“You didn’t lose the baby did you?”
His eyes were like lasers, tearing through the layers of deception guarding the truth that lay buried in my heart. The lie sat heavy on my tongue, I tried to spit it out but it wouldn’t budge.
“Did you have a miscarriage or an abortion? Answer me!”
The rage was sending tremors down his spine, his eyes spewing contempt like a volcano erupting.
“I had an abortion,” I whispered, “I couldn’t have the baby Chris, not when the prenatal test was positive.”
“We agreed Angel, we agreed that whatever the outcome we would have the baby. How could you kill our child?! Where is your heart, your conscience?!”
I couldn’t bear to watch the tears fall from his eyes, couldn’t deal with his pain alongside mine. Eyes clenched, I willed him to understand.
I was 16 when my sister Jo died. A miracle child they’d called her. For years my parents tried for a second child. The doctors couldn’t give any explanations and neither could the pastors or native doctors they consulted. They had all but given up when Jo came along, 10 years after I had. I was so excited I asked daddy if he would let me take her to school to meet my friends. I fed , bathed and sang her to sleep. I wouldn’t let anyone near her.
“Are you her bodyguard?” daddy teased.
“No daddy, bodyguards are men! I’m her guardian angel.”
That was the last time either of my parents called me Helen.
I remember how the day started. Mummy made us breakfast, fried yam and corned beef stew. Daddy wanted more, she said no.
“Honey, look at the size of your stomach! The doctor said you have to go on a diet.”
“Haba, what is wrong with my stomach? It’s evidence of good living! Jo, don’t you like daddy’s tummy?”
Hopping out of her seat, Jo ran to him and wrapped her arms as far around his midriff as she could.
“I like your tummy, it’s like a pillow.”
We all laughed and I sneakily threw a few pieces of yam under the table. If daddy didn’t want to lose weight, I did.
Mummy and daddy went out after breakfast and Jo and I stayed home with Aunty Nneka, the nanny. I was in my room trying to finish reading my M&B before my parents came home and caught me. In typical fashion, Jo burst through the door and jumped on my bed, her skinny legs knocking over the stereo on my bedside table.
“I’ve told you to stop jumping on my bed, look what you’ve done!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall your stereo. I just wanted to come and play with you. I’m bored and Aunty Nneka won’t let me go out to swing because it’s raining.”
She looked set to cry and I regretted yelling at her.
Swinging back my duvet I motioned for her to lie next to me.
“Should I tell you a story?”
Her eyes lit up instantly. She loved my scary ghost stories. I held her close, tucking her head under my chin.
“One night in a boarding school in Epe, two girls went to fetch water at the taps…”
I was halfway through the story when I noticed Jo hadn’t said a word since I started. Usually, she would interrupt my tales with cries of “It’s a lie!” or “me I’m not going to boarding house o!”
I looked down at her to check if she’d fallen asleep but her eyes were open…and staring at me, yellow as the sun.
She didn’t respond, not even a blink. My heart began to beat double time. I tried to remember everything daddy had taught me to do in an emergency. Staring intently at her chest I realised it wasn’t rising and falling. I screamed.
“Jo, wake up! Aunty Nneka!”
Grabbing her left hand, I pressed two fingers against the base of her palm. I felt nothing…and remember nothing else. The doctors say it’s my brains way of dealing with the trauma.
“She died in my arms Chris. Do you have any idea what it felt like, what it feels like? I can’t have a child with Sickle Cell Chris, I can’t watch that child suffer, die, knowing I could have done something to prevent it and didn’t. Call me selfish but I can’t live in fear of my child dying. I can’t do it!”
“Listen to yourself! You can’t live in fear of your child dying and your genius solution is to kill it yourself? How could you Angel, how could you?!”
I remembered how it felt cradling Jo’s dead body in my arms and as long as I held on to that memory, no one could convince me I’d made the wrong decision. No one.