Mid-February 2020, I slipped on the bathroom tiles and broke my ankle.
I honestly believed that it was the most painful thing ever. It was all I could talk about for weeks.
"The most painful thing ever," I grumbled, looking at my face from the reflection of my phone's screen. I lightly touched my right cheek which was swollen from impact. "No pain can be worse than this."
My sister scoffed. She was on the reading table painting, and she looked up from the sheet to answer me. "You'd be surprised. Something actually can."
I fell back on my bed, careful not to upset the cast. We had a bunk bed, and mine was the bottom bed. "You say that because you haven't broken your ankle yet."
"It's crazy how you can talk so much despite the pain. Why don't you use your energy on reading instead?" Liv's paintbrush moved down with one deft stroke. She dipped it into a cup and swirled it, watching as the colour bled into the water. "Don't make that face," she said, even though she hadn't seen my face. "I'm done sympathising with you."
"Exactly!" I exclaimed. "We have to write JAMB in a month and I'm supposed to read. How can I read with this excruciating pain?"
I pouted. Liv saw my face and pouted. I frowned. She frowned. I frowned harder. She did so, too. I glared at her. After some time, she laughed.
"I love mimicking you," she said. She got up, holding her palette. "It's just like seeing my reflection, but an uglier version."
Our features were identical in every way, so there was no 'uglier version'. She just wanted to rile me up, and I was. I threw my pillow at her. She ducked and it hit the table instead.
A glass container fell down and broke into pieces. Shards of glass fell around the room. Books and pictures were sent flying. Liv's palette and the cup of water fell. She managed to grab her painting in time.
I never understood why my mum chose to paint our wall with white (too plain, I said), but she said it was because she had to find a middle ground between my love for gothic colours and Liv's odd penchant for brighter tones. She'd never seen twins who were so different like Liv and I, and that had influenced our bedroom design. We had to share a lot of things and make compromises for peace to reign - a bunk bed, a long reading table, a white vanity table, a wooden wardrobe and the awful white wall.
We'd been usually so careful around the wall. Our mouths were wide open, hearts sinking, disbelief mounting as we saw the cup teeter around the edge of the table then fall, paint-streaked water splashing on the wall. Paint from her palette also splashed on the wall.
The white wall.
The pristine white wall.
I looked at our books, the tiled floor, the table - all splattered with paint. A growl rose from Liv's throat. I raised my head up. Our eyes locked. Fury was evident in her gaze; her jaw was ticking. We stared at each other for a very long time.
I coughed, breaking the silence. "Point is, nothing can beat the pain I'm in right now."
"Nothing," I stressed.
I was silent for a while. "I'm sorry."
Our mum came into the room that evening. Despite our attempts at cleaning up, the damage was done. She just stared at the mess.
"It's aesthetic," I mumbled. "And it isn't really that noticeable."
Liv side-eyed me. "It messes up everything." She turned to our mum. "Mummy, can you do something about the wall? There should be spare paint somewhere, right? Mummy?" When my mum didn't reply, Liv repeated, "Mummy?"
Mummy's right hand occasionally tucked in the knot of her wrapper. At the question, she shook her head. "Ah, no oh. I have better things to think about. Don't stress me abeg. Haven't you been listening to the news? People are dying daily of Corova virus--"
I coughed. "Corona."
Fortunately, Mummy didn't hear me. I probably would've had two swollen cheeks. "--and it will soon come to Nigeria. I'm supposed to be spending money on hand sanitisers and face masks, not on sixteen year olds that behave like babies. So," she said, turning around, "unless you are ready to use your money to pay for paint, the wall will stay like this. What did Ella call it again? Aesthetic, shay?" She grinned at the both of us. "Enjoy your aesthetic wall."
Liv was sort of a perfectionist. Waking up everyday to see the mess on the wall always made her groan, but we got used to it.
My injury was healing too, so when Liv announced two weeks later that Covid-19 was in Nigeria and I jumped up from bed, I didn't hurt my ankle further.
"Serious?" I walked over to the vanity, where she sat. She held up her phone for me to see the headlines. "Shoot."
"I just hope we'll be able to write our exams," Liv said. "Graduation is just six months away."
We had three major exams to write - Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (or JAMB), West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams and Post-UTME. We were to graduate in July. If Covid-19 were to spread rapidly, our lives will be postponed.
However, at the beginning of March, we still had hopes of writing our JAMB exam on the proposed date. I tentatively marked March 18th on our calendar.
The thing about being identical to someone is that people always ask you if you are twins. Olivia and I recorded how many times we were asked. We playfully started doing so when we were five, and now, it was recorded as tallies in a sheet hung up in our room. After writing our JAMB, we proudly and added six more talies, making it 57.
Writing our JAMB exam in March was a close call. April 1st came lockdown.
It was something we weren't used to. Our routines were shaken to the core. The first weeks were tough. We were struck with confusion.
My mum, diligent and ever prepared, hoarded the house with provisions. It was in case we couldn't go out at all, she said. There was no space in the kitchen store or in the storage room, so a lot of goods were was stored in my room.
"Prevention is better than cure," Mummy said, pushing two cartons of powdered milk into our room. I got up and helped her shove them under my bed. Liv was behind her, panting as she carried a carton of vegetable oil. Mummy stretched, put a hand on her waist and wiped the sweat off her face. "I don't know who said that, but the person has too much sense." Looking at my cramped room, she sighed. "Let's just hope rats won't eat them."
When Liv and I realised that the virus showed no signs of slowing down, we got a huge, sturdy carton box. In went our textbooks and past questions. Out came movies, songs, videos. We replaced the Chemistry worksheets on our wall with movie posters. Biology charts were swapped for exercise mats. Lunges, crunches, sit-ups and yoga became regular parts of our routine.
"Quarantine glow-up," Liv would grit out, her body shaking as she held a plank position. "We. . .must. . .be. . .fit."
On rare occasions when there was uninterrupted power supply, we'd crank up the temperature of the air conditioner to the lowest. Then we'd connect our laptop to a charger - it had a really faulty battery - and stay up all night binge watching shows.
May was the same. Lather, rinse, repeat.
June was the same. Lather, rinse, repeat.
July was the almost same, except for more rains. So, we'd just sit crosslegged on our beds, watching the raindrops hit the window. Lather, rinse, repeat.
One day, we were lying down on my bed, watching a show, when Liv received a text.
I put a handful of popcorn in my mouth then grudgingly dragged my eyes to her. "Hmm?"
"WAEC is starting in August."
My fingers fumbled over the and hit pause. I hurriedly swallowed. "What? That's next month!"
We hadn't been reading at all. No online learning, no revisions, no flipping through our textbooks--nothing. My brain was accademically blank. I wasn't sure if I'd pass the exam at all.
"It doesn't even matter," Liv said when I voiced out my concerns. She bent down and reached under the bed. "You'll still pass whether you read or not."
Liv studied way more than I did. She was frustrated everytime I scored higher. I didn't mind if I got good grades or not; Liv did. Hearing her disappointed sigh everytime she got lower than she bargained for made my heart sink. And it wasn't just about academics. As the younger twin, she was constantly being compared to me.
At moments like this, I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to make her more upset. "You'll pass well, too."
With a heavy sigh, the carton was dragged out from underneath my bed. "I hope so." She opened it and brought out the textbooks, one by one. "Hey, Biology. What's up, Econs? You guys didn't miss me?" She wiped the dust from the part where 'OLIVIA AKANDE' was written and frowned. "Yeah, me too."
It was a relief when we finished our exams, and even more of a relief when our results came out in October. Getting As in all the subjects was impossible for me, so I opted for at least two out of nine.
Daddy sent me a photo of my result which he picked up from school. My eyes scanned the lines, quickly searching for As.
"Three As!" Liv exclaimed. "I got three As!!" She jumped up and down excitedly. "I'm so happy! Ella, have you seen yours? You have? How many As?"
"Five," I said, watching her reaction carefully.
She shrieked and ran to my bed, grabbing me in a hug. We both fell back on the bed, Liv giggling, me a bit guarded.
Noticing my expression, Liv frowned, She smacked me and told me to stop looking at her like that. "My result doesn't matter," she said. "I've accepted my poor academic fate. I'm just glad that we both passed the exam."
"Your academic fate isn't poor," I said, and I hugged her back.
The rest of 2020 flew by. There was the End SARS protest, which resulted in mass killings in Lagos. There was our graduation, which made Liv cry. Liv, who rarely cried. Then, there was Post UTME. Unlike the months before, we were busy, busy, busy. Before we knew it, 2021 had arrived.
Ten days into January, Liv and I sat on my bed, her head resting on my shoulder. We talked about lots and lots of things that day. From our postion, we could see the exact part of the wall that got stained.
"I'm sorry about the wall," I said after some time.
Liv laughed. "Your apology is a year late."
My mind went back to the incident. It was in February last year, and we just entered January. "It isn't up to a year," I said. ". . .yet," I added.
"It isn't? Wow. Crazy." She was silent for a while, then said, "I think I kinda like it. The wall, I mean. It's aesthetic, it's beautiful. White is boring." She laughed softly when I looked at her oddly. "No, don't look at me that way. It actually is. It needs a bit of colour, something to spice it up, give it a bit of life. It's a bit like me."
I frowned. "That's not true."
"Shh, Ella. Let me finish." Her dark finger traced the patterns on my bed sheet. "You add colour to my life, you know. My sad, boring, plain, white life. I'm happy I got stuck with you. And even when I behave like an annoying younger sister with major self esteem problems, you're always there for me. It's amazing how you're so vibrant, so full of life. You make me want to be good, to be like you, and I know I never can, but at least, I have someone as amazing as you next to me." She paused for a moment, blinking back tears. "You're the colour in my life. All the blues and greens and reds and yellows - it's all you."
I was speechless. She took the words right out of my mouth. It was an internal struggle not to cry. I held her close, interlaced our fingers.
Thinking back, I should've done something more. I should have voiced my feelings out loud. I should've said, "You're the colour in my life, too." I should've showed more emotion, held her a bit tighter.
I will always remember that day. But I will remember the day after that even more.
Mummy called Liv and sent her to get something from Mama Favour's stall. It was a five minute walk from our house. Not so stressful, but a sure inconvenience when you're napping.
"I'm going," she said, her voice groggy.
"Okay," I said. "See ya."
Some seconds later, I looked up from the novel I was reading to see her looking at me. "What?" I asked.
She frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. "I was hoping that you'd offer to help me out. Please? I'm really, really, really tired."
"Liv, I'm tired too. And I'm very busy. See?" I raised the novel up. She frowned even more and turned around, walking out of the room. "Sorry!" I called out. "Love you!"
I wish I had said, "Olivia, don't go yet. Let's finish before you go." Or, "Don't worry. Let me go for you." I wish I'd stopped her from going. Just five minutes, just a minute, just a second more.
I was at that position - the same position I am in now - when my dad walked in. He sat on the chair and looked at me. His eyes were red, tired. In a string of words, words which took him all his energy to say, he told me that there was an accident.
Mama Favour's stall was opposite a trailer park, and a particular trailer had been wedged with only a small stone. The trailer rolled back, tires screeching. It bent sideways and headed for the cluster of stalls near the gate. Olivia was inside the stall, hand-weighing two tins of sardines.
It was too late, he said.
A bystander noticed it, running towards it and shouting for help. Too late. Men left their work and rushed to hold it back. Too late. Women screamed and ran, overturning baskets of garri and rice. Too late. Mama Favour tried to drag Liv away. Too late. Liv saw the trailer heading for the store, for her. Too late. Her eyes opened wide and she screamed. Too late. The trailer collided with the stall and exploded.
Too late, too late, too late.
In January 2021, my twin sister died.
How long does it take for death to sink in? A day? Two? Three, maybe? A week? For the first few weeks, it didn't. Not when I heard Mummy wail from as she came back from the market. She had heard about it before she got home. Not when Liv was buried the day after. Not when Mummy's wails became a nightly routine. Not when we both were offered admission into the university. Not when I'd hug Mummy as I sobbed into her shoulder. Not even when I sorted Liv's things, one by one. Not then.
Until now, when I'm seated at that same position - on my bed, my palms flat beside me. I stare at the wall, the paint-splashed wall. The weather is really hot, I notice.
Liv could've had rashes all over her neck. "Please, give me the powder," she'd have said. I'd have grunted, turned over and thrown the mentholated dusting powder up at her. She may've missed the impact or she may've not. Either way, she would've groaned. "Ella!"
I could've giggled into my sheet.
Then, she could've started ranting about climate change and power outage. Hot, sweaty and out of breath, she could've cursed and cursed and cursed.
She could've, she should've, she may've, she would've.
. . .if she was still alive.
And then it hits me. I'm going to be stuck in this room, alone. I'd wake up every morning, stare at the vanity mirror. Alone. I'll pack my bags, go to school. Alone. I'll steal coffee, stay up late in the night, reading. Alone. I'll graduate, meet a guy. Alone. I'll get married, my maid of honour gone. Alone. I'll have children, tell them stories about Liv. Alone.
I'll be Emmanuella without Olivia. Alone.
She's gone, Ella. She's gone.
My lips tremble as I think about our could've beens, should've beens, may've beens, would've beens. I think about what she was and will never get to be.
And I cry.
It's February again, and I remember a conversation we had exactly a year ago, when I'd broken my ankle. I said that nothing could hurt more than that. I was ignorant. I was stupid. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
A broken ankle hurts. Toothaches hurt. Migraines hurt. Cramps hurt. Life hurts.
But death? It hurts the most. It hurts. It hurts so bad.
I stare at the wall, the paint. It may be a hallucination or my vision blurring with tears, but the colours are less vivid. They start moving around, becoming pale. As if diluted by an external force, each colour bleeds into the backgroud, then fades to white. One by one. Until they are no more.