have come a long way towards healing.

 

Julie hasn’t.

 

“We should have some music.” She says a little too loudly, sealing her designation as the life of this party. “MaryAnne, don’t you think so?”

 

“Sure.” I say, wincing as she swings her hips a little too hard on the way to the CD rack. Tim’s four friends are watching her with a mixture of fascination and horror. I catch Tim’s eyes again and see sorrow. Sorrow and compassion.

 

He knows our story, is yet prepared to be my husband and Julie’s brother-in-law.

 

“Don’t let it bother you.” He whispers to me. “It’s only a matter of time.”

 

By this, I know he means that a day will come when Julie will give her hurts to God as I did three years ago. By this, I know he means that we need to continue to love this crazy, outgoing, skimpily-dressed woman the same way that God loves us – unconditionally.

 

I nod. Suddenly, I am not as embarrassed by my sister as I was before.