Once, when we were little, my parents organized a sham marriage for my twin sister and me. It did not matter that we were both girls. It had just been for fun. We had both had to say the words, “I pledge to love you forever and ever, till the end of my days.” Forever, then, had been an eternity to me. It had meant years and years of growing up with Titi, going to the university together, marrying together, becoming neighbours and raising our children together. I never for once thought that our forever would ever become 365 days.
When Titi’s hair had begun to fall off, we had first hidden it from our parents. We had thought it was the hair cream we had stolen to use on our hair from Mummy’s room, and we knew she would skin us alive if she found out.
And then it continued, till there was a bald patch on her head and there was no hiding it anymore. I remember waiting in trepidation when Mummy and Daddy took Titi out to the hospital, certain they would come back and I would get the belt for stealing the hair cream. Worse still, I was sure I would get a double portion. Mummy often added our strokes together if one of us was ill and could not be beaten at that time.
But when they had come back home, they had hardly looked at me, except to ask me how long Titi had been coughing up blood, and why we had never seen it fit to tell them. The truth was, Titi’s coughing was a normal part of my life now. She had been coughing for months since then, and since she hated drugs, we had both sought to hide it from them. I hadn’t known about the blood part.
The days after that were filled with my parents conversing in frightened whispers around us, my father staying at home more, frequent visits to the hospital by Titi and my mother, and sometimes, tears from both of them. Titi didn’t seem to understand anything that was going on any more than me. We were both ten years old, and at that age, words and phrases like “leukaemia”, “stage four”, and “radiation” didn’t mean much to us.
The beeping of the monitor brings me back to the present. I stand up and walk from the bench to look at my twin through the glass partition that separates her ward from the corridor. Her eyes are closed, and she seems to be sleeping now. My eyes fill with tears.
I try to remember a time when we were looked exactly alike; so much that I often thought I was looking in a mirror. Now it is hard to. In the four years since she has been diagnosed, all of Titi’s thick black hair, so like mine, is gone. She is so thin now; so skeletal. Her face looks just like a skull. I wonder if it’s because she’s not eating well, or because she has not left the hospital in months.
Last night the doctor told us that Titi had about a year to live, maybe less. My mother broke down in fresh tears. It amazes me how much she can cry; how crying is all she does nowadays. I tried to cry, but I couldn’t. Titi says she is always in pain. Now when the doctor asks her to rate it, she hardly says a number lower than 7. Maybe dying is the best there is.
I still don’t understand why it had to be Titi; why it wasn’t me. We looked exactly alike, we both disobeyed our parents on countless occasions, and we both liked the same things. I don’t know why cancer chose her, and I don’t think I ever will. Why do I get to be the one to finish secondary school, to marry, to live the life we always wanted to live? Why is it that all she gets is pain? Sometimes I avoid her eyes when we talk, scared that if I look into it I’ll see a burning hatred for me. Does she blame me? I don’t know if I don’t want her to. Perhaps it’ll make her feel better.
Titi told me last night that she’s glad she doesn’t have much time to live anymore. I didn’t think anyone could be glad to die. She says there won’t be any pain for her in heaven; that it’s all angels and singing. Titi loves music. I hope for her sake there is a heaven.
I once measured our forever with years and years. It’s really a blow that our forever has just 365 days left, maybe less. I don’t know how we’re going to fit our forever into just that. It was hard enough when it was an eternity. But it’s hard now, knowing that one day I’ll wake up, maybe after 365 tomorrows, maybe even after less than that, and not have a sister anymore.
I make my decision there and then. When Mummy wakes up I am going to ask her for permission to take Titi out for a walk. If she has one year to live she doesn’t have to live it hearing only the beep sounds from the monitor that tells us if she’s alive or not. We’ll go out, and Titi will once more fill the sun on her face. Maybe we’ll even visit the university that’s close by: UNILAG. Even if she’ll never attend one, I think she would like to see what one looks like. I’m going to make her a forever out of her 364 days left.
Titi wakes up, sees me looking at her, and smiles. I smile back, and then look around. It had gotten dark while I’d been staring at her, and I hadn’t even noticed. One day was gone.