The following is the story of my brother. I tell you this not to justify myself or feel better in any way, but to tell you, whoever you are, to celebrate life. Appreciate life. In any way it comes.
My brother was born one year after me. My mother took the same time to deliver us both, both in the same hospital. The same doctor lifted us both into the world. But this is where our similarities ended. At some point in his first hours, my brother lost oxygen to his brain for a few moments. I’m not sure whether nurses had to revive him or he just recovered himself, but those moments would decide how his life would be, and change my family forever.
On my fourth birthday, my parents had become aware of a difference between us. Although my brother was a happy child, always smiling and laughing, he did not speak. As I was asking questions about everything, he was happy to play with his wooden blocks, building towers bigger than himself. Then smashing them down. My mother took him to speech therapy, reluctantly, refusing to admit something may be wrong with her boy. Then she took him to psychologists.
I learned that I was smarter than him, and I used it against him as a child. I would tease him until his brain could no longer cope with the torment, if he couldn’t figure out something. He’d resort to physical confrontation quickly, but being quicker and more coordinated, I normally won those too. My mother told me once that he looked up to me. That he’d mimic things I’d done. When I’d comb my hair ready for school. He’d watch out the corner of his eye, I didn’t notice, then after I’d left the bathroom, he’d try to emulate what he saw, exactly.
It was only when we were in our teen years that I’d given my brother respect. Or it may have been sympathy. How could I not feel sorry for him, a thirteen year old boy who still kissed himself better whenever he was injured, because that’s what Mum used to do. I knew this was not a medical procedure. He didn’t understand.
I’d gotten used to his look, the look he gave when his mind couldn’t figure out what I meant. I’d get angry at him for something and he’d just smile expectantly, then, in his eyes, you’d see it register. His stare would move its focus from you, disappointed, and he’d screw up his forehead, trying to figure out what he’d done wrong. He’d nod and bring his eyes to meet me again.
‘Okey.’ He’d say, in some strange speech impediment accent, like an American accent that he’d caught off television, gone wrong. And he’d pretend to understand. Sometimes he’d say sorry too, even though he never knew what for.
At high school, my brother had been kept back a year, and I knew there was going to be trouble when he got there. I teased him at home, so it would make sense that other immature young boys would tease him too. It was my responsibility to make sure my brother was safe. He was teased more than I’ve ever known before, and having to take ‘special’ classes made it no better. What’s more, he was big, and an immediate target to be taken down by bullies. Many times I fought for him. Many times I lost. Many times, he had no idea why someone wanted to fight him, and no idea what he’d done wrong. That look again.
To blame my later life on anything is probably just searching for excuses. Maybe if my parents had encouraged me as much as they did my brother. Maybe, had my achievements been given as much respect in the home as my brothers’, I would have felt good about myself and gone on to a great career. But as the world spun round, I slowly became a criminal. A car thief at first. Some nights my brother would come with me, my parents made me take him. I’d use him to guard me, tell me if anyone was coming. Three times I told police it was him, not me who stole the car. He was never going to get a job, what difference did it make if he had a criminal record? He’d unwillingly, unknowingly, take the rap. Later, I’d explain to him that he didn’t really get in trouble. And he’d believe me.
When I got paid, I’d give a small portion to him. Pocket money. It was nothing, but enough to buy him a new video game or CD’s or whatever else he wasted it on. Made him happy. I’d stepped up to burglaries. This made stealing cars easier, as I could take the car keys. I’d study my targets for two or three weeks, be working about five houses, then I’d take everything, close the door behind me and drive out in the car they’d left for me. You’d be surprised how easy.
If my brother had to come, I’d make him stand guard by the door. He’d find something small to play with, kid’s toy or stress relieving thing, and that would keep him occupied. He’d never ask questions of me and he’d flinch when I touched him or raised an arm near him. And that hurt me more than anything.
On the last day I saw my brother, he was standing guard at a front door, pushing something that was hanging from the roof back and forth. I told him to check the bedroom down the hall and his feet banged along the wooden floor, studying everything carefully. A car drove in, crunched the stones on the driveway. Then another car behind it. Men in suits got out and rushed to the front and back doors. They knew we were inside. I ran down to my brother and yelled in the bedroom where he was holding a photo, touching the glass over the families faces. I had to escape, hearing the back door open and hit against a wall, and I opened a bathroom window, jumped and felt my body echo the impact of the ground through me. There was yelling and feet slamming on the floor inside.
And when I looked up, my blood speeding through me, my brother was there, behind the window, tapping and looking worried towards me. I touched the glass near his face, the heat from my finger leaving a fog. I saw it register in his eyes, his stare moved away for a moment, his forehead bunched up. He nodded, stopped tapping. I put a finger to my lips to tell him to be quiet. Sorry, he said to me. And men crowded the room behind him. And I ran.
I searched police stations, but my brother had not been arrested that day. I do not know who those men were, but they were not police, and my brother was most probably executed. Maybe tortured. I could never tell my parents where he’d gone. They still put up missing posters. Dad still searches the streets until stars disappear into day. My mother cries onto a photo and asks the ceiling, why?
This is why I’m here now, whoever you are. This is why. If possible could you tell my parents for me. Tell them it wasn’t his fault. Or even tell them a better story and let them rest. I have no where else to look for him. Maybe I can find him again now.
The coloured lights pulsed onto the water below, washing away. An older officer, his thin lips hidden by his moustache, slowly folds the note back into its square and slid it back into the dead man’s pocket. The body swings gently, rope creaking, hanging from the bottom of the bridge. A car drives by overhead, its headlights lighting the dead man’s eyes. For a moment, it looks like the lifeless eyes twitch, flinch in the bright. The rope creaks again.
‘Jesus.’ The younger officer says. It is his first night on the job.