On being the last born

When you were 5 years old, your older sisters fought over who to do your hair, give you a bath, hold your hand in church, feed you [even though you knew how], peel your fruits [even though 3 months ago you figured that out, and accomplished the mammoth task of climbing trees and getting the fruits yourself]. However, you loved the attention and hoped to never grow up. Your mother spoiled you – in her eyes, you could do no wrong, everyone else was wrong. If your dad questioned her parenting methods on you, she’d casually say “tigana na mwana” (let the baby be). If your older brother, Maina, ate ‘your’ food aka pawpaw, eggs, milk, queen cakes instead of the cassava, black tea and nduma/ngwacii [reserved exclusively for breakfast], your mother would beat the crap out of him. You, on the other hand could eat whatever you fancied. When you tried the splendid nduma/ngwacii array for breakfast, you pretended it gave you stomach ache. Your mother let you stay in bed all day and made Maina wait on you, cater for your every need or risk a beating. He was 12 years old and hated you.

Your bed was in your parents’ room although you never slept in it. Each night you crawled into your parents’ bed and your mother made your father move over to make room for you. When relatives visited, they brought presents only for you, and you had the honour of presiding over who got what. You were fond of your sisters more than your brother – he sometimes knocked you about when no one was looking, and threatened you to never tell. Around the age of 7 you realised what you felt for your brother was hate. He did not treat you well, lately he’d developed a habit of hurting you and telling you it was what brothers and sisters do; however, he warned you to never tell.

When you were 9, you noticed your mother was getting fat. This made you jubilant because finally your mother now looked like a mother, like those rich fat round women who looked happy and content. In your culture, wealth and status were evaluated based on someone’s BMI – the higher the better. Several months later, your mother packed a small bag and said she’d be gone for a few days. “Behave and be a good girl to your father and brother” she said. You beamed at her, and with hand on chest, promised to be an angel. Your dad held your hand and assured you everything would be alright. Your sisters were away at boarding school; your brother attended day school because apparently, he couldn’t cope with boarding school. You hated his constant presence, and his invasion of your privacy. You couldn’t discuss this with anyone, he had made sure of that. That night as it poured hails and stones, you cried yourself to sleep.

Your auntie, your mother’s younger sister, came a few days later and got busy in the kitchen preparing something delicious. You were so happy to see her and gave her a big hug. She too, like your dad, promised everything would be great. You wondered why the promises. You prayed your mother would come back soon. She did, three days later, holding what looked like a baby. It was. You peeped into the bundle, but all you could see was the most hideous wrinkled thing you’d ever seen. You feigned happiness, however deep down you knew nothing will ever be the same again. That night, for the first time in your life, you slept in the big girls’ room minus the big girls. You wet the bed because you were scared and had been warned about being silly and babyish. “You are not a baby anymore Ciikú” was all you could remember everyone saying. Your job was to run errands and make endless trips from here to there to fetch this and that – all baby items. Once you spat in the baby’s milk because he disgusted you. You felt bad afterwards, and decided to pinch was better because he cried all the time anyway. It worked for a while until Maina caught you and slapped your face so hard his right-hand print is still on your left cheek. This was the moment you understood Maina’s hatred for you, he too was once the baby until you came along.

When schools closed, you waited with anticipation for your sisters. When they got home, they ran past you like you were air and fell by your mother’s feet adoring the baby. They cooed and wooed and begged to hold the damn baby. You came and sat next to them waiting for the usual baby sis greetings and presents, but all you got was scolding, “what’s wrong with you, you are not the baby anymore! Behave” they said without even looking at you. A few months later, it was your 10th birthday – nobody remembered to buy you anything or wish you a happy birthday. All because of a brother who was now another bane of your existence. You hated that everyone called him Babyboy instead of his real name Ngigí, which was as ugly as he was – it translated to locusts or some flying insects. Yours was a beautiful name, and even though you’d lost the ‘baby’ crown, everyone called you by your pet name Ciikú not your full name Wanjikú. “Ngigí is such an ugly name you can’t even create a pet name for it!” You consoled yourself.

When Ngigí was two, Maina died. He was sick for a while, but his death was sudden and everyone was sad and cried a lot. Ngigí couldn’t cry or wouldn’t because no one told him what was going on. Years later, he told you that grandmother had told him “Maina has gone to a better place” – he waited for his return until he was old enough to understand ‘the better place’. He stayed by your mother’s side during the mourning period and funeral. He was as happy as a clown and you hated him even more. You couldn’t understand why he wasn’t sad. You were not sad but cried anyway although inwardly you were glad the monster was dead.

**

Twenty-one years later, when celebrating the birth of your second child, your baby brother came to see you. He looked happy and promised to be the best uncle ever. Time, as they say, heals because you were now best friends. He acted more mature than his age. He wanted to talk of the past, and how Maina’s death had deeply troubled him, and worse because no one told him anything. He was only two, but he knew, though everyone treated him like a baby and decided not to tell him. When he got older, still no one told him. No one asked him how he was or felt about it. You fought back tears as you remembered your wish was for both to die – but now looking at how fragile and sad he was, you felt sorry for him. You talked for hours and without meaning to, told him of the abuse you suffered at Maina’s hands, and how glad you were he died. You didn’t tell him how you wished he was dead too – there was no point now as you have since realised what you felt was jealousy not hate.

As therapy, you both decided to mourn Maina’s death all over again – despite everything he had done to you, he was your brother and your mother’s son. In those moments, you thought of your mother and how she must have felt to lose a son, and now looking at your son, you cannot imagine what it would feel like. Later you two reminiscence the bad, the good and the ugly and the woes of being the last-born child. Ngigí’s main concern now, is that even as an adult, your mother still babys him and not always in the best way or in his best interest. All the pampering and babying can truly stunt emotional growth – you vowed never to do it.

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