Faint Memories of Oyin

I have only faint memories of my elder sister. They say we were both very close and that whenever I fell sick, they knew that she’d fall sick exactly one week after. We had three years between us but they say that we looked just like twins. In fact, I grew to be bigger than her as she had always been a frail child, destined not to live for long. My mom and dad still always pray for her at every family prayer gathering as though she lives on their prayers wherever she is now. Mom would say, ‘Let’s say a prayer for Oyin. Let’s hope that her spirit is rested and let’s pray that wherever she is right now, she has joy’ while dad would say, ‘Oyin, we are praying for you as we believe that you are in safe hands’. I have never understood the reasoning behind praying for those already gone. Are prayers needed in the life beyond?

The memories I have of Oyin are oddly only memories of her consoling me whenever I cried. I remember one time I had fallen off my bicycle (I think I was about 5 then). Both knees were injured and I was crying like a baby. She (who had been sitting at one corner of the compound huddled in her knitted sweater) rushed over to me and knelt down beside me. I remember she said in an enraptured voice, ‘Wow… your blood is so red.’ It was so scary to me that I began crying all the more. Then she said, ‘Don’t cry na. That’s a good thing. Red blood means plenty blood in your body. If you’re crying, what should I do? Mommy said I’m going to collect blood inside my own body next tomorrow.’

I guess my most profound memory of Oyin, though, was the last time I remember seeing her before she died. It was on my 6th birthday. She was 9 years-old but guests kept asking if she was 5 years old. I think I remember my mom crying in the kitchen as she cut up my cake for the guests. Oyin was really weak at that party and I can’t account for seeing her all through the party (she was usually always in our room, lying down on her bed and coloring or just looking into space). That night, when I retired to bed, I remember her whispering to me so weakly. I asked her why she was whispering but she kept whispering so I went over to her bed to hear her clearly. She put her arms around me and said, ‘Happy birthday Ona, I want to tell you a bed time story.’

She started; ‘Once upon a time, there was a man who was not afraid of anything in the world. He told everybody that he was not afraid of anything and it made everybody angry with him. One day, the king of the land organized an event to stop his lies. He ordered everyone to bring anything scary to him. People brought several animals like lions and tigers and snakes. They brought their bow and arrow and shot at him but he did not shake. They took him to high places to scare him. They brought their failing businesses and their angry wives. Some brought their infectious skin diseases and hugged him. Some brought fire and coals of fire. He was hurt, injured and in pains, yet he showed no sign of fear. Until a white man walked to the centre of the palace and shook his hand, told him he was impressed and asked him to follow him to his white man’s land in order to do business and become successful. Immediately the white man assured him that he would be the most successful man on earth, so much fear came upon him that he became crippled…’

Those were the final words I remember her saying to me. I woke up the next day and she was not by my side that day, or the day after or till tomorrow. I still try to understand where that story came from… but I have pretty much lived my life living by the lessons I think she was trying to teach me: The fear of success (any kind of) is the worst kind of fear and it can incapacitate even the strongest men.

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