I wrote this note three years ago – the night before, I was told my brother had less than a month to live. This note is unedited
I sit here this morning, lonely, sad, in need of a miracle.
I spent credit for the biggest miracle of my life a few months earlier, but I am here willing to sell anything, cash in for another ticket with the magic word MIRACLE on it. I am sitting here this sad, because it seems I had already cashed in my credit and am back in line, shopping again for the biggest miracle of my life, which I need for my brother.
Inimfon is my last brother. He was born a boy when my parents were expecting a girl, so for a while as a baby, all he had were girl clothes. As seven year old then, it was funny how this new sister of mine was really a boy at bath time, but once we got comfortable with him around, everything seemed to revolve around him.
Inimfon’s childhood dramas were first rate, and most original. He ate soap, drank kerosene in the village, sat on a red hot stove, sat on a lantern, had an addiction to guns, gum and cigarette stubs, no thanks to my smoking uncle. He could buy his own biscuits before he could pronounce the word, and since he could navigate to the stores all on his own, there was no denying him his rights. For sports, he fell in love with wrestling after seeing his first WWF episodes at three years old, and spent the next couple of years performing the Ultimate Warrior slam on my mum’s casserole dishes. When he ran out of big bowls, he got a hold of the nearest china and defeated them all.
Then there was that now funny incident when he put a bean in his nose. The seed apparently irritated something and his nose ran, with obvious results; the bean grew and got stuck. When we found him late at night with the condition, the bean had become so large, nothing could bring it out. I do not know what the doctor’s advice could have been, but when he convinced everyone he could breath normally, a vigil was declared to watch him till the next morning. That vigil, on the back of a family celebration, did not happen. Everyone fell fast asleep, but when we all woke up, the bean had fixed itself. It was lying beside Inimfon, big and well saturated. How is dislodged itself is still a subject of countless family hypotheses – of course it was a miracle and no one really wanted to know the truth of how that happened.
When he got into school, the first month was a disaster. He simply hated the experience, refused every attempt made at teaching him and cried his way to class every day. A few weeks later, he decided he did not like his teacher, and assigned himself to a new class. When all attempts to change him mind failed, we all resigned and prayed for a miracle.
That miracle came fast. Before we had a chance to figure him out, he was breezing through his exams, knocking everything down, winning everything. He bucked the family trend and won endless prizes in Math and Science. To prove his break with the family, he failed to win anything in English, which curiously was what everyone else in the family did with ease. To compensate, he could read, write and think in Ibibio, which we could all do, but he acquired a style to his gift, which transformed simple communication to art form. With his literary gifts defined, all family dues seemed paid.
Off the field, he was the man’s man, the person everyone wanted to be like, to be with. A natural leader, his mates followed him everywhere, did his every bidding and set up base at our home, where a late bus, lesson free day or holiday meant war camp or football, where he was captain, general and coach.
His biggest childhood moment of glory had to be captaining his Anthurium House to first position in the first PEPS Inter-house games, captaining the football team to win gold medal, scoring the winning goal, and getting the golden boot for being the highest goal scorer. He was easily the best player, but even more, he was addicted to style and glamour; you couldn’t miss the twinkle on the white soles of his dark blue Nike boots, where everyone else had on plain whites. He was also the only captain who had on a captain’s band. He made it a point to position it right every couple of minutes on the pitch, for everyone’s benefit and the avoidance of doubts about who the skipper was.
He did not lose a moment of drama though. In the 100-metres race, when he was sure his house has a healthy lead, he stopped near the finish line to celebrate, surrendering his first place to his best friend, Bobby Bob. Usain Bolt would later copy this in the 2008 Olympics, though without the part where the first place is lost.
When he lifted that house trophy, I knew it was the proudest moment of his life, than all the school awards, bigger than trumpeting in the school band.
Simply put, he was the brother we all wanted to be and not to be. He was the genius and ceaseless prank. A total enigma. Worst of all, he could rap better, mime better, and dance better than all of us combined. Inimfon’s response to my Spirit of David experience was wondering out loud how anyone could even half-think accepting me into a dance club, any dance club. My two year flirtation with rap between 15 and 17 were only a funny footnote to him, though to my credit, I still could do the first verse of “Slim Shady”.
But my football skills didn’t deserve even the faint praise that my rap did. Because, again, he could play better than all of us combined. He could do every imaginable flick, twist and turn with impunity, dribble with annoying success from anywhere between very slow and hyper-fast. But we never thought he ever needed those tricks. Because he could focus better than any of us, he also could shoot and score from anywhere. But it was this abundance of skill that was just the problem with Inimfon. If only he could defend by even a tiny fraction of how well he could shoot.
It was only this weakness that earned me a grudging nod of approval – I could defend anything. So we became a team. We played, I scored, he scored lots more from all over the place, I defended to keep the scores ridiculous and he took all the credit.
The last game we played had a ridiculous score, but against us. Inimfon had gotten up from his sick bed to play – he felt strong enough to play, so no one could stop him. In truth, we could take him at the games anytime, so there was no reason to not allow him play. But he tired out just when we were building a lead, so we had to switch positions and he was left to defend. Our goals still had the required flair, but we could not score enough to cancel the ones we were leaking in. By the time Inimfon was too weak to play and retired, we had lost badly. But he promised a knockout in the return.
We never played again, because I had to travel a day later and he almost cried when I left. I promised we would see sometime soon but then I left for Lagos and we never saw till months later.
My journey to find a cure for Inimfon began in September, 2007, when he developed headaches shortly after returning from school. They were bad enough to keep him in bed for a few painful minutes, but could never stop him from playing footie. Panadol was enough to get him back up, and he could even afford to ignore the tablets and sleep out the pain. His only reason for going to the clinic was because he did not was to spend the holiday always having to reach for two white tablets every couple of hours; it disturbed his game plans.
I don’t know where I got the feeling that he will be referred, but it was stuck in my head. When we got the referral letter, we decided we were only going to go have fun in Lagos, buoyed by faith that he will be well anyway. I remember specifically praying against tumors – how this entered my prayers, I do not know.
True to our faith, the headaches were gone once we got to Lagos. We did all the tests, then went shopping. We even met D’banj! When we got the test results, the doctors found nothing wrong. We even got anxiety counseling, when the neurologist examined the ECG films and thought he may be having psychological stress.
He was well till a couple of months later. When I got called that he had fallen ill again, I believed he would pull through. My only fear was that it could affect his examinations. When we reluctantly let him go back to school three weeks before exams, we were prepared for anything, but Inimfon was never one to bring him expected results. His JAMB was a breeze and his SSCE was beyond anything we had expected. Even when his Chemistry score was not great, we knew our only trouble would be getting him fit for college.
Shortly afterwards, his health got worse. Between medications and prayers, we believed all would be right. When he agreed to get admitted, it was again for reasons of convenience. We spoke for hours every night. Being an unrepentant night caller, he got well just so no one would tell him not to make the calls. A night to his discharge, he shared the testimony, how well he felt. He hadn’t felt that good in a year. Predictably, I was floating in the air for much of the next day.
I didn’t hear from him for another week.
I did not know about the illness that became the second big battle for Inimfon’s till a week after it had happened. Hi s number was not ringing, and no one at home could tell me anything. When I finally heard he was ill, he was already recovering. I promised I will spend some time with him when I came home, but when I finally made it home, I only met him a few minutes before he was checked into a flight for Lagos. For the second time, he had be referred to see the specialists, but this time, we knew it was different. He had had three major illnesses, lost a lot of weight, but full of faith that this time, they were going to find what was wrong with him and find it’s cure.
I still had not returned to Lagos when the diagnosis came in – our fears about a tumor came true, but with that revelation came faith, believe and strength that we would face it and overcome. I had read about tumors, and read some more; I compared cases and symptoms I felt better. But there was more to come.
I had not heard everything about what really was the deal with this tumor, so I cornered one of Inimfon’s doctors and asked to see his files. It was then that he showed the films to me and explained what I had already realized. This tumor would most likely be inoperable. It had grown though the base of his brain. Our best shot would be radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both. The doctors knew the risks and I knew these too. If we had found this in our last trip, it would have been easier, but over the year, the tumor had grown.
The decision to take Inimfon out of the country for treatment had been made long before the doctors made their pronouncement, the question was where. London was not a tough choice in the end, and the assurance was if there was anywhere he could get the best care, he would find it there. It all came down to how soon we could get him ready and buying warm clothing fast enough became my challenge when his papers were issued on Friday, with his trip set for Sunday, 2nd November, 2008.
I first spoke to Inimfon a few days after he had left. He was feeling a lot better and his sense of humour had returned. When he answered the phone, I could not recognize the voice that spoke to me. There was a distinct English accent saying hello, in what I had been told was my brother’s ward. Then Inimfon laughed and said it was him after all. No way, I said, like all of us, his accent had been more neutral than anything, but Inimfon only laughed and ploughed away with his new English accent. Done taking me in with his joke, we spoke for half an hour about everything as usual. He had done a few tests and was waiting for his biopsy and visit to the oncologist.
Over the next few days, we spoke almost daily. Even when he fell ill again, there was one constant – believe that he would be cured. He was actually looking forward to the treatments, which he knew would not be easy, whichever methods were applied. His visit to the oncologist reaffirmed this.
The effects of radiotherapy included amongst other things, infertility and he knew that, but he loved life and said ok. At this point in his life, he could sacrifice a little more for the promise of a future. For his beautiful hair we are all so jealous of, he is sure they will grow back in two to three months, so he does not mind at all. And he believes he would be fine after it all. I believe it too.
I had prayed with him countless times, but yesterday I really believed in the strength of that one minute. Even when the Amen from the other end had a lot of funny spirit in it, I knew his faith was as strong as mine. So strong, all we were worried about was how he was going to miss this Christmas. In all his eighteen years, we had always spent Christmas together. So Christmas was the only thing on our minds. Then we said ok, accepted missing Christmas, but talked about A-levels instead, and college, travel and holidays, all right after he gets well. We even talked about savings, fees and college logistics.
Then I talked to Mum.
My mother had spent the last hours of the day crying her soul out. While I was talking to Inimfon, who was still holding on to the hope of a cure with the faith of a child, another man had looked at his test results and pronounced that this is an illness he will never come out of. He had told my mother that the tumor had spread and affected his lungs. In his years of practice, he had never seen anyone recover from that.
In his words, my brother’s illness is terminal.
You see, Inimfon and I were really not brothers. We were friends, mates, father and son, anything but brothers.
I bought things, gave advice, provided cover. He listened, and paid attention. He always listened, encouraged and shared all my victories. When he read A Mile From Life nine years ago, he spent all the time he could demanding to know how come I had not published yet. He was my biggest fan. He did most things I did and tried out at computers just because I did. We shared our dreams and visions – when I got engaged, he was the first sibling to know, because above everyone else, he always supported my relationship and completely adored my girlfriend.
When he got into trouble, he did not call my parents. He called me to work it out with my parents, before he would talk to them. When I said he had go home, instead of coming to stay with me, he insisted I came to see him at home as soon as possible, which was what I did whenever he was home.
I had always been his mentor and hero; sometimes his dad. So like most times in his life, where I got to help him make a decision, it is coming down to me now, to decide whether or not to tell him how bad his body has been hit. It is coming down to me to help decide if we should go ahead with the painful treatment, knowing his body may never recover. It is down to me to help him in the end decide if it would be better to come back home and spend what may be his last Christmas with his family.
I am here, sad, lonely and in need of a miracle, knowing my faith is needed to build and hold his. That if I lost faith, he would. It is here, staring at me, the knowledge that if he lost faith, we might lose him sooner than the little time we could have had together.
I have called him again, so we could laugh as usual; we prayed together and will do again. I still tell him he will be healed and the better part of me believes it. Despite all that I know, I am still holding on to the faith, still having to decide if we should bring him home hold on to the last hope we have and forget the doctors. Can we go this with prayers, knowing it could change things?
So if you know anyone that has got spare big miracle credit, could you please call me?
Inimfon died on July 26, 2009. I received a call in church and knew – the good news was that he did not die painfully, despite all the pain he had gone through. He was prepared when he finally died.
Because he was so tough, my brother lived three months longer than the doctors expected, and was able to say all his goodbyes
We still pray, that someday, someone else’s brother would survive. For every cancer survivor out there, you are my brother