52 Stories from 52 Photos: ‘#28’

We’d always been close, ever since day one. We were a conspiracy of two and we stuck together like glue — anyone trying to pry us apart became the enemy. As we grew up the short gap between us seemed to rapidly close and by our late-twenties we were routinely mistaken for twins. Together we made up for everything the other lacked. Where I was sensitive and pensive, he was untouchable — fiercely brave and utterly magnetic. He had all the things that money can’t buy, which was just as well because we never had much of that. But he moved to the city after university and quickly got started conquering the professional world just as he had all those sports games and girls’ hearts before. I was doing well too, but his star kept rising as everything he touched turned to gold. We celebrated every time we met but more important than his achievements were the way he reached them: with absolute integrity — his conscience clear, head held high. Yet another yin to my yang.

One suffocatingly hot summer night I woke with a start from an awful dream. Drenched in sweat and completely breathless I sat up in bed painfully aware that I had witnessed his downfall in my sleep. The final echo of my vision was slowly ringing out in the distance of my consciousness — a voice, a whisper that said:

“Une fois jeté dans le monde, l’homme est responsable de tout son frère le fait.”

I reached for my phone to check the time and was surprised to see a text from him that had come in only moments before. It was short but I knew him well enough that even 10 words on a backlit screen told me there was something wrong:

“Call when you get this, need to ask you something”

I rubbed my eyes and took a swig of the water at my bedside before calling him back,
“Alright bro, what are you doing up at this time on a Wednesday?”
He laughed sharply and got straight into it, “Listen, I need to borrow some money, it’s kind of an emergency.”
I could hear him breathing in anticipation on the other end of the line and knew something was wrong.
“Of course,” I replied, “I’ll give you whatever I can. What are we talking here?”
“About five grand,” he stated without hesitation. Then quickly followed with a hasty “It’s not what you think…I already have the other half, but I need yours tomorrow.”
He’d never once asked me for money before so I began packing a bag as soon as I put the phone down, sent an email to work telling them I had a family emergency and headed to the train station. Among the early morning commuters I looked at my savings account and transferred it all straight to him. 
“I’ll be with you in an hour,” I texted.

Her name was Keisha. They’d met in a bar and he’d fallen for her right away. They spent every night for a fortnight together in what a more poetic man would describe as a whirlwind romance. He just said it was something special, and I knew what he meant — he was in love. He told me all this pacing back and forth in the kitchen of his apartment, visibly distressed. His left arm was in a sling and hand tightly bandaged. It turned out she’d previously been with the king pin of the south of the city — a bad man with a possessive streak — and word had got back that she was with someone new. Then last night he’d been walking home with Keisha and a black transit van pulled up beside them. She was bundled in screaming by two guys while a third took the hand that had been holding hers and twisted him to the ground where he proceeded to stamp on his arm with thick black boots until it snapped. They’d told him if he ever wanted to see Keisha alive again they wanted ten grand and they wanted it in twenty four hours. This left us with eighteen.

He was to meet the contact on a train platform with a rucksack of the cash. There he would exchange it for Keisha and they would be free to go. But I’d heard this story before and I had other plans. He was awkwardly trying to pull his shoes on out on the balcony when I made my move,
“Here, c’mon, let me help you”
I made to take his shoe but grabbed his hand and quickly cable-tied it to the balcony railing,
“What the hell are you doing?!” he yelled.
Quickly and carefully pulling the sling from over his head and unravelling his bandage I said quietly “I can’t let you do this.”
I hoisted the bandage over my own head and looked at him carefully as I adjusted my parting to match his. 
“Why are you….No, no you can’t, let me go!” he pulled at the cable tie but it just got tighter, and his other hand was useless to help.
“Listen,” I hissed and he stopped struggling, “Do you really think they’re just gonna let you two be together? Let me do this.”
And with that, I swept off into the night.

I waited there on the platform with the bag at my feet and glanced up at a mirror on the ceiling. I knew the girl would know I wasn’t him but to a stranger there was no difference. Eventually a man and a woman stepped out of the crowds, him holding her wrist tight. 
“Kick the bag over and she’s yours” he said quietly.
I did as he said and he chucked her into my arms.
“He’s ok, he’s at his place,” I whispered quickly into her ear, “Get him and leave town.”
She’d just ran out of view as I felt the knife slide into my side, quickly followed by the man exiting the way he came. I lowered myself calmly to the ground; realising I’d been ready for this my whole life. My brother’s three years my junior but it’s me who looks up to him.