THE IDENTICAL TWINS
By Kenechukwu Obi
Saturday, July 18, 2009.
The evening was cool, and the air carried some dusty smell as a result of the earlier rainfall. Raindrops rattled on the thatched roof of the mud house in which Johnson studied, occasionally breaking into his concentration. As the rain fell, Johnson took a break from studies and peered out of the window. Johnson’s attention was drawn to his father’s grave that was outside. He wondered if any remains of his late father were still there, getting wet, as raindrops fell on it. Wild imagination, Johnson thought, and quickly cleared his mind of that. He went back to his studies.
But before he could take his seat, something his father used to say came upon his mind. Johnson could hear those words as loud as his father had said them. “My children, take education serious and secure a bright future.” Johnson gently shut his eyes and nodded in appreciation of that advice.
“Father, I will,” he said to himself in a low tone and faced his studies again.
Johnson and Tracey, who were identical twins, had an examination to write in a month’s time. But as each day passed and drew the examination day closer, Johnson burned with the enthusiasm to read and excel, while Tracey simply whiled away her time. She was always going out, chatting with friends, engaging in friendships that spared her no time for studies.
An irresistible aroma diffused from the pot of soup their mother had finished making in the near-by kitchen. Johnson caught it all.
“Your culinary skills are unquestionable,” he said to his mother, laughing.
“I have to make sure my identical twins feed will,” replied Johnson’s mother, as she made for the little room where Johnson was studying.
“How are you getting on with your studies, my son?” She asked.
“Well, I am doing my best, which I hope will see me through,” was Johnson’s quick reply. His mother was impressed.
“A good education is quite essential if one desires a sound foundation in life,” she said. “You don’t know how much I still wish my own parents knew the worth of education and had given me a chance,” she further said and looked up. In her eyes were lots of regret. Johnson sensed it, and quickly turned to his mother.
“All will be fine,” said Johnson. “I will strive to be all you and father never had a chance to be,” he further spoke to pacify his mother.
Johnson saw a smile flash on his mother’s face, brightening it. Then it dulled again with a maze of wrinkles so pronounced.
“What is it again mother?” The perturbed Johnson asked.
“I’m just worried that you are hardworking and focused, but Tracey your sister is not.” Johnson chuckled.
“Don’t worry again, mother. I will talk to Tracey,” said Johnson, believing he could bring his influence to bear on Tracey towards reversing her attitudes to her studies.
Tracey tickled with awareness that someone had come into her room, but did not bother to turn around and find out whom it was. She was lying down. Her books were on a wooden table, begging and yearning to be read, when Johnson entered. The first glance Johnson threw, fell on Tracey, then on her books – those that she had not touched for a long time had gathered enough dust, and had become full of spider cobweb. It was all an ugly sight to Johnson; most especially seeing Tracey lie aimless and peering into mud walls that held no way forward for her. He could not help getting worried.
Johnson sat beside Tracey. “Are you trying to sleep or meditating?” He gently asked. Tracey sat up. She starred at Johnson as if he was a dreaded stranger that had come so close. There was something aggressive about her glare on Johnson. It nailed him with intense ferocity.
“No I’m not”, Tracey who was very good at repartee uttered, “but why are you so concerned?” She demanded.
“Look, Tracey,” Johnson said, wanting to say all he meant before Tracey’s interruption.
“You have nothing else to do? And you have come here to look at my face,” said Tracey. Her tone rising.
“You must listen to me, Tracey.”
“What is it, Johnson? Say it fast and briefly! I am not in the mood to entertain a speech!”
Johnson was determined to bring about a change of attitude in his sister. He allowed a wide smile light up his face before sitting closer to her. Tracey seemed to have lost a bit of her earlier aggressiveness. There was however, a sneering look on her face that was so determined not to give way for a smile. No matter how hard Johnson tried.
“Alright, tough sister”, Johnson began, “what is your problem?”
“And you think as my brother, the solution is with you?”
“You answered my question with a question, Tracey. You have said nothing.”
“My problem, you want to know ?”
“Yes you are my sister and I should be distressed when all is not well with you.”
“Thank you so much. Thank you so much for caring. I have no problem.”
“You can’t say that, Tracey. It is clear you are not focused on your studies.”
“When did you become my mentor? I can’t remember hiring anyone.”
“We are not here for jokes, Tracey.”
“Jokes? Well, Johnson, you met me lying down. I was thinking about life.”
Johnson immediately realised when Tracey made it easier for him to express the real contents of his mind. He wasted no time at all in demanding why Tracey never took her studies serious, in a slow soothing tone that carried all the love and concern for his twin sister.
“And yet you made us believe you want to be a doctor,” said Johnson. “Please don’t come to believe anything good can be achieved without hard work.”
Johnson offered to help Tracey out of her predicament, but she was in no mood to further hear from him. There was a sneering look on Tracey’s face that fully portrayed her resentment.
“Are you through?” She asked, holding back her simmering anger. Johnson uttered not a word, but looked on.
“Leave me alone,” Tracey added in a shrill tone of finality. She gave Johnson no other chance. All his overtures were yelled down.
Though that was a big jolt on Johnson, he shrugged his shoulders and left, fully filled with the feeling that he had done his best and what he aught to do. Not even their mother was impressed with Tracey’s behaviour. Not even words of advice showered on Tracey by invited elders could change her.
To worsen matters, a relationship ignited between Tracey and Tina. Tina was a girl whose questionable behaviour was being frowned at by every right thinking person in their village. Her romance with the streets of Lagos was a known fact. Rumours did the rounds; Tracey was warned to stay off the relationship. But again it was tantamount to pouring water into a basket. Tracey’s mother cried often, and Johnson always consoled her, telling her to believe all would be well in the end.
The examination day eventually came. Johnson received it with a lot of confidence. His hopes were high. It was clear to him as crystal that he was quite prepared. He however, made supplications to his sublime creator for further assistance. Tracey on her part was never really understood. Expectations were really rife. She kept everyone wondering why she even bordered to sit for the examination.
A lot of pondering ears awaited the surprise some erroneously believed she could spring. Some believed she surreptitiously prepared for the examination. A lot of hands were kept crossed. Not even Juliet, Tracey’s friend, could convince her to prepare adequately for the examination. Tracey paid Juliet a visit one evening. Then, only one hundred and forty four hours separated her from writing the examination.
“I don’t have any peace of mind in that house,” Tracey complained to Juliet during one of their several discussions. “Every now and then, it is study or you don’t study seriously or well enough. Juliet wished she were in Tracey’s shoes.
“What your mother and brother are saying is not bad at all,” she remarked to Tracey’s disappointment. Tracey had thought Juliet would support her.
“It is in your best interest and they obviously want the best for you,” Juliet further said.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Tracey thundered.
“I will always tell you the truth as a friend,” said Juliet.
“Meaning what? I will go to Lagos and make out something.” Tracey thundered again.
“How I wish I have such a backing now at your disposal,” Juliet said to Tracey. At the end of their discussion, Tracey’s relationship with Juliet hit the rocks.
“Listen Juliet, I thought you were a friend. Now I know better,” were Tracey’s stern words before she stormed out.
It took a couple of months for the examination results to be released. Many like Johnson, were successful, but Johnson’s result stood out. It got him a scholarship to study his beloved accountancy in the University of Lagos. It was dreams come through for Johnson, who for long had dreamt of studying in Lagos. A place he had not been to, but was full of mental pictures out of what he had heard about it. The hustle and bustle of the city: its high-rise buildings at Marina, Martins and Broad Streets. There was hunger in Johnson to see Victoria Island; bridges stretching for miles above the Atlantic Ocean, and curved to different directions. The third mainland bridge and other construction masterpieces. Johnson’s joy knew no bounds.
“At last!” screamed Johnson, who leapt into the air severally in celebration. “Father said it. So did mother, that hard work pays. Lagos here I come!”
Tracey had nothing to show. Her lackadaisical attitude to her studies ensured that she came off with the worst result of the examination. That lay to rest all speculations that she could spring a surprise. It was when the big and demeaning examination failure became Tracey’s lot, that she contemplated travelling to Lagos more seriously. She was ashamed of her performance, and surprisingly sad. But it was late. Confusion set in, got bigger. If only she could turn back the hands of time.
Even the wind carried Johnson’s outstanding performance. His mother was thrilled, though her joy was with pangs of sadness as a result of Tracey’s case. Johnson rolled from one end of his sleeping mat to the other, in excitement every night. Tracey stayed awake most nights, with her lantern burning bright. She thought hard. She hissed out of untold exasperations, stared hard also at the clay walls in her room. There were enough dried tear marks that had already demarcated her pretty face.
“If only I had realised my acts were misleading,” she uttered in an almost lifeless tone of regret.
Johnson counted the days and prepared for his departure. His excitement became bigger, fourteen days to the day of his departure. He chose to represent the remaining days with short straight lines on sand. A line he cleaned off as each day aged and was gone. Twice he stayed out late into the night, watching the moon, imagining himself as a qualified accountant on the staff of a Lagos based financial institution. Meanwhile, Tracey was deep down in sorrow.
The day for Johnson’s departure came at last. There was slight breeze that youthful morning, which resulted not in rainfall. And the sun had risen to warm up the remarkable day by the time Johnson was ready to leave. He never slept much the previous night, being filled with excitement. That same night, Tracey cried all through. She would have cried a river if it were possible. Her self-afflicted sorrow intermittently broke into Johnson’s joy, but there was nothing he could do. Johnson left his village a ‘King’. Even the dogs wagged their tails as he was leaving.
A couple of years elapsed after Johnson had left, before Tracey also found herself in Lagos. Those years further sank her in shame. At a point, she even wished the earth could open up and swallow her. Tina paid Tracey a visit one sunny and bright afternoon. Tracey was downcast when she stepped in.
“Thanks goodness I had a feeling I may not meet you,” said Tina.
“Where would I go?” Tracey asked, “As wounded as I am! I love your hairstyle, Tina,” Tracey remarked, as a little smile flickered on her face.
“Thank you so much,” Tina responded in delight. “I would have been amazed if you did not have at least one compliment for it. It costs a lot to keep my hair this way.”
“You look absolutely beautiful, Tina,” Tracey announced, “You amaze me a lot. How do you get to look this way?”
Tina smiled and sat beside Tracey.
“Afternoon of a thousand questions. It’s simple,” said Tina.
“How? You look expensive. How do you make all the money? You are not telling me something, Tina.”
Tina grinned. “It’s very easy,” she quietly said to Tracey. “Just as counting ABC.”
“Now what are talking about?” Tracy who was all lost quickly asked.
“Just with a bit of intelligence, smartness and good looks, you are there. Your clients will be all over you.”
Tracey remained baffled, and completely out of touch with Tina’s drifts.
“What kind of clients?” She asked timidly, showing her naivety.
“Oh, Tracey, don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Tina, I don’t, to be sincere. What is it?”
“Now, let me call a spade a spade. It’s all about selling yourself. Prostitution is the name of the game.”
“But why?” Tracey asked with some repugnance, which Tina noticed.
“I don’t blame you,” Tina responded. “You will remain in this village until grey hairs flourish on her head. You don’t have to look this miserable.”
“You are wrong, Tina. I won’t remain like this.”
“Listen well. You are blessed with such beauty that can fetch you good money. See your shabby hair.”
“What about my dignity as a young woman?” Tracey asked. “Must I throw it to the wind?”
Tina laughed briefly and got up, her glare hard on Tracey.
“Who talks about that today?” she questioned hard “Dignity my foot. All that matters is to make some money. Money and just money!”
“Any how? Any how you make it?”
“How you make it is of no consequence, Tracey. Be smart. Wake up! You can even buy your own house.”
“Really?” Tracey screamed out of excitement. “Tell me more,” she demanded.
But Tina told her no more in the room, but demanded matching action with words on Tracey’s part.
Tracey left for Lagos with Tina without her mother’s knowledge. Her mother worried, wept and got tired. She then took Tracey for a lost daughter. Lagos was all Tracey had heard it was. She was extremely glad to have made it. It was a dream come through. It took no much time for things to work out for her. Tina had given her good leads. She had success in prostitution. Good looks, slyness and poise brought her money. Tracey became a proud owner of a well-known clubhouse in Lagos within two years. A clubhouse, where one’s entry is greeted with a rumble of muffled tones. A curtain at the entrance revealed nothing from outside, but showed a lot about the outside from inside. The club had rooms well charged with the smell of alcohol and dripping perspiration. They were also dimly illuminated by red, blue and green electric bulbs. Always filled with carousing youngsters, overflowing with infatuations and extreme debauchery. Music suggestive of these was always played.
Tracey exploited the dark sides of youth for money, while Johnson concentrated on his studies to excel. He avoided every occasion that could distract his focus. He sometimes took some time off on Sundays, to see the sights and sounds of Lagos. He avoided late night parties in campus, and successfully resisted the urge to have a lover. These made him a laughing stock amongst his colleagues. He was jeered as an anti-social student: A student that knew only his classrooms, refectories, lavatories, the library and his hostel. Johnson was not perturbed. He had his eyes on his graduation. This he accomplished with a first class degree. It was an unprecedented academic performance in his department, with a good job in a bank to show for it. He relished the moment he walked majestically to mount the podium of academic excellence. Flanked by scholars, hedged in by the Vice Chancellor and other Professors: All resplendent in their academic gowns. His face radiated excellence. Johnson shone. He was a single meteor displaying its splendour amidst a sky of expiring stars.
Johnson was reformed. His handsomeness blossomed like flowers. He looked very hard for searching spinsters to resist. In Johnson’s mind were two things – to set eyes on his mother again since he left the village, and unfold for Tracey, his plans to alleviate her condition. Johnson was given some days off by his employers to enable him travel and see his mother. A cold reception greeted his arrival. He was the cynosure of all eyes. Eyes that held sad tales. Johnson’s mother died a day before he arrived. It was like the source of his life had been stolen away by death. Tears coursed down his eyes. He stood beside his mother’s grave, and wept more, when memories of her lfe and times howled like strong wind. When she used to teach him how to weed with the hoe. How she cuddled him in her hands, consoling him, when a scorpion stung him.
The pain of his mother’s demise had barely subsided, when he also heard of Tracey’s mysterious disappearance from the village. Johnson was shattered, as he wept openly like a child. He felt a wide emptiness within and wondered why he deserved such a fate. A ray of hope of finding Tracey however, flashed, when Johnson’s enquiries had Juliet revealing vital information.
“Tracey said something about going to Lagos the last time we were together,” said Juliet.
“You mean she could be there?” Johnson asked with eyes wide open, looking very desperate.
“I believe so,” Juliet replied. She then followed it up with a nod in the affirmative.
Johnson was more than determined to get to Tracey’s whereabouts in Lagos. The only remaining one for him. He had to put up a story of his missing identical twin sister in the dailies. A friend of his who was once one of Tracey’s clients hinted him on checking out the busiest clubhouse in Lagos, otherwise known as “ALL COMERS.” This Johnson doubted at first. But when many who responded to his publication said the same thing, he decided to try. People said they had seen a young pretty lady that resembled Johnson at the clubhouse. Johnson was reliably informed as well, that the lady owned the clubhouse.
Ignoring all the youths who moved with music being played, Johnson loped straight to the man in the bar. He bought himself a cold beer, which he gently sipped.
“I want the owner of this club,” Johnson demanded.
The bar keeper grinned briefly and ran quick investigative glances all over Johnson.
“I’m not sure you can pay for that,” he hinted. “She is very expensive.”
“Do I look like a man who can’t afford her bills?” Johnson thundered. “An all night with her is my desire,” he announced with emphasis.
“Alright if you insist,” the bar Keeper replied and went in search of his boss. Johnson could not believe his eyes when Tracey came along, beaming seductive smiles at him. ‘My informants are right,’ Johnson concluded in thought. He managed to contain his crumbling composure, though he could not stop his eyes from getting wet with tears. Tracy was blind to see. Johnson agreed without haggles to pay Tracey’s bill and drove off with her.
Their mother’s old photograph was on the wall in Johnson’s large sitting room.
“What a tastefully furnished room you have here,” Tracey remarked, before her glances found the photograph. She knew it so well. Again her glances fell on her family photograph. Johnson looked away and hard at the floor, not wanting his eyes to meet Tracey’s.
“What is my family doing here?” Tracey asked in a tone heavy with bewilderment. “How did you get these photographs?” She further asked Johnson, who could no longer keep up with restraining himself from shedding tears. He quickly held Tracey by the shoulders. Tracey could then have a clear view that revealed it was Johnson, her identical twin brother that stood. She screamed out of shock, sprawled to the floor and fainted.
“Tracey,” Johnson bellowed, as he quickly bent down to revive his sister. “What kind of fate do we have? Do not die and leave me. You are all I have left.”
When Tracey regained consciousness, she learnt of her mother’s death. This made her sober.
“Come on,” Johnson said to her. “Mother is gone and we can’t have her back. You have a future ahead to live she and father’s desire. They wanted us to be educated.”
“She was a nice mother, even though I did not heed her counsel most times,” said Tracey.”
“We have each other, Tracey. My life will be refreshed if you, my only sister, would clean up your life.”
“I will do that. I promise.”
Tracey became dedicated to her studies afterwards. And with time, gained admission to study medicine at the University of Lagos. She was glad like Johnson, to have fulfilled their parents’ lifetime desire, after it seemed like it would not happen. She left the streets, but alas, could not have left without the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, her price for debauchery. Her health took a heavy toll from the disease with time. Johnson was shattered. Tracey was dying, and this meant Johnson’s whole life crumbled. With Tracey being gradually tugged away by death, Johnson could no longer put in his best in his job. Then he lost his job. He saw nothing worth holding onto anymore in life. As Tracey got closer to death, Johnson felt more hopeless. He would not dare to remain alive with Tracey gone. He then paved his way into being in Tracey’s horrible health condition by making love to her. Though Tracey resisted, but she had no strength to pull off a successful resistance.
“No! Johnson, this isn’t right.”
“I have to do it, Tracey.”
“Don’t you want to live?”
“Live for what? There is nothing in this world anymore without you.”
“You have to live!”
“Be alive and alone? No, Tracey.”
“Johnson, Please… don’t do it! I beg you.”
“No I want to be where you are going.” That way, Johnson hoped to end up with Tracey wherever death would take her. Tracey later died, and Johnson’s death was only a matter of time. And he did not feel bad at all, about how he placed his life in the cold hands of death.
Kenechukwu Obi is a Nigerian writer and poet. He is the author of the novel A Bond That Crumbled Tradition.