Short Stories

Back and Forth and Back and Forth

We had breakfast together like we always did but I couldn’t eat, hadn’t eaten much since she died a month ago. I watched him swallow mouthful after mouthful of boiled yam and corned beef stew, with the occasional sip of water to help pave the way. The temptation to pray he choked was overwhelming; I envied his ability to satisfy his hunger. The fist of grief that had made its home in my throat, making it impossible for anything to get past it, had obviously not paid him a visit.
I wanted to ask how he did it, how me managed to make it from one day to the next with such ease, but I didn’t know how. We didn’t talk much, we never had, and we certainly didn’t trade confidences or dabble in emotions. I wanted to ask if he also lay awake at night, the sound of her voice gliding gracefully in his head until he was convinced she was lying next to him, whispering softly in his ear. Did he see her when he closed his eyes? Did her scent dance under his nose too? Did he stand in front of his bedroom mirror watching his snot and tears collide, feeling sorry for himself, and intermittently bursting into laughter at the idiocy of it all?
Nothing seemed to faze him, not once in the last month had he deviated from normality. Her journey to death was sudden, we didn’t see it coming. One Tuesday morning she woke up with a headache, by night fall she’d died of a brain haemorrhage. Three days later, she was buried. Screams and sobs, wails and paranormal expressions of pain, echoed throughout the grave yard as her body was lowered into the ground. Yet, not a sound did he make, not even a dignified sniff. Not as much as a lone tear fought its way past his eye lids. Hadn’t he loved her, didn’t he care enough for the barest tinge of sadness to cast a shadow over his expressionless face?
“Your father is not the emotional type,” she always said when I complained about his matter-of-fact approach to life, “but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care, he just doesn’t show it.”
My heart was getting crushed under the weight of my unspoken grief. I wanted to talk about her, share my memories with him. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t coping, couldn’t cope. I’d woken up a few days before to find my underwear and bed sheet soaked in blood. I’d started to panic before realisation hit me; I’d become a woman. Who was I supposed to tell? I’d been walking around for three days with my underwear lined with my old tank tops.
The tears I’d been struggling to keep hidden from public view began to slide down my cheeks. I tried to stop them, to make them retrace their steps, but the harder I fought them, the faster they flowed. I gave in to the grief and wept so hard, my chest felt like it would burst open. Eyes blinded by tears, I didn’t realise he had moved to sit beside me till his arms embraced me. I lashed out in anger, pounding my fists against his chest. How could he be so quietly calm when my whole world was falling apart?!
Gently, he lifted me off my seat and settled me in his laps, cradling my head against his chest. Slowly, he began to rock me back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth, till my fists stilled. Still he continued to rock me, back and forth, back and forth. My breathing evened out. Back and forth, back and forth, till the tears subsided. Eventually, I looked up. It was then I saw the stream of tears flowing steadily, silently, down his face. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed as tightly as I could. My heart felt lighter. I knew I was not alone.

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The Man I Met

20131028-155827.jpgI met a man, the perfect man. Gentle, yet a tower of strength when I lost my mother. I sat and watched as he calmly but firmly took charge of the funeral arrangements when I didn’t have the energy to deal with it all. Patient, he sat with me in silence for days on end, when the words wreaking havoc in my mind wouldn’t escape through my lips. Caring, he held me when I sobbed uncontrollably as her body was lowered into the ground, his arms, the only things stopping me from plunging six feet under the ground. Funny, his unlimited selection of rib crackers teased the first smile from my lips, proving his emphatic declaration that he’d make me smile again.

When we are together, he makes me feel like the single most important thing in his world, the world. Some nights he stays over and I dream of what marriage to him would be like;

I dream of the moment our eyes would meet as I walk down the aisle, towards him. I imagine his, bright with tears, staring deep into my soul, making promises that transcended words. I imagine stirring every morning with the certainty that he’d be right there, lying next to me, when I open my eyes. I’d be home waiting when he got in from work; table set, dinner ready with a glass of wine waiting to take the edge off his day. I’d be showered and wrapped in satin and lace, a parcel for him to unravel. I imagine myself gently stroking my stomach, swollen with his child. I imagine my feet swollen, waist thickened, neck blackened and nose doubled in size; none of which would matter as he gazes adoringly into my eyes.

Would our daughter inherit the lone dimple in his left check? Would she be collectedly confident like her father or a boisterous scatterbrain like me? Would our son be his father’s copy or a spitting image of me?

The nights he goes home, I try not to think about it, try not to picture his boys running into his arms as he walks through the door, screaming, “Daddy!” I try not to wonder if she wonders where he is when he isn’t with her. I try not to picture her lying in bed with him, touching him, kissing him. I know how much he loves a good cuddle and I try not to picture his arms wrapped tightly around her, as he snores gently through the night.

Does he love her, really love her? Do his eyes light up when she walks in the room? When they are together, does he make her feel like the single most important thing in his world, the world?

We share a home; his clothes hang next to mine in the wardrobe, his toiletries sit next to mine in the bathroom. The smell of his cigar permeates the entire flat and the fridge is full of his favourite things. I could have his babies, permanent reminders of him left behind when he’s not around and I know he’d be there for us, look after us, come what may. But I hate that the thing I want the most, his name; a public declaration that I belong to him and he, to me, he’s already given to someone else.

Fighting For Forver: Part V (Final)

They say good things happen in three’s but bad things I tell you, happen by the dozen. I started my day rowing with Alex and it was downhill from there on in. My conversation with Nneka didn’t help matters but when I got to work to find that my MD was wanted by the EFCC for fraud, my day fell apart at the seams. Having being tipped off, he’d absconded to England with his family the previous day. The building was on security watch and operations, shut down by the commission.
How were Alex and I going to survive?!
I didn’t even get the opportunity to reclaim my personal effects. The place was ferociously guarded by frustrated policemen, hungry for opportunities to let off steam. I watched in horror, as they slapped Femi, the IT guy, senseless, for daring to attempt to bribe his way into the building. As tensions rose between angry staff and frustrated officers, I climbed back in my car and slowly made my way home. After the row we’d had earlier, I didn’t know how to break the news to Alex.
As I crawled along the streets of Victoria Island, I remembered the day he told me he’d lost his job. I suddenly understand how he must have felt. His distraught speech about needing time to get himself together suddenly made sense.
Where was I going to start from trying to find a new job?
I knew I’d been hard on him, I’d seen what happened when men got lazy and there was no way I was going to let him fall into that cycle, but for the first time, I realised I’d been unfair to him too.
I remembered when we first started dating. We were only two months into the relationship when mum had a stroke. At the time I told him I’d never forget everything he did to help her, but I lied. It’s wasn’t till I was sat in the car, dreaming up ways to avoid telling him my job had gone down the drain, that I remembered.
I’d forgotten how he’d sold his second car to help settle the hospital bills. I’d forgotten how he’d employed someone to look after her because I was away a lot with work. I remembered the sacrifices he made to ensure she had everything she needed.
I remembered the first time I tried to pay the electricity bill after we got married; he looked at me like I’d lost my mind, said it was his responsibility to provide for me and not the other way round. Up until he lost his job, he’d never asked me for a penny.
I had forgotten that.
I remembered how excited he got every time he had a new project at work. He’d bounce ideas off me and I’d dutifully listen, many times feigning interest. Many nights he’d stay at work long after his colleagues had called it a day, trying to perfect his designs. The man had loved his job.
I had forgotten that.
My fears had blinded me to the reality that the man I married is nothing like the man I accuse him of being. Slamming down on the gas, I sped home to say the words I should have said when he came home lost and hurting having just lost his job,
“We’ll get through this.”

Fighting For Forever: Part IV

“What do you mean you lost your job?” she asked, her eyebrows meeting in the centre of her forehead.

“I got fired, sacked, get it?!”

“Don’t get smart with me, you know what I mean.”

“I’m sorry babe, it’s just that today has been the worst day of my life. I don’t know how to feel, what to think.”

“You still haven’t explained what happened.”

I took her by the arm and led her to the sofa. I hated having to admit to her that I’d failed and foolishly too. I knew how proud she was of me and everything I’d achieved in the 4 years we’ve been together. I opened my mouth to explain how it had happened but the weight of my shame silenced me.

“Go on Alex, talk to me. Your silence is driving me crazy!”

“I’m sorry, I just feel like such an idiot. I made a big mistake that lost the company a multi-million dollar contract. I swear I didn’t know the guy was a conman. I didn’t know!”

“Calm down Alex and start from the beginning,” she said, clasping my hands in hers, her fingers drawing comforting strokes.”

“Remember the deal I told you about? Turns out the guy I contracted to supply the marble tiles was a fraud.”

“How’s that possible? I thought you said you were using Zania? They are the largest importers of marble in Africa!”

“Yeah they are but it turns out the guy doesn’t work for them.”

“Didn’t you check him out? But you said you said he showed you round their warehouse in Matori?”

“Honey, I don’t understand it. I even went to his office in their main building on Adeola Odeku. I don’t know how the guy did it. He gave us an invoice and we paid for the tiles but they didn’t arrive on the day he said they would. When we tried to call him to find out what was going on we got no response so I sent one of my assistants to his office. I was dumbfounded when she came back and said she was told no one by that name worked there. I went there myself and met the MD, he confirmed it. I explained what had happened and he asked to see the contracts and all the paper work. Turns out they were all fake.”

“Oh my God, Alex this is huge!”

“Like that wasn’t bad enough, the client threatened us with legal action if we didn’t produce either the tiles or their money so the company had to pay back the money. It wasn’t my fault Karen, it wasn’t but the losses were too great, someone had to pay for it.”

“I’m so sorry baby, I know it wasn’t your fault.” She cradled my head against her breasts while I sobbed my heart out. Everything I’d worked for was gone in an instant. My reputation was in shreds and I was forced to pay back the $200,000 commission I had received for landing the project. No other design firm in the country would hire me, my MD had made that much clear to me.

“Don’t worry about it baby, things will work out,” she soothed, stroking my head, “you’ll get another job and things will go back to normal soon enough.”

“To be honest Karen, I don’t even know what I want to do with myself anymore. No design firm will hire me now and to be honest, I’m not sure I want them to. I need time to get my head around this and figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Perhaps this is God’s way of getting me to explore other options.”

“When up say you need time, how long are we talking? A couple of days? A week?”

“A month, maybe two. I don’t know babe. I just need time to get my head round this.”

Her fingers stilled against my head and looked up into her eyes questioningly.

“And how are we supposed to survive while you’re getting your head round this?”

“I know it’s not ideal but we could live on you salary till I sort something out.”

“Ah, I see. I’m supposed to go out to work, while you laze around all day right?!”

“Karen!”

“Don’t Karen me! This is how it starts. One month turns to six and before you know it it’s been sixteen years and you’re still trying to get yourself together. If you think I’m going to work my butt off while you live a life of leisure, do yourself a favour and get that fantasy out of your head.”

“Who said anything about living a life of leisure? All I said is I need a little time to figure out where to go from here, is that too much to ask? I know what my responsibilities are as a man, as your husband, and you should know better than to think I’m trying to abdicate them!”

“Story! All I know is you need to find a job and fast too. You want to take a break from your career? Joker! The next thing I know you’ll be spending your days getting drunk in front of the TV and slamming my head against walls. If you thought you’d struck it lucky, you had better think again. I am not my mother.”

“And I Karen, am not your Father.”

Fighting For Forever: Part III

As I stormed out of the house trying not to slam doors, I could scarce contain my anger.
Where does the man get off thinking he can get away with trying to feel me up when he knows I’m mad at him?!
A voice in my head tried to tell me that perhaps I was being a little harsh but I silenced it. I know I’ve been mean to him lately but there’s nothing like tough love to cure a lazy man. I’ll drop dead before I turn into my mother!
Desperate to vent I called my best friend Nneka.
“Alex needs to get his act together because I have no intention of financing his lazy ass for much longer. This is not the life I signed up for. Who wants a man that can’t look after his family?!”
“Good morning to you too.”
“Whatever Nneka, I’m serious! I’m sick of Alex’s crap!”
“Calm down Karen, you know Alex isn’t that kind of man. He is just going through a difficult patch. He’ll be back on his feet soon enough.”
“Yeah, that’s what my mother said for 20 years while my father sat on his ass getting drunk and fat off her hard work.”
“Haba! How can you say that?! Alex is nothing like your father! He will find a job soon enough, be patient with him. You’re his wife, you should be supporting him. Cut the guy some slack. He has been good to you and deserves the same from you now that he is in a difficult place.”
“And I haven’t I been good to him too? In the last six months I’ve paid every bill that needed paying, fed him and fuelled his car so he could attend the many meetings he claimed would help get him a job. I’m done doing it. If he really wanted a job he’d have found one by now. He knows people, surely it’s not that difficult?! ”
“Wow Karen, when did you become so unfeeling? And since when is finding a job in Lagos or anywhere in the world for that matter, not that difficult?”
“You know what, you’re getting on my nerves. I will speak to you later.”
I hung up without waiting for a response. I forget how annoying Nneka can be. It’s why she gets on so well with my mum, association of door mats. I can’t stand weak women. I love Alex but I’m no fool.
Karen, don’t you think you’re being too hard on the man? You know he has been trying.
I remembered how my mum would rush home from work night after night to cook dinner for a man who had done nothing but sit in front of the TV all day. One day, she came home late and he was so mad that he wasn’t served dinner at the usual time, he beat her till she ran out of the house screaming for help. I will never forget the sight of her kneeling in the driveway begging for his forgiveness, after he locked her out of the house. The house her salary paid for. It was the moment I lost all respect for her. She is a weakling but I, Karen, am made of sterner stuff.
If Alex thought he was marrying my mother’s daughter, he thought wrong.

Fighting For Forever: Part II

I remembered the first time I took Karen to see my mother. Knowing how quick mama’s tongue is, I’d briefed her on the right things to say and do. As soon as mama came into the living room, Karen fell to her knees and greeted her like a good servant would greet his master. I was impressed. When mama went into the kitchen to serve lunch, she trailed her offering to help. Not wanting to be left on my own, I followed them into the kitchen but one sharp look from mama told me I wasn’t welcome. I groaned as I realised she intended to grill Karen. Much as I wanted to protect her from mama’s interrogation, I realised it would have to happen at some point so I conceded and left them to it.
Half an hour later when they both surfaced with smiles on their faces, I breathed a sigh of relief. All through lunch Karen wouldn’t shut up about how fantastic a cook mama was and I was certain she had passed the test when she promptly cleared the table and offered to do the dishes after lunch. I couldn’t have been more shocked when mama called me later that night and gave her verdict.
“My son, leave that girl, she is not a good woman.”
“Mama! How can you say that?! You met her today, what’s not to like?!”
“I am a woman and your mother at that. I know a good wife when I see one and I am telling that she will not make you a good wife.”
“You can’t just say that,” I groaned in frustration, “help me understand how you came to that conclusion.”
“It’s in her eyes my son, she smiles a lot but the smile doesn’t reach her eyes. She is shrewd, she is not a kind person.”
“How can you know that when you’ve only just met her? I’ve been dating her for two years and she’s never yet given me reason to agree with you.”
“Call it feminine intuition but I know what I’m saying. I’m your mother, I won’t lie to you. Oju e buru gan, her eyes are wicked.”
I was furious with the old woman. The very eyes that made me feel like a million dollars when they smiled at me, how could she call them wicked?!
“Look mama, we both know how you are. You never see the good in people, always quick to criticise. Karen is the woman I have chosen to marry. If you want to convince me otherwise, you’ll have to come up with something better than this your wicked eyes theory.”
“My son, you are not a baby. Marry whoever you want to marry but know that the day I cease to tell you the truth is the day I will join your father in the grave. I cannot sit back and watch you make a mistake without saying my piece. If you want to marry her, marry her but for your sake, I hope the blackness I see in her eyes is just her pupils.”
“I’m grateful for the advice but I think I know Karen better than you do. She is a lovely girl and I have no doubt she will make me happy. You wanted me to find a wife, I’ve found one. Please be happy for me, that’s all I ask.”

Oh mama, I wish I’d listened to you!

Karen has made my life hell the last six months. Initially I told myself I deserved her anger. I’d made a mistake and though a part of me wanted her support and understanding, on some level, I felt I deserved to be punished for being so gullible. Any fool that does business with a man that wears a white suit in this Lagos deserves to be conned! But six month of hostility from my wife was more than I deserved. I’ve begged, grovelled and worked my butt off trying to find a new job. What more does she want?
I will never forget her reaction the day I broke the news to her. It was the first time I saw what my mother saw in her eyes. Blackness.

Fighting For Forever: Part I

I sat and watched as she got ready for work. My eyes liked what they saw and judging by the increased rate of my heart beat, my body did too. For the first time in months, I felt alive. Her dress nipped and tucked in all the right places, I could never get over how tiny her waist was. It was one of the first things I noticed about her the night we first met. That and the way her smile lights up her eyes. I miss that, so much! There was a time when all I had to do was walk into a room for that smile to appear. These days, my presence has the opposite effect.
I screwed up, I know I did, but show me a person that’s never made a mistake and I’ll show you God. How was I supposed to know that the client I brokered that deal for was a con man? I followed procedure, did everything by the book. That I lost my job over it doesn’t mean I did wrong. Someone had to take the fall to pacify the board and understandably, that someone was me.
“You look beautiful baby,” I said, moving to stand behind her, eyes glued to her reflection in the mirror. Lowering my head, I planted a kiss in the cleft of her neck. She tried to hide her reaction but there was no mistaking the flinch.
“Do you have a problem with me kissing you?”
“I don’t have time for this,” she growled, “Someone needs to go to work to provide for this family and seeing as you’ve refused to get off your backside, I am that someone.”
The force of her resentment left me temporarily speechless. I knew she was mad I’d lost my job but for the first time, I realised it went a lot deeper than that.
“Move out of my way Alex, I need to get to work.”
“Tell me Karen, what are you so mad about? I’ve told you what happened at work, it wasn’t my fault! Even my boss acknowledged that but his hands were tied. Why won’t my wife show some support?”
“It’s been six months, surely that’s enough time to find another job? Or do you expect me to support you forever?!”
“Is that what this is about, the fact that I haven’t got much money to add to the pot?”
“Much? Don’t you mean any? Look Alex, I’m sick of paying all the bills in this house. Like that’s not bad enough, you expect me to line your pocket too. What kind of man doesn’t know to save for a rainy day? You don’t work, you don’t spend. That’s how it will be from now on. Let’s see if a job won’t miraculously appear.”
“Tell me, who paid all the bills in this house before I lost my job? Who bought you your car? Who took you on holidays and lined your pockets when you didn’t have two pennies to rub together?”
“And is it not your duty to provide for your wife? If you want me to wear the trousers in this relationship tell me so I know where I stand. What kind of man doesn’t feel uncomfortable having his woman feed and clothe him?”
“You talk like I haven’t been frantically looking for a job. You think I like relying on you for money? You think it doesn’t break my heart when the bills come in and there’s not a damn thing I can do about paying them? Tell me, before I lost my job did I ask you for a penny? Didn’t I handle everything that needed handling in this house?”
“Then be a man and continue handling things! I really can’t do this now, I have a job to get to. For the love of god, get out of my way!”
I stepped aside and watched her pick up her handbag and walk out of my bedroom. My mother’s warnings came flooding back and I sank against the wall as the truth of her predictions hit me. I did not marry a good woman.

A Time To Die: The One With No Title

I feel the moisture crawling down my neck, slowly making its way towards my spine. The air is still, the heat hovering, suffocating. A violent kick sends the duvet flying off the bed. Even before my brain is fully alert, I know she’s been in my room.  Why won’t the woman mind her damn business?! Reaching above my head, I flick the switch on the air conditioner. The low hum as it comes to life soothes my irritation. Eyes still shut, I rehearse the speech I’ll be giving that woman come the morning.

“Mum, I’ve told you to stop turning off my air conditioner. You may not like the cold but I do so please, for the zillionth time, leave it alone!”

“Your air conditioner, did you buy it with your money?”

“Whatever mum, it’s in my room so please, just leave it alone.”

“You can’t tell me what to do in my own house. If you’re tired of me, pack your load and go to your husband’s house. “

Here we go again.

“You are so unbelievably predictable! What does your turning off my a/c have to do with me getting married? Is the fact that I’m not married your only problem in life?”

“Yes, it is! How many of your mates are still living in their parents’ houses?”

“Do you think I like living here? Believe me, the minute my man appears I’m out of here.”

“That’s your problem, is it by magic he will appear? Instead of you to ask your friends how they found husbands you’re there waiting for him to appear.”

“Am I God?! Or am I supposed to parole the streets of Lagos begging men to marry me?”

“Has God not already created men?  If you like don’t pick one, be waiting for heaven to deliver him to you. “

“ I’m sick of this nonsense mummy, when he comes, he comes and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t  I’m not about to kill myself because I’m 35 and single. You are my mother for goodness sake, show some support!”

“Support your manlessness? Aren’t you ashamed? Your younger sister is married and you’re there chasing a career.”

“Well excuse me for wanting to make something of myself. It’s my fault for living in this house. It’s about time I got a place of my own where I don’t have to deal with this crap.”

“Over my dead body! You want to bring disgrace to this family? You will not turn into one of those wayward girl that are proud of being single. What kind of woman moves out of her father’s house before marriage?!”

“In that case feel free to drop dead. I’m getting a place of my own. I’m done tolerating your insults!”

“I should feel free to drop dead?! You are a stupid girl, that’s why you won’t find a husband. I blame your father, he is the one that sent you to England where they talk to their parents anyhow. Idiot…”

I’d had enough. Picking up my car keys I stormed out of the house, her insults trailing after me, hot tears burning my eyes.

Does she think I don’t want a husband and children? Does she think it doesn’t hurt knowing she’s ashamed of me?

I drove to the nearest estate agents to find myself a place to live and three hours and two viewings later, realised I was kidding myself. I couldn’t afford the extortionate rent on the Island, not comfortably anyway. Anger deflated, I made the journey back home and headed straight for her room. Annoying though she was, she didn’t deserve to be spoken to the way I’d done.  I could just lock my bedroom door before going to bed to keep her out of my room and give us one less thing to argue about.

“Mum, are you there?”

Knocking gently, I let myself into her room. She was there, slumped against the wardrobe, inhaler lying next to her lifeless body.

Nothing Left To Say

I sit and wait for hours. My eyes are heavy, weighed down by the forces of sleep. I yawn so frequently, my mouth is permanently ajar. The grandfather clock in the hallway chimes; Ding. Dong. Ding. It’s three am, the kids and I have to be up in four hours to get ready for school.

Dear Lord, please let him show up soon.

On cue, I hear his keys rattle as he attempts to open the front door. A part of me wants to punish him and leave him at the mercy of the merciless British winter. Willing my tired muscles to co-operate, I drag myself to the door and let him in.

Our eyes meet as the door swings open and I realise he’s really gone to town this time. I make a mental note to check our bank balance as I reach forward to help him in. My weary bones crumble under the pressure of his weight and I find myself lying on the ground, his ribs crushing my lungs.

When did he get so skinny?

A now familiar stench assaults my senses, interrupting my thoughts.

“You need to get off me Tim, I can’t breathe.”

No response. Not even the drunken grunts that have become his sole method of communication.

“Tim, get off me!”

The silence accentuates the sound of his breathing and the steady rhythm tells me he has fallen asleep. Hands pressed against his heaving chest, I push as hard as I can. His eyes snap open.

“Please Tim, you need to get up,” I whisper, “The kids will be up soon, they can’t see you like this.”

After what seems like an eternity, he rolls off me and sits up, his back slamming shut the open front door.

I see the pain in his eyes and my heart breaks knowing I caused it.

“I’m so sorry Tim, so sorry. I hate myself for what I did. Please, don’t do this to yourself, I’m not worth it.”

He grunts in agreement.

“Please say something, the silence is killing me. We can’t go on like this. I’ve apologised, what else do you want me to do? Tell me and I’ll do it. Anything.”

Ignoring me, he pulls himself off the floor and staggers towards the stairs.  Jumping up, I grab his hand to steady him. I’m not prepared to be flung across the hallway. As I hit the ground with a thud, I stare at him in shock.

“Tim?!”

Making his way slowly towards me, he looks me straight in the eye and spits in my face.

For the first time since he found out, I see more than pain and betrayal in his eyes. The hatred, the revulsion is unmistakeable. In that moment I realise the consequence of my indiscretion. He will never forgive me.

It’s over. It ended the day he found out I’d had an affair.

Courage

“Hello, my name is Courage.”

I extended my right hand and he stared at it like it was a venomous snake poised to attack.

“I don’t shake house helps,” he said.

“I am not a house help, I am your cousin.”

“That’s not what mummy said.”

I stared at him, forehead creasing. “Alright, if you don’t believe me, let’s go and ask her.”

Taking him by his right hand, I dragged him down to the living room to settle the matter.

“Aunty, Efosa doesn’t believe I’m his cousin. He thinks I’m the new house help.”

I was pleased to see the shocked look on her face. Vaulting off the sofa she closed the distance between us. My head rotated, propelled by the force of the slap.

“Don’t you dare lay your filthy hands on my son!”

I caught a blurry glimpse of Efosa’s hand still encased in mine and let go.

“The next time you touch him, I will beat you black and blue. Is that clear?”

“Yes aunty, it is clear.”

“Good, now get out of my sight.”

Efosa’s giggles escorted me out of the room, mocking me till it was silenced by the dense wood of the bedroom door. I wanted to cry so badly but anger stalled the tears.

Picking up my unpacked duffel bag, I made my way back down the stairs. There was no way I was staying with these people. I only came because mummy said she wanted me to spend the weekend getting to know my cousin Efosa. We just moved from Lagos to Port-Harcourt and I was desperate for someone my age to play with. In Port-Harcourt none of the kids liked me; no one ever invited me to their birthday parties. Mummy said it was because they were jealous that I was always top of the class. When I asked her why the kids in our estate didn’t like playing with me either, she said they were jealous because she was richer than their parents. I thought Efosa would like me because we are cousins but he is just as bad as the rest of them.

Dropping my bag at the door of leaving room, I announced my presence.

“I want to go home to my mummy.”

Aunty Rita laughed so hard her fair skinned turned a deep shade of red.  As she walked towards me, I slowly inched backwards. My cheek still stung from the slap I’d received earlier.

“You want to go back to your mother?”

I nodded my head vigorously.

“Go on then, go and meet her in Lebanon.”

“Where is that?”

She laughed even harder.

“At thirteen you don’t know what Lebanon is? I thought your mother said you were intelligent? Efosa, tell this fool what Lebanon is.”

“Lebanon is a country,” he piped up.

“Yes, your mother has followed one of her men to Lebanon and she is not coming back for you.”

“Which men? What do you mean?”

“How do you think you mother has managed to feed and clothe you all these years? Oh, she didn’t tell you? Your mother is a prostitute, an ashewo!”

Efosa giggled and I screamed at him, “Shut up!”

Grabbing my ear she flung me across the room.

“If you ever speak to my son like that again, I will kill you. Do you hear me? Ungrateful idiot. You are a liability, you should be grateful I agreed to put a roof over your head.”

Tears streaming down my face I screamed defiantly, “I want my mummy, take me to my mummy!”

“Your mother is gone. Get that into your thick skull.”

“You’re lying, take me to my mummy!”

This time the slap sent me to my knees.

“Let this be the last time I warn you about the way you address me. You can forget about going to school, I am not wasting my money educating you. You will earn your keep. You will cook, clean and look after your cousin. If you are not happy with that, you can go and find somewhere else to live. I’m sure you’ll manage just fine, after all, you are your mother’s daughter.”

Swinging her wide hips from side to side, she sauntered out of the living room dragging Efosa behind her. Mummy couldn’t have left me with this witch, she couldn’t have! I remembered the suitcase sitting in a corner of the bedroom. It looked familiar, just like one mummy had. I raced up to the room and even before the lid slid open I knew my clothes would be in it.