Fear was my twin. I say was, not because she died, but because she is now dead to me.
Her strong arms wrapped tightly around my stomach so much so that it was hard to breathe.
One of my earliest memories was watching ‘Zombie the flesh eaters’ with her, our house help and my siblings. We watched in silence as the walking corpses with dropping limbs cornered people and bit them, making them zombies as well.
She now held me close with tight fists on my sweaty upper arms. Fists that never slipped. When I wanted to leave the sitting room, she whispered in my ear that those creatures would not remain in the box television. They would be lurking in corners all over the house. So, I stayed glued to the TV too afraid to leave and still terrified with every scene.
That night as we lay on my bed together, she began to recall each scene. I tried to stop her but she was the stubborn twin with a mind impossible to persuade or bend. I listened because I thought I had no choice. Then she began to whisper the theme song to which the zombies staggered to.
“Tan tara ra ra ra ra ra tan tara ra ra ra ra.”
I jumped from the bed so quickly that she was startled. I ran to the little room adjoining the bedroom where my aunt slept. I crawled in beside her and held her tightly. I dragged in the pretty pink cloud of perfume that my aunt carried even in her sleep.
Fear stayed behind in the other room. There was no space for her. I fell asleep.
In the morning, I cautiously checked for her in my bedroom. She was not there. My day went on happily.
Uncle Ernest came over with smarties in his pockets. My oldest sibling emptied them on the dining table and shared them equally amongst the five of us.
I held tightly to the brightly coloured sweets till the sweat in my palms made them cry and form a dark mixture of different colours. I was planning to savour each one till the day was gone.
Then my brother who had finished his came and asked me for some. Of course I wasn’t going to give him any.
Then he threatened me.
He said he was going to sing the theme song of ‘Zombie the flesh eaters’. It was at that moment that I realised that they had all seen my twin.
And there right behind him was my twin. She was laughing hysterically. There was a sneer on her face. It seemed to say.
“Did you think you could run away from me so easily?”
I handed over two of my smarties and he left. But she stayed with me. She did not say anything. She just followed me everywhere. And when my other siblings heard that I would give up my candy as long as no one mentioned anything about the zombie movie, they came and threatened me too.
I gave them all except two.
Fear sat down with me. She stroked my hair as I mourned the loss of my candy.
“At least they did not sing that song…” she said consoling me.
Just then our house help walked up to me. I threw the remaining candy in my mouth so that she would not ask for any.
She did not.
She wanted me to wash plates or else she was going to sing the song. I dared her to.
“Tantaree…” she said. She did not know how to sing it. I refused to wash the plates. Word got round that I was no longer afraid of the song.
Even fear was puzzled. She had placed her head on my chest as it slammed rapidly at the mention of the song. So she knew I was still afraid.
But I had made up my mind not to be extorted and have my fear exploited.
I must have disappointed her. She knew she held me in her grip. But I was still able to function and hide that she was there with me.
The next time, they were watching Hell Raiser. She kept trying to get me to go to the sitting room. I walked from one room to the other but could not remain in the empty rooms that suddenly seemed eerie. She pushed me till I entered the sitting room and saw the creature with the partitioned spiked head. I ran out and she chased me grinning.
But we were older. No one blackmailed me. And I decided not to watch any horror movies.
So she got herself busy with smaller things. Every time my parents left the house, she would tell me that something bad was going to happen to them. She would tell me that I would never see them again. I would not tell anyone. I simply would keep checking through the windows that overlooked the drive way.
And when I heard the squelch of car tyres as they gently entered muddy puddles, I would be the first to run and hug my parents. They never knew that just moments before I was convinced they were never coming back.
We once watched one of those health shows on PRTVC (Plateau State Radio and Television Corporation). She was quietly watching as she did most times. Perhaps finding new ways to terrify me. It was a man dying with AIDS. He spoke about having skin rashes when the disease first showed its fangs.
She clutched my chest and reminded me that I was always breaking out. I was a teenager then. The back of my neck would suddenly begin to itch. Then a few days later, it would be covered with a crusty scaly patch. I had been taken to the hospital a few times but it always came back.
So she told me that I was dying.
As ridiculous as it seemed, I listened to her. I always did.
There was a night she kept me up with images of myself never growing any older but withering till I disappeared from life. I was so scared and was too self-conscious to say anything. I locked myself in the bathroom for two hours, praying and crying.
But somewhere, the voice of logic would quietly whisper and ask how I thought I had gotten the virus. I was not sexually active. I had not had a blood transfusion. No history of sharing needles. But then she would remind of that one time I slipped up.
We were in secondary school and there was some general immunization happening (meningitis I think). We had to go with our syringes. I bought mine. They had that old immunization gun for those who did not have syringes. I did not like needles and I remember she kept reminding me of that as we stood in the line.
She said it over and over again till for some reason I did not give them the syringe in my left fist. Instead, I offered my arm for the gun.
That was enough for her to convince me that I was dying.
She took advantage of this.
If I had a cough or a lingering cold, she would stare at her nails and suggest in a friendly manner that I was dying. I considered a discreet test.
But guess who did not want me to check? My twin.
She said living with the smallest chance that I was negative was better than knowing for sure that I was positive. I was silly. Because I should have seen through it. I should have seen through her. If I knew for sure that I wasn’t, she could never torture me using that. It was her that needed my ignorance.
She needed me to be afraid. Because if I wasn’t, then she would no longer exist.
But I did not know that. She was part of me, I always thought.
In a way, I thought she was looking out for me. When I was afraid of losing my parents and imagined all the different things that could happen to them, I stupidly thought that she was preparing me for the day it would happen. That she was giving me some sort of heads up. The irony is that when they eventually left, it took her by surprise too.
I also told myself that she made me a more grateful person. For when you are so afraid of things happening and they don’t, then you are happier. I told myself that she made me appreciate life more.
Cowering under the booming voice in your mind every single day was not a way to be alive. The entire time I spent thinking and conjuring up disasters. I believe I would have actually enjoyed the true taste of a moment.
In a twisted way, she became an indicator that something bad wouldn’t happen. The things that I was afraid of rarely ever happened. So I began to believe that I needed to be afraid so that bad things would not happen.
If I wasn’t afraid something would happen. I truly became afraid because I was unused to being unafraid. So not being afraid became a bad sign.
This was particularly clever of my twin.
What a better way to ensure that she lived each day with me till we died than to scare me of what living without her meant.
She did not age along with me. She was never tired. She was like a child with limitless energy leaping everywhere. But I learnt how to pretend that I did not know her. It was easy. I learnt to speak without my voice wavering in the most matter of fact manner. I schooled my emotions so that they never leapt into my eyes before I let the shutter down.
You see, a heart that is beating wildly barely moves the chest. I was like the proverbial duck calmly moving in the water with feet paddling wildly beneath the surface.
When I had my first child, I travelled to spend time with my mother. My husband travelled out of the country while I was up north. The day he was to come back, I could not reach him. I kept watching the news for a plane crash and refreshing my feeds. Nothing came up. Then I imagined he had been involved in some accident and no one knew yet. The mask fell crashing down as I began to make phone calls.
“He is all that I have…” I sobbed to my sister in-law who had dropped him off at Heathrow.
It turned out that he had gotten home before day break and slept off.
But before then, I had seen my son never knowing who his father was because of an untimely death… as if death is ever timely.
I felt foolish.
How did she die? My twin.
It was natural that I had a fear of flying because she painted vivid images in my head. I would agonize before each flight.
My best friend’s father had died and I had to attend the funeral. I agonized but there was no way out.
I sat down with her in the airport lounge waiting for my flight. She sat behind me and told me to look around. She said it was my last time ever to see the airport. She suggested leaving the airport.
There I remembered so many cancelled opportunities. Months of worrying over trips and still arriving at my destination. Things I had been unable to enjoy because I listened to her. Experiences I never had because she had told me it was better not to do those things.
So, I got angry.
I said aloud to myself not caring that I was not alone on the metal two-seater.
“I will feel you. Because I will not listen to you.”
With my heart pounding, I boarded the plane boldly.
“Today is the day you will die.” She said it in that omniscient voice she had.
“Shut up.” I snapped back.
And she did.
When the plane landed. I smiled and said.
“What did you say?”
She said nothing.
When I was flying back home, she started
“This plane will crash.”
“No it will not. So, shut up.”
And it didn’t.
She died to me. Not that she actually died.
She is right here with me. Only I refuse to listen anymore.
Feel the fear. Don’t listen to it.