Saturday, November 22, 2014

That Part Of Me by Lynda Chiwetelu

The day it happened dawned normally. Something should have warned me, I should have gotten an omen of sorts, maybe an owl hooting, or a dead lizard- or dropping the hot pot of Okro soup I was taking off the stove on to the table- or, hitting my left foot against a stone solidly buried in the ground. Anything. I remember clearly the first time I met her. I was eight years old and waiting for a quick breakfast of spaghetti and tomato sauce which Mama was preparing, before I could go to school. Papa looked at me over the top of the sun newspaper which he was devouring. ‘Sandra ’He said ‘Get me my glasses. I can’t read some of this…this thing they print these days. My eyesight is getting worse’. I quickly went to his room to do that. The drawer where Papa kept most of his prized possessions was the location and I opened the first partition as soon as I got there. I saw the case where he kept the glasses. The familiar fading coffee-brown colored case which beckoned at my hand. I almost had it when my eyes caught something else. A wad of crisp naira notes. Some had fled the little string that tied them together and were lying apart. Others strained to get away. She came then, suddenly, shocking me with her arrival. One fifty-naira note found its way into my palm, got squeezed and eventually ended up in my school bag. That day at school, Mrs. Dupe, my teacher eyed me warily when I went on a spending spree with my three best friends. “My Daddy gave me some money because I missed breakfast” I told her when she inquired. It was so easy I almost cried with joy at the discovery. She got me Yoghurt, Cakes, Sweets, Dolls, Fancy rulers. I could have everything a kid wanted and I didn’t have to ask my parents and be refused them. I used to wonder then why Papa never suspected me, or why Mama never guessed that all the missing change she accused herself of misplacing, was actually in my school bag. I eventually stopped wondering as well listening to my conscience. I stopped listening also to Uncle Femi my Sunday School Teacher. She was my best friend all through junior and Senior Secondary School and I promised to exile her if I gained admission into the University. I didn’t. Emma my roommate discovered. She noticed the missing earrings, the reduced milk in the tin, the sudden change of clothes, and the occasional hot heels which appeared on my shelf, out of nowhere. By then I had realized that I was cursed with her. I couldn’t leave her or make her leave even if I wanted to. One day, a Sunday, after church, Emma called me aside. She was a slim fair girl of nineteen who had the most amazing eyes. They were probing and piercing as well as beautiful. She fixed them on me and said quietly and ambiguously. “Sandra I know. I know what you do” I stared at her, wondered which of the two things she meant and eventually decided it couldn’t be one. Denial rose in my throat but died there. Half of me wanted help. The other half, well, the other half was her. I didn’t reply and she continued. “I don’t know why you do it.I can’t understand it. I mean, your parents , they are not poor… right?” . I shook my head. I wanted to explain to her. I wanted to tell her about the thrill and unbearable urge she brought out in me to pilfer, take, steal. I wanted to make Emma help me get rid of her. But still I said nothing. Emma held my hand. She said nothing for a while. “I am not going to tell anyone but you have to promise me that you’ll stop stealing. Can you do that?” Her voice was earnest . Emma was nice and right then I wished I was not the girl her sweetheart Dayo was cheating on her with. Tears spilled and I promised her I’d stop. For five whole days after I was clean. The sixth day, she came back, with vengeance in mind. It was Saturday and I had gone jogging. The school stadium was my destination and I was almost there when I realized I had to catch my breath. Slowing down to a final halt I leaned on a nearby fence and tried to imagine a break-up scene, with me and Dayo as the main actors. A thin girl passed me. I’d seen her approaching and actually wondered why she bothered exercising. She was actually as fat as a single broomstick. She wore a white t-shirt, white shorts and white trainers and was sweating awfully. She had a headset on and didn’t notice her phone fall out of her pocket. She kept jogging. Quick as a flash, I walked towards the fallen phone and saw it. It was a very cheap phone - the kind you would be ashamed of holding. I bent down. I had already picked it up and was standing up when I heard a shrill HEY!. I turned. “what do you think you are doing?” Thin girl had materialized and I was caught. “Helping you of course.” I snapped. “Here” I thrust the phone into her hands quickly. She grabbed it and spat out “I’m sure you were. Helping me.” I started out towards the opposite direction, my heart in my hands. Being caught had never represented an iota of threat for me but I thought that was mainly because it had almost never happened. The worst moments I’d had were those like thin girl’s episode. ****** The wedding planner arrived and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. She was about two hours late and had really gotten everyone up-to-their-necks-deep in the worry ocean. Emma was to be married in three hours’ time and I was there as her maid of honor. I don’t believe she did it to spite me because like I said before, she was a nice girl- but I don’t think it was totally innocent since she had found out about me and Dayo from him. I tried to make myself useful and tried hard not to hear the voices of the gold and diamond bracelets, necklaces and rings left lying carelessly- calling my name and begging me to have them. I went into the make-up Chamber and admired Emma. She looked really beautiful and deserved every bit of the happiness I was sure she felt. “Have you seen Dayo yet?” I asked and immediately regretted it. “Of course not.” she replied and giggled while the make-up artist by her left tried to fix her lashes. “You know, the normal crazy rule of the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding.” “I am happy for you” I lied. The three make-up artistes turned to look at me. I saw in their eyes that they knew about me, Emma and Dayo. I left the room with a diamond coated hair pin and tears in my eyes. Dayo signaled me with his eyes and we met in a corridor. There was an open room close by so we entered and he shut the door. “I’m sorry Sandy. I know this must be hard for you.” I looked at his face and felt the pin’s edge dig into my slightly flabby stomach. “It’s okay. I’m over us. And you love her right?” It was not actually a question. “I…I mean I do ….” I knew what he was going to say next. He was going to tell me how he felt guilty about us. How he was trying to make it up to Emma by marrying her. How, anyways, she was pregnant and he had to do it. I placed a perfectly manicured finger over his lips. We hugged and his hand brushed against something hard. The pin. I went rigid for a full minute but it was pointless. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care. We parted and I saw a glimmer of tears. ****** She was with me even in the primary school where I taught social studies- the history teacher’s pink scarf, the headmistress’ pen, the English Teacher’s wrist watch and a few others. Little Sonia was caught with her classmate’s sandwich which was meant for the latter’s lunch. The community of class activists brought the matter to me. Their small eyes demanded justice. Nevertheless, I set Sonia free with a warning of something not as lenient if she repeated the action. That evening I went for Confession at the Catholic Church beside my house. The priest had a kind voice and I wished I could make him see her. Instead I confessed a sin and got reading the whole chapter 119 of the book of psalms as my penance. I had stolen my gold-pink-cover bible from a young woman I shared a bus with and did not fulfill my penance. I remember going home a week before last Christmas. Mama’s Diabetics was acting up and Papa’s was away on a campaign. He had a new love-politics. Three days after I arrived she and i caught a stray hen and I prepared dinner with it. Mama paused in between each spoonful and tried to catch up with her only child’s life. I chatted with her and tried to imagine how the farmer would react when he found out that one of his hens did not come back home. I saw him go to their shelter, nod imperceptibly and turn to retire. Then, turn back when it finally registered that the white hen with three black feathers was not present. “The meat is so hard” Mama complained and finally gave up trying to eat it. I wanted her to ask me something. Anything, to which I could give the answer, ‘I stole it’. The day ended without no odd event but somehow I cannot forget it. ****** I met Jide at an auction and we exchanged phone numbers. I didn’t love him or I would not have done it to him. I only prayed she would not be revealed in any way that would hurt him. We had a quiet wedding in Grace Chapel and had two kids three years later. I named the boy Honest and the girl Honorable. Two days before the day it happened, I had a distress call from home. Papa had a heart attack and was recovering. I spoke on the phone with Mama for three hours. She was hysteric and told me how she had met Papa. “I saved him from a mob who were about to lynch him” she sobbed “I don’t want to lose him now” “A mob? Lynch?!” She told a weird story that for some reason I wished I knew a long time ago. She had prevented an angry group of market women from seriously hurting Papa when he was caught stealing apples. “I wondered why a well-dressed man like him would be doing that and lay on top of him to prevent the blows…” Mama recounted the story of Papa’s struggle with kleptomania and how he overcame it. “We fell in love and got married” She continued like I didn’t know. “I don’t want to lose him now. I’m too young to be a widow.” I patiently sat through her lamentations and assured her Papa would be fine. She let me get off the phone when I promised to come home that weekend to see them. The day was a normal day. I took Honest and Honorable to school in my car. Teaching my pupils that day was as frustrating as it always was. I dealt with all the usual. Ahmed trying out his newly found karate skills on Chris who got hurt- Bisi and Naomi abusing each other’s mothers- Eight year old Hassan, sending love notes to Blessing - all these while the lecture was going on. It was a very tired me that got home that evening. My kids were back and in Bed. I heated the Okro soup I had prepared the day before and took some to eat. I didn’t bother trying to make Eba because I simply lacked the physical energy. I saw the onions when I went outside to bring in Jide’s clothes, which I had washed the day before. I knew Bola, my neighbour had put them in the ash tray, under the sun, so that they could lose their moisture and therefore last longer. I saw their robust round shapes, glowing purple skins and salivated. The tray was placed on top of the dwarf fence that separated my house from Bola’s House. I had a lot of onions at home but I had none as succulent. I felt the familiar pull and the accompanying adrenaline. I didn’t hear Bola approach. I didn’t notice her bring out her phone. What I noticed was a flash. I looked up in time to see the camera eye staring at me, from the mobile phone which Bola held. “Today I have caught you. Red handed” she hissed in pidgin English. “For a long time now, I’ve known that you are behind it.” Behind what? I wanted to ask in defense. I was mute. “Behind all the things that disappear when I keep it outside.” She did a mock victory dance and while I still stood foolishly, holding the suddenly-heavy onion bulb in my hand. Bola whistled and called the attention of the other neighbours. I could easily have dropped the offending weight a long time ago and denied her allegations. Instead I waited, still and not bothering. She came with her husband later that night to our house. Jide begged me to deny it and I didn’t. I guessed that this was my medicine. I needed the shame to make her go away forever. He apologized to Bola and her Husband. That night I was awfully quiet. Honest and Honorable were quieter and I did not look them in the eyes. I left for my parents’ house the next day. That next day is today and I am sitting on the front seat of a mass transit bus en route my parents’ home. I look out the window and wonder what Mama is going to say when I tell her the truth. Even if I suspect she already knows, I intend to. I bring out something from my bag. It is Mama’s necklace which I took a long time ago. Ivory gold, it is at once old and beautiful. She thought she had lost it at a party. I put on the necklace with a little difficulty. I think it will give me a starting point. I am trying not to think of the Blackberry phone charger in my handbag which I took from the old man in the waiting hall. I do not own a blackberry phone.

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