Getting dressed for what I now came to realize was my brother’s funeral, proved to be a feat in itself. First, it seemed as though my legs couldn’t support me any longer and it was hard trying to stand upright with my knees trembling. Now tears blinded my vision and made my room a dizzy haze as I struggled to put on the only black dress I could find.

Once I had straightened my hair and managed to clean my tear-stained face, I took one quick glance at the clearing sky and then hurried out of the room to join my family.

On the way to the stairs, I passed by my brothers’ closed bedroom door and stood there for a moment, hesitant on going in. Maybe it was all a dream after all, maybe he was still asleep and no one knew he still lay there waiting for someone to wake him up, I tried convincing myself, gnawing silently at my bottom lip.

Lifting my hands to the doorknob, I turned it slowly and inched forward inside, staring at the bareness of the room. The blinds were drawn over the windows as if to let no light shine through the cracks and his bed was made perfectly and his clothes were picked up from the floor where they normally resided and placed neatly in the armoire by his bed.

I gulped hard as I turned to the desk where his Nintendo game lay abandoned and collecting dust. How long had it been since anyone came in this room?

The musty smell of the room threw me backwards and it was almost as if there was no life present in this room, so he wasn’t here. My lips trembled as tears threatened again. I was about to make my way towards his bed when my father’s booming voice called me from the stairs.

“Dee!” he said, his deep voice resonating against the walls and in my hollow body.

Stiffly, I glanced once more at his bed, knowing this would be the last time I would see it this way. I knew that immediately we came back from the funeral and my brother’s body was lowered six feet underground, there was no turning back.

I gulped, squeezed my eyes shut for a moment and then proceeded towards the end of the stairs when my father called me again. “I’m coming…” I said quietly and swallowed hard against the lump in my throat.

On my way down the stairs, I spotted a picture and once I turned to look at it, I immediately regretted my decision. It was a picture of Tonye with a wide smile, his teeth adorned with metal braces as he stood proudly in an open field with a soccer ball underneath his feet.

I squeezed my eyes again, now leaning against the stairwell and I choked amidst my tears. Soccer was his favorite sport and no matter what day it was, rain or shine, my brother loved to play it.

He had played soccer ever since he was little, so naturally he would want to play it in high school and my parents allowed him to, knowing that he was passionate about it as much as I was about writing and painting.

His dedication to the sport made him feel important and strong, he practiced whenever he got the chance and even played video games just to improve his tactics and skill.

When he tried out for the high school soccer team, we all pushed him because we knew he had the talent and at first, he was keen to tryout for the team–not knowing that his tired body and hypertrophic heart couldn’t handle the exertion.

It was not until Monday afternoon, as I headed for the bus after school, when I bumped into him wearing his soccer jersey and looking so tired, more tired than I’d ever seen him before.

It was a hot, bright day in Missouri City, Texas and I was already complaining about the stifling heat even though it was very cold in the classrooms. As for Tonye, he just stood beside him, shuffling his feet like he always did when he was nervous about telling me something.

I frowned up at his almost six-foot frame, surveying his droopy eyes and slack mouth. “Are you okay?” I asked with concern.

Most times, Tonye who never got sick once in his life, would’ve shrugged my concern off and tell me he was alright, but this time he shook his head and sighed heavily.

“I’m just so tired,” he said softly and shifted his heavy backpack to the other shoulder. “I really don’t feel like continuing the tryouts… Do you think Mom and Dad would mind?” he bit his bottom lip, his metal braces glistening in the bright sunlight.

I quickly swiped my hand across my sweaty brow and sighed impatiently, glancing once at the already-loading school bus. “Ugh… I don’t know. But Tonye, this is your big chance to prove that you’re a talented player. Don’t you want to play for the school’s team anymore?”

He shrugged, groaning as he spotted a couple of his teammates already heading for the soccer field at the back of the school. “I don’t know anymore… I just want to go home and sleep.”

I frowned disapprovingly at him. Lately, he didn’t want to do anything but sleep and I just thought he was being lazy. “Tonye, just go to the tryout… This is the second to last day. After that you can relax.”

I patted his shoulder, ignoring his soft protest and waved quickly. “Look, it’s too hot to stand and talk. I’ll see you at home.” And with that, I rushed to the bus just as it was pulling out to the street.

If I had stayed a little longer, maybe I would’ve seen the dejected look on my brother’s face, would’ve heard his protest and cry for help, but I was too selfish, too full of myself to notice.

Putting my hands to my face, my body quaked in silent but bitter sobs. “It’s my fault,” I cried into my already wet hands, no longer caring if my father left me and took the family to the burial grounds.

end of Chapter VI