by Ohioleh

“Fly, Brother Jo, fly. You have to raise your hands up to fly.”
Jo is heady. He doesn’t listen to me, or anybody. He is flying away but the asbestos ceiling will not let him through. If he only made a fist to break through it and fly on into the parting clouds, jaw first, arms stretched, a cape flowing behind him.
He had come from Mama’s place with two bags, today, a day after the intervention. The one where the family deliberated his future like it was a thing to be haggle over with fate. It’s Saturday. I have climbed the dining chair to move the red square on the big Y2K calendar to today’s date, 8 January. Jo is wearing a big yellow shirt with Yogi Bear on it.
He shares my bed with me this night. We’re both awake, a frog is croaking, the light of the night against my windowsill casts a shadow like the crucifix on the concrete white wall. He asks if I know he’s superman. I say he’s lying, that he should fly. He says tomorrow. But on the morrow, when I climb the chair and change the date to 9 January, before we go to church, I ask him to fly, he simply limps and says not today. That his power is not full. And he flexes his arm muscle dejectedly. I keep asking him every day after school, when he returns from the mechanic shop opposite the house where he’s begun apprenticeship. One time he appears with a wrapper for a cape and makes a high jump and lands with a pose, then reiterates that all his power has gone, but he’ll fly tomorrow. I ask him till the end of January.
The red square is on 14, February. My mother buys a belt for my father and he smiles too merrily and hugs her. They leave in the night and do not return till the next morning. I’m unsure why. The month ends on 28 and I am livid that it doesn’t have 30 or 31 like the other months. I write 29, 30, 31 boldly on the calendar with black ink, copying the calligraphy of the other text. My father smacks me across the head when he sees it and asks what in Jesus name they teach me in my school.
I’ve dragged the dining chair out and moved the red square to 3, March. It’s Saturday. I have a numbers assignment from the previous day. It’s seven times. I don’t like numbers. I don’t like clocks. I don’t like the way they add. I used to have cubes, in my last school, of different sizes that I stacked by their units, tens, and hundreds. Now they use words like ‘borrow’, ‘carry’ like ‘drop two carry one.’ I ask Jo what seven times six is. He doesn’t know it. I know because he’s repeating the question and counting on his fingers, like I do when I do not know a thing. I laugh at him because he’d told me he was in primary six. I never mind why he doesn’t continue in primary six but goes to the mechanic shop instead. My father shows me the numbers and says that if I add six to the last multiple then I get the answers. Then he said something about how they don’t just get over with the times table before the big number adding.
I have never heard my father this loud. It wakes me up. It is dark except the yellow bulb in the parlor that I walk to. My father is shouting through the window at uncle Obi, the owner of the mechanic shop opposite the house. He’s saying to Uncle Obi “No be him, No be him tif am.” Jo is crying and his face is swollen.
“Pastor! Pastor! I dey respect you oh! Open this door and bring dat criminal outside make we burn am!”
“Obi, if you and these boys don’t leave, I will place a curse on all of you”
“Pastor, na so you be?”
“Yes, yes, na so I be.”
“Pastor, we go see. Pastor, I say we go see. Let’s go. I say let’s go.”
My father breezes past me and returns with a belt. My mother drags me back into the room. I hear him shout at Jo.
“So you don’t want to learn inside the house. You want—”
I hear the belt whip. My mother leaves the room, back into the parlor.
“You want—make them put tire—”
I hear the belt whip.
“On top your neck.”
I hear the belt whip.
“No be me, I swear, please sah”
I hear the belt whip.
“I swear I no do am.”
I hear the belt whip.
I’ve snuck back into the parlor, ducking behind the couch.
Uncle Abhulimen arrives this same night. I know the short hand of the clock is on eleven. I could never tell the time if the long hand wasn’t on twelve. Everybody sits except Jo, kneeling with both hands up and remaining in that position. Uncle Abhulimen paces the room and talks about how Jo should be grateful his life just got saved. Jo repeats, crying, that he didn’t do it. Uncle Abhulimen screams and slaps Jo. Once when Jo still lived with him, he’d pulled Jo by the neck and broke the ceramic sink with his head for stealing Mama’s six hundred naira OPC money.
Aunty U arrives this same night, after Uncle Abhulimen. She charges at him crying and bites him. She says Jo is a nuisance. I have never heard the word before but it must mean something bad since it was spoken to Jo. My mother wonders aloud why he chooses to steal when he has enough. Aunty U says she blames Jo’s father and continues the rest in a dialect I do not understand. My father is livid. Silent. My mother talks, Uncle Abhulimen interjects. It continues this way. I sleep at the back of the couch.
I am the first to wake up on Sunday. On my bed. I suppose my mother put me here. Jo is not on the bed. I look to the end of the room and I find Jo flying away but the asbestos ceiling will not let him through. If he only made a fist to break through it and fly on into the parting clouds, jaw first, arms stretched, a cape flowing behind him. I walk over to him, his legs above my head. He is looking down at me, tears collecting under his eyes, the white of his eye reddening, foam between his teeth running down to his gum, to his lower lip and falling to the rug. No cape, no shirt, no trouser, no pant.
“Fly, Brother Jo, fly. You have to raise your hands up to fly.”
Jo is heady. He doesn’t listen to me, or anybody. So I walk to the kitchen and return with a mop with which I prod him on the side with. He swings and dangles in the air. His hands by his side.
“Fly, Brother Jo, fly. You have to raise your hands up to fly.” I’m shouting now. I go to my parent’s room and wake them. I say “come and see Brother Jo is flying but he can’t blow the ceiling like Superman.” “Flying?” My father asks. He walks into the room and I point to Jo. My father kneels and vomits. I did not know adults vomit.
The house is full. My mother and Aunty U and many aunties are crying. My father is silent. Uncle Abhulimen is angry that my aunties are crying. I still do not understand so I ask my father if people died flying. My father says he was hanging not flying. I ask what the difference was. He says “Boy, people die lying, flying, sitting, jumping, singing, dancing; people die anyhow. People die because people die. It doesn’t matter how you die, when you die you die.”