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I am 17 now. It has been 4 years or so since I have been living with Aunty. By the way, her name is Tricia, and…I call her mummy now. It is no longer heavy in my mouth; because I have come to understand that she needs me to call her that, to make her feel like a mother of two since her womb or whatever chi is in her spirit won’t allow her to be the real mother of more than Junior, Junior that is no more stubborn and talkative. She needs me to be her daughter so that the love that her husband clearly is not showing her, because his people say she holds him in her love spell, can be gotten from the way I hug her after painting her nails, and the way Junior holds her when he has started awake from a nightmare, and from the way we three huddle together on the parlour rug on rainy nights when her husband has been nowhere to be found all day and all week. She always knows he is with the other woman, but she has since stopped fighting over it since that month he beat her and yelled about how she owed him her life for helping her grow the wealth her parents had left her, and nursing her back to health when her brain was shaking from the trauma of their tragic death.

It was from that month Junior stopped talking like he used to talk and began running to his room when he heard the sound of his father’s jeep. It was that month that Aunty came into my room one night, with tears running down her face, and told me sternly to call her “mummy”, if I didn’t want to die. The next day, she sent money and food and clothes and a car to my family in the village, as if she bought me; as if we all were now one family because she needed me.

I have become Aunty’s daughter, and Papa is now well in the village. His spirit has smelt money na, why won’t he be well? He has also stopped toiling in rivers the greedy people have polluted with oil they export and “clean mouth”, as if they don’t know the villages they took it from should have most of the money.

Papa and mama have started a business now. Papa sells yams, and mamahas workers who pound what is left, and serve it with varieties of soups. Her patronage is the Tower of Babel’s height’s mate.

All my siblings have gone back to school.

I miss home, but I am fully employed here in the city—I am somebody’s daughter, alove substitute.

I can stay here forever and keep being what a person needs me to be, but the question is—how long before we all admit to this charade? How long before all these things we think we have, balanced like a quadratic equation, shatter into the individual pieces that they truly are? How long before money becomes insufficient to sustain these lies we call“love”?

I don’t know, and I may never know, but since life is as good as it can get at the moment, I don’t mind playing along with all our unrealities.

I turned 18 yesterday, and mummy, with smiles wide and fake, and eyes twinkling and distant, threw me a party.

He came home for the first time in weeks just as it was all ending and Junior was leaving the house to sleep over at his friend’s. Mummy retired upstairs without a word to him.

By the time I was done making the living room look like a human being’s again, I heard him snoring in one of the guest rooms.

He crashed into my room at midnight with the thunder. When my eyes flew open and lightening flashed again, he stood at the foot of my bed. I came fully awake then and heard the loudrain outside. Power, of course, was out.

With lightening again, I saw he was looking at me with something in his eyes. He seemed drunk.

I scrambled up from my bed and did a quick mental check on where exactly my strong, block-heeled black shoe was.

“I want you,” I heard him say, and wished I could chop his voice box into little bits.

In the darkness, I scuttled silently to my shoe rack and felt for the shoe I knew could cause havoc.He soon saw it in my hand and laughed.

He surely was drunk, no doubt, but to what degree?

I moved.

“I have wanted you for years, but I was giving you time to mature.”

He was coming after me, slowly but surely, as if he had been in my room many nights and knew the dark version of it like his own name.

“She needs you.”

“I don’t want her; you both know that. I want you. You know I can give you money, and you can send it home.”

I wanted to remind him that the money isn’t his to boast in anyway, but I said instead: “If you don’t want her, then why do you torture her so? Why did you marry her in the first place if you knew you wouldn’t be there till the end?”

I heard him stop.

“If you don’t do this, I will take most of what she has, tell her you seduced me, and when she hits rock bottom, divorce her.”

My mouth hung open at his callousness, and he waited for me to make a choice.

My choice haunted me throughout the night. I cried and hoped I was doing the right thing. I was scared of the next morning.

The smell of food, like a hand, tapped on mummy and I, and beckoned us downstairs, seconds after each other, to the kitchen.

He was there in his boxers, cooking something. He looked so out of place there and in the house, but the real odd thing was the smile he gave us when he turned around, and set us into chairs at the kitchen table, and told us food would be ready soon, and made small talk.

He hadn’t been home for 2 months, and suddenly, he was this on a Saturday? Mummy was smiling sheepishly at him, but I didn’t like any of it. I wanted to know what was happening.

I did, midway through his spaghetti bolognaise…

“Honey,” he held mummy’s hand over the table, “there’s this business we should do. I have checked it out—the cost and profit and…”

My fork dropped from my hand, and my mind stopped hearing.

Uh—oh.

He is doing it. He really is going to milk her dry, rip me from her heart, and then leave her!

I broke out in a sweat, and told myself to trust her, that the drugs will help her keep a clear head for once and see through him.

But I knew, even as I looked up and his eyes met mine and he smiled that knowing, devilish smile, that he had her to toy with as he liked. If only she could stop smiling so sheepishly like a hypnotized person. How bad to need someone so much!

I was gone before she or he or Junior woke up the next morning.

My letter to her didn’t mention his crash into my room nor the truth about things. I left, still wanting her clutching to the hope that, somehow, he wasn’t as bad as that. I left, helping her retain the idea of the man she loved.

Also, I couldn’t watch her hate me, while dealing with the financially bummed state he would leave her in. And, I wouldn’t know how to be her daughter—a despised daughter, now—when he finally divorced her.

The eyes at home asked me questions, but I couldn’t say. How much would they understand about feeling like a sickwoman’s shield, but then not being able to save her because she was sickly in love with a wicked leech of a soul? How much could one speak of ties that weren’t made for “forever”?

20, today.

News of her death on TV begins the day for me.

“Suicide”, they say. She overdosed on her prescription drugs.

But as the newscaster flippantly refers to her as “the divorced billionaire”, I know the suicide didn’t kill her; she had died slowly, daily, way before that.

There, of course, is no mention of him, and as I sit in the dark and watch the ugly newscaster and her screaming red weave on, I wonder if he will feel guilty wherever he is.

I sit in the dark long after the news is done and a music video comes on. I sit until something wells up in me, and I start crying, chest heaving and all.

I wonder about Junior and what he will make of everything; of the improper background he is an everlasting imprint of.

I cry in the dark and wonder if I should go back…as a witness to a murder that love, soaked in money, had committed.

I cry till my biological mother comes into the parlour and hugs me from the back to say “happy birthday”. I cry as she sees my tears and holds me…

Concluded

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