As you stand outside, you begin to realize how little you remember of Nonso. Time is slowly siphoning Nonso from you. You can’t recall if his knuckles were darker than his skin; how bushy his eyebrows were; if his teeth were still milky white or if they had begun to yellow from smoking. There are only two things that you remember well; the smile he always had on his face and the yellow shirt. That shirt he wore on the last morning you spent with him; the morning Nonso disappeared. The morning you wore your green shirt.
You know now that you’ll never wear that green shirt again.
Papa is still inside with Grandmama. And you know the real reason he is here. He will take you to the big city. You are sure of it.
When Papa calls you back inside he does not look too sad; he does not cry like Grandmama; his eyes are not full of worry like yours. His eyes are no longer tired, but clear, almost happy in fact. Papa tells you, “Grandmama is too old to be looking after young boys.” He says you will stay with him in his new apartment and that you will go to a big school. Papa says he has a new job and a big salary. He says that he will buy you plenty new shirts and that he will take you to eat chicken peppersoup; that you will drink Fanta everyday. He says Nonso will join you there when he returns from his journey. You ask, “Where did Nonso go, Papa?”
He smiles. “Heaven, Nnamdi. Your brother has gone to heaven.”
“To visit Mama?”
“When is he coming back?”
“Soon,” your Papa replies, his smile growing broader.
You know that something is wrong. Papa should not be smiling and Nonso should not be in heaven. Your brother should be by your side, smiling with those lips of his that like to suck on tobacco sticks. But you are eight and there is little you can do.
Grandmama has tears in her eyes. You wonder if she is crying because you are leaving or because Nonso is still missing. She holds you to her bosom and you can smell the stale odour of mothballs that clings onto all of your clothes. “Be a good boy,” she tells you and she gives you a black nylon bag; the aroma tells you what it is. Fried yams.
It will be a long trip to the big city.
Before you walk out of Grandmama’s gate for the last time, you ask Papa to wait. You run back inside. But not to Grandmama for another hug. You run to the well, climbing onto the rings and open the lid. You see the red eyes glaring underneath the water now. It does not need to growl this time. It sees you and you see it and you both know what it did. You close the lid, climbing down as it dawns on you that he is gone.
You will never see Nonso again.