When Nigeria reported the first case of covid-19, my elder sister Ugochi adorned every surface in her flat with hand sanitisers, accessorised the bathrooms with medicated soaps, and barred guests from visiting. I still had to go to work, though, where social-distancing and sanitizers were still foreign concepts, which prompted her to place a call to human resources.
“Hi, I’m a sister to your employee, Somto,” she began. “I want to inform you that he will resign if you don’t provide hand sanitizers and maintain safe social distances. Have a nice day.”
I gaped at her, convinced I had lost my job. However, the next day at the reception, the largest bottle of hand sanitizer I’d ever seen welcomed me. Inside the office, tables had been pulled away from each other. The management further assured us that henceforth, proper health care precautions would be taken to guarantee the safety of the staff and to prevent the spread of the virus. By day’s end, the staff received a covid-relief stipend. With the extra cash, I got Ugochi a bracelet that read oku, Igbo for fire.
For her part, she saw me, too, the boy who cheated at scrabble because … why not?
Soon, the government imposed lockdown to curb the spread of the pandemic. At first, it felt odd being confined in a space for long periods with my sister as we weren’t close, something that had to do with the fact that we attended separate boarding schools while growing up. That said, we soon unraveled and I saw the girl who enjoyed painting, the girl who loved the smell of freshly mowed grass, the girl whose kindness was an unending river. When my dog died during lockdown, Ugochi surprised me days later with a puppy at my door, a thoughtful gesture that merited a hug from me.
Despite the ongoing pandemic tearing most of the world apart, we were able to nourish our bond with love and laughter.
For her part, she saw me, too, the boy who cheated at scrabble because … why not? We became more than siblings, we were friends eating way too much ice-cream, bickering over whose turn it was to do the dishes and panicking whenever one of us came down with a cough. With the extra time on our hands, we took up weight loss programs but quit halfway, and mapped out travel destinations in west Africa we plan to tour after the pandemic. We also had serious conversations such as when Ugochi opened up about the pressure she felt from our parents to start a family and how that weighed on her, especially as she told them she isn’t ready for such commitments on account of wanting to further her education and discover herself. I better understood her plight and offered to support her no matter her decision.
Living with my sister during lockdown made me appreciate her in a different light, as a close friend. I discovered family is home and vice versa. Despite the ongoing pandemic tearing most of the world apart, we were able to nourish our bond with love and laughter. To paraphrase E.E Cummings, we carried each other’s hearts.