The loud, reverberating sounds of thunder jolted me from my deep slumber and I quickly snapped my eyes open, grateful to escape the dark prison of my nightmares. Head pulsating violently, I weakly lifted myself up with my numb arms and leaned against the frame of my bed.

The flash of lightning that penetrated through my window immediately forced me to shut my eyes again. I quickly reopened them, struggling to ignore the stinging pain against my eyelids. Lifting a hand to touch my damp face, I sniffed and cleared my sore throat with great effort. I had been crying. The signs of my sticky face and throbbing head led me to believe that I had been all night.

Holding one trembling hand to my face, I blinked rapidly as if to clear my vision and my thoughts but still, the visions from the nightmare crossed my mind. Visions of a limp hand, closed eyes and sealed lips flashed before my eyes even as I sat there, staring blankly at my sage walls. I immediately jolted back to the present, wanting so much to rid myself of those horrid pictures. I lifted my hands to my face as if to rub my eyes clean but froze immediately as I heard movements beneath me.

Lowering my hands to my sides, I realized I was still in bed while the rest of the house was awake and stirring. Groaning inwardly, I tried to lift my legs to the side of the bed but my fatigued body wouldn’t budge.

Frustrated, I sat there and continued staring at the wall blankly. What on earth was the reason for my lack of determination to move? What happened to me last night? Why was my face sticky from overnight tears and my sore throat a remnant of a weary body? With these questions running through my head, I slowly turned to the side and spotted a picture frame that hung right beside my door, and all of a sudden I knew why.

Now as if my strength had returned to me, I swung my legs to the side of the bed and rose slowly to my feet, tentatively stretching to my full length with my eyes intent on the photograph. My vision was a bit blurred from crying all night but also the fact that I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Ignoring the spectacles that lay on my bedside table and occasional flash of lightning that struck against the wooden floor of my room, I shuffled closer to the photo frame, now with my heart beating fast against my chest.

Not yet understanding why my body was physically tired while my heart raced like an athlete’s after a sprint, I finally reached the picture and gasped inwardly at the image behind the reflective glass screen.

It was an old, faded picture of two toddlers sitting close, oblivious to the camera flashing in front of them as they played happily with their teddy bears beside them. Both dark in complexion and alike in facial structure, one of them grinned widely as he lifted one chubby hand to the bear’s eye as if to pull it out.

His cheeks were full of what appeared to be candy, which explained the blissful yet mischievous look on his face. I groaned inwardly once a wave of nausea suddenly hit me and I had to steady myself by placing a hand against the wall in front of me. He had been a miracle baby, my mother told me once before.

Born as the second child and first boy, his complicated birth caused the doctors to inform my parents that he might not make it if they delivered him, and would’ve given up on him if my mother’s faith and determination didn’t instruct them otherwise.

Of course, I had no idea of this truth for I was only one at the time and rather content on being the only child. However, when my parents brought the sleeping infant to my room that night and I stared at him from my crib, I knew that I had been given a playmate and a best friend. I could remember the carefree days when we were a little older and my mother would place us together in a playpen with another of our mutual childhood friends, Obe. We would play for hours, talking nonsensically about what we ate that morning, what Obe found underneath his bed and how scary monsters hid there.

As the protective sister that I was, I attempted to block my younger brother’s ears from hearing such filth but he was glad to join in the discussion, making unintelligible blabber that I didn’t even understand but Obe nodded and laughed with my brother as if they spoke another language. I guess even at that tender age, females were from Venus and men were from Mars.

I sighed openly and wrapped my arms around myself as a cold shiver seized my body. Blinking amidst the tears that now clouded my eyes, I tried to keep my gaze on the photograph, desperately wanting to relive those days when we were still young and much good friends.

Once again the thunder startled me and I glanced towards the window beside the photo frame. The streets were still darkened by the stormy clouds and wet from the pouring rain. No one outside my house seemed to be awake, which surprised me since I could clearly hear muffled voices below my feet.

Not wanting to leave the haven of my room yet, I turned my sore eyes bleakly to the photograph and sighed heavily once more, squeezing my hands tighter around myself. The other toddler, who I recognized as myself, sat next to the young boy, watching intently as if worried that the younger child would choke on his teddy bear’s button eyes.

With a wry smile on my face, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, removing my gaze from the picture. I had always been such a cautious child, since birth according to my mother.

While my younger brother rough-housed with Obe and the other toddlers, I watched them cautiously like a little hawk, rather content to sit in the scratchy grass and look over my brother as he played noisily. My mother always tried encouraging me to join the others but I figured if I was busy playing, I wouldn’t see how my brother was doing, if he was safe or not.

Blinking rapidly against the tears that threatened, I noticed my unmade bed and immediately made my way towards it, slowly turning over the covers and straightening its edges. As I fluffed the pillows into a perfect form, I smiled fondly as another memory of my brother crept into my mind.

He had never been a neat kid, always content on having his toys and clothes left carelessly on the floor while his bed was an absolute mess. I could still remember when we were little in Nigeria, I was six and my brother was five, and at that time, our housemaid Bayo would wait until our parents were gone before she began her verbal attack on us.

Almost immediately after our parents’ cars pulled out of the driveway, she would then turn her narrowed eyes towards us and smile evilly, first staring at me, then my brother, before settling her eyes down at our little sister, Dabo, who was three years younger than me. She would point her finger towards our shared room and glare back at us, “Go and clean that room, you dirty pigs!”

“B-but that’s your job,” my brother would protest, the only brave one to stand up to her since I stood right behind him, holding my trembling sister in my arms to protect her from being scolded.

Bayo hissed scornfully down at my brother and pushed him towards the room, “Go clean your room.”

Immediately as my brother stumbled to the floor, I stepped forward and pushed her. “Don’t touch him or I’ll tell my dad!” I threatened getting my voice back as I helped my brother to his feet.

My sister rushed into the room when Bayo scowled silently at us and then stormed away to her room, knowing full well that if she dared hurt us, my mother would definitely deal with her harshly.

Thankfully, Bayo didn’t come back to yell at us because we went to the room and cleaned it just as we were told. But I could still hear my brother grumbling about how he would tell Mom about Bayo’s harsh treatment.

That was one thing I learned from my brother–he was always the braver child in the house, not afraid to speak his mind when needed and was definitely not scared of anyone, even Bayo. Even after we moved from Nigeria and left Bayo behind, my brother still hated to cleaning his room.

Once my bed was made, I stretched my tired frame and glanced back out the window. It was still raining but the thunder had quieted to a minimum roar with the occasional flash of lightning to remind me the storm was still ever present.

Grimacing as I ran my tongue over the gritty texture of my teeth, I began making my way to the bathroom adjacent to my room when I suddenly tripped and fell flat on my face.

end of Chapter One