Adesewa is Twelve

Adesewa is Twelve


I could probably count the number of days I haven’t spent with Adesewa on one hand. That was before I left for college. Despite her being my sister and even doubling as my daughter (I played an active role in raising her), I thought she was eleven when she was actually twelve. I told her this, and while I laughed, she was deeply hurt. It was the first birthday I had not been present for.

How do you interview someone you had an active role in shaping? I don’t have the answer.


I tell her, Adesewa is twelve. She is my sister, but I see her as my daughter. I was six when I first held her. I am eighteen when I embrace her now. She has a wide grin on her face. Her response: “Um, I think of love and that you care for me.”

I tell her, Adesewa is twelve. I’d rather not put a face or a name to her bullies. I’m afraid of what I might do. She asks to me to repeat this. I think it shocked her because I rarely bring up this topic, and she tries not to think about it. Her response is unclear, a collection of incongruous words and phrases.

Adesewa is twelve. She is a mini-me: she paints, writes, makes music, designs, takes photos and videos, yells, gets angry, gets sad, can be loving and kind. I like to show her what is possible. I hope she’s not too much like me. Her response shocks me: “I’m kind of happy, hmm, maybe a mix, because you are saying that we are the same, which is kind of happy, but you’re also saying that you don’t want me to be like you, which is weird because I don’t know exactly what you are.”

Adesewa is twelve. She is returning to South Africa (from the United States) with her parents. I am worried because of the location change. I am happy because of the location change. She gets defensive: “Are you happy that I’m leaving?” I don’t know if she’s serious or not.

Adesewa is twelve. She gets jealous. When I had a girlfriend, I think she felt replaced. She would call me and ask what I was doing and who I was with, all with a silly smile on her face. She can’t be replaced. She smiles when she says, “I feel happy because now I know that I’m more important than those people and that I’ll always be, like, in your tops.” My older sister and I laugh at her response. These are the rare moments when I am aware of the age gap. She adds in a more serious tone, “I guess now I know that I’m not going to be replaced or replaceable to you.”

Adesewa is twelve. She is tall for her age. The thought of looking up to a child I once held worries me. I am five foot eleven. She, almost instinctively, responds: “First of all, you’re not five-eleven.” She follows up with, “I can’t wait till I’m taller than you, because I’ll then be able to see the point of view that you’ve been looking at me.”

Adesewa is twelve. She does things I don’t do: She acts, has a bad habit of biting her tongue, talks back to my parents, plays multiple instruments, gets frustrated easily. She agrees with all those things. “I might not be like you, but we are similar in certain ways.”

Adesewa is twelve. I don’t know what she wants to be. I don’t know what the future holds. I know she’s my sister, my daughter, my mini-me, and my muse. This is news to me: “I want to be a musician, somewhere in the music industry.” She says this with the naiveté I hope she retains.

Adesewa is twelve and will be thirteen in a few months. She celebrates birthdays and holidays. She believed in Santa and the tooth fairy. I couldn’t wait to tell her the truth. She is the first child raised in the United States. I wonder if she’s American or Nigerian. She disagrees with my older brother when she claims, “I’m a mixture.” She was born in Nigeria but has spent the last ten years in the United States.

Adesewa is twelve. The older siblings say they can’t believe I’m just eighteen. I can’t believe she’s just twelve. Her response: “I get where you’re coming from, from them thinking you’re young and you thinking I’m young.”

I grin when I ask for her help: Adesewa is twelve. I wonder how she would describe herself. I don’t think she picks up on this because she answers introspectively: “I guess, I can’t really think of words to describe myself because, like, I don’t know. I see myself as some things and you guys see me as different things.”

I ask for her help again. Anything you want to say? She, again, doesn’t pick up on this. “No, is that it?” Almost.

Adesewa is twelve. She asks me if I love her. I used to not answer or get irritated. My love language is physical touch. I now tell her that I love her. I don’t know if she’s serious when she asks or is just trying to annoy me. She’s serious: “Sometimes it’s actual, but sometimes it’s not, because sometimes I just feel like you don’t at the moment, but sometimes it’s just to annoy you.”

Adesewa is twelve. She works out sporadically. She eats horribly. She does too many things sporadically. She laughs. “I take that offensively, but it’s true.”

A girl riding a bicycle looks back over her shoulder; she rides down a suburban sidewalk, flanked by grass on both sides.
Photograph by Oluwatoyosi Odusola
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