As the tears fell silently to the stairs, I could picture my brother’s face silently blaming me for his unfair death. “Oh Father God, why did this happen to him? I should’ve been the one to die, not him.”

As I continued crying, a hand suddenly touched my shoulder and helped me down the stairs, pausing once or twice as my trembling knees buckled beneath me.

Once I felt my feet reach the bottom stairs, the arms wrapped closer around me and whispered gently in my ear, “Shh.” I recognized the voice to be my father and I squeezed him tighter. “None of this is your fault, ablumuto,” he called me by my pet name and I cried even harder at his sudden gentle voice.

I knew no one would blame but I was so much in fault for not listening to the fatigue in my brother’s eyes. Even after he came back from tryouts, I knew there was something different about him.

What unnerved me was the glaze in his eyes, his monotonous deep voice, and his lack of desire to eat his favorite cookies, chocolate-chip. He didn’t even complain when Boma, our youngest sister, snatched it from the tray and stuffed it in her mouth.

Instead, he eyed her silently and trudged up to his room where he took a long nap, and even then, I didn’t see the signs. “It is!” I protested in wild sobs, now struggling in my father’s arms but he held me still and continued to console me.

It didn’t occur to me that he was actually leading towards the dining room table to get some breakfast but the aroma of freshly fried eggs and hot butter grits made my stomach turn.

Digging my heels to the floor, I shook my head at my father and he sighed. “You need to eat. We’ll be leaving in about five minutes.”

“Do you think Pastor Bryan is already there?” asked my auntie who I didn’t even notice had been standing by the stove, still churning the pot of hot grits that now bubbled wildly.

The rest of the room was a spinning haze and I couldn’t clearly see my siblings sitting on the table, staring at me warily.

My father sighed heavily and led me to the couch before answering my auntie’s query. “Yes, he just called to say the mortician was on her way with the…uh…” he hesitated in his last words but I knew what he was failing to say.

The mortician was on her way with my brother’s cold and stiff body buried between chilled wood and stiff sheets. Just thinking about it made me nauseous and I had to squeeze my mouth to keep it in.

The thunder had stopped, I noticed and glancing towards an open window, I saw that the sunshine was slowly peeking from beneath the dark clouds.

I should’ve been relieved that the storm was over but I wasn’t–there was a still a storm raging in my heart and it wouldn’t go away, for as long as my brother remained lifeless in the coffin they had prepared for him.

Just as I sat there staring out of the window, a sudden distinct stench of old cigarettes and perfume meshed in one distasteful combination made its way into my nose and my body wretched just at the awful smell.

What was that smell? I thought to myself and turned to the seat next to me where Fubara, my only alive brother sat looking at me.

“You still smell it?” he said quietly, bags under his eyes–an evidence of his crying and lack of sleep. It seemed everyone was as deeply distraught about the funeral as I was.

I nodded mutely and he sighed haggardly, leaning back against the chair. “I could smell it all night and I don’t know how to get it out of my nose.”

“W-what is the smell?” I managed to say against the lump lodged in my throat.

He glanced towards the table where my father and the rest of the family sat, staring down forlornly at their half-empty bowls of grits and untouched eggs. “Dad says it was the incense that they used to prepare… Tonye’s…body…” his lips trembled as he turned his eyes away.

I moaned inwardly and squeezed my eyes shut, seeing my brother’s stiff body with his eyes glued shut and his mouth lax. I felt his hair that night, when we went to view the body and with tears blurring my vision, I threw myself on his stiff, nylon-wrapped body and wept openly, sobbing about his stiff hair that felt like that of a plastic doll.

He was gone and never coming back. The mortician had checked his heart before he came, she had cut my brother’s body open to see the damage, to clean his body and prepare him for burial.

“Oh God,” I moaned aloud and buried my face in my hands as Fubara wept softly beside me. There was no turning back for he was gone forever! “Oh God,” I said loudly and began to weep again. This time, however, no one came by my side to comfort me and I gladly welcomed the solitude.

Even as we entered the van, I remained silent only turning my eyes to the window, the houses a blur as my father sped down the highway. Surprisingly there was no traffic on the Saturday morning and soon, we pulled into a lot full of trees and cars parked on the street.

My auntie helped me out of the car and I shuffled forward behind my parents as we approached the canopy where a few people were congregated as if waiting for us.

end of Chapter VII