Call it inferiority complex, call it brotherly rivalry, or even jealousy. Whatever it was, one thing I knew for sure was, the day I knew that I could run faster and further than my brother was the day my life changed for good.
All these years I have been living in my brother's shadows. He's intelligent, brilliant in his studies, knows his geography at the back of his hand, and is older than me. He gets presents first hand, books brand new, shirts fresh from the bags, and ang pows in larger potions. To simply make matters worse, he gets the attention from relatives and friends, while I'm always left by the side, sulking and wondering what I could do to divert those attentions away from him to myself.
So that morning during the annual school race, I realized I could run and run without stopping. That moment of time when I touch and broke the ribbon with my older brother tailing behind by the laps, that was the very defining moment. An eruptuous cheer, magnificent applaud, standing ovation from the crowd, and a team high in spirits dashing towards me, lifting me in their arms and throwing me into the air like a hero.
I knew then, that if there was anything that would make me shine brighter than him, it would be in a race.
And from that day, I trained very hard. Running, jogging, swimming and skipping. All forms of exercise that would make me stronger, faster, and last longer on the field and road. Every moment of training, the only thing on my mind was this,
"I'll be better than my brother."
Sure and true enough, I would emerge champion tournament after tournament, race after race. Slowly stepping into the limelight, walking up the podium before my brother, standing on a platform higher than his, I finally thought, This is it! I'm finally better than my brother!
My brother is a quiet man. He never held any grudges against me. We were still best of friends, the most ideal wrestling and squabbling partner and the most vulnerable prank target. Fact was, he never joined me for training since my winning streak in races began. Slowly he pulled back into the shadows, as if he was allowing me to bask in the glory of my strength, withdrawing from the crowd that once loved him, and faded into himself alone.
2 years ago, my brother would graduate in 2 months. So happened a tournament flyer fell into my hands and caught my attention. Eager to beat him in one last race, I invited him persistently to participate, and he - knowing my intentions well enough - agreed graciously.
That morning then, the eyes were on 2 men. Brothers, one the older brother, the other, the younger but faster brother. The bellowing of the siren, the raise of flag, and the gunshot. The race officially began.
In a 10 km race, many will fall out and drop out of line. Only a few would remain in the pack trailing the leader, and come 6th km, I was the leader with a single man remaining from the pack.
The last 2 km was a traditional victory lap for me. I would stride into the stadium, gloriously raise my hands as I made my last 3 laps in the stadium before I crossed the line. Already the crowd were hysterically cheering me, chanting my name, while my brother quietly and tamely followed from a distance.
Beaming with pride and swelling with ego, I said to myself, This is it! The ultimate victory is mine!
Little did I know, before those words were even completed in my heart, I slipped and fell. It was the weight of my body that crushed my ankle, a grinding sound, then a snap and crackle, and I was lying on the floor, grimacing in pain, and holding my ankle with both hands. Looking up, through the shrunken vision of my half closed eyes, I could see the finishing line just metres away from me.
No!! I yelled to myself. How could this be?
I cried in pain and bitterness, not from the physical injury but from the mental agony. How could I have slipped on my very last occasion of beating my brother?
Initially, there was jeering from the crowd. Boos. Mockery. Laughter.
Then it was a eery silence that followed.
A pair of strong arms that I've never felt before, from below my armpit, lifted me up. In a few speechless moments of mine, he threw my left arm over his shoulder and rested my weight upon his back.
"Let's finish this race," he said through the deep breaths he took, "Together."
Those last few metres, limping down the lane, 3 feet supporting 2 bodies, 2 brothers once divided over a crown now united. Those last few metres were the longest I've ever had since I first ran. And tears of remorse, tears of shame swelled in my eyes and rolled freely. Resting my head on a shoulder that was full of a brother's strength and love, I was both ashamed of my behaviour, and proud of my brother.
He dropped me carefully and slowly into the first aiders hands after crossing the finishing line together. Lying down, while white soldiers were busy wrapping my feet together, my brother came over to me and said to me,
"I don't run against you, I run with you. And to me, you're more than a race champion, you're a brother. My only brother."
He graduated from high school with flying colours. Watching him walk onto the stage in his flowing robe with the square hat over his head, I recalled that last race we ran together. How I wished that I had ran with him more, I thought. How I wished that it wasn't ego and pride that fueled me to run faster. How I wished that every race I ran, I ran by his side and not ahead of him.
Those many races I won, I only obtained a short lived glory stored in a memory database, somewhere. That last race my brother ran, he still didn't win the race, but he won my respect. And till this very day, when asked about him and what he's up to, my reply is always simple,
"He's my brother." With pride and love.