hi loves, 😌
how are you doing? trust you’ve all been well and staying safe.
its been a while since I shared any fiction piece out here. (and this site was supposed to be mainly about fiction! (sigh 😓)). sorry loves, my perfectionistic demons took over and for some time now, every piece I’ve written just didn’t feel like it was ready to come out here.
but tonight, I’ve finally decided to share this short story I wrote a while back (and have been rewriting since cos you know….. ) with you.
let me know if you enjoy it. happy reading 🎉💃
Madam’s daughter was always at her window staring at me whenever I sent food to Baba at the magnificent yellow-green mansion in Apemso where he worked. I called it “her window” because she was always at that one—the plain-glassed window with the honey-coloured frames. It was situated on the second floor of the three-storey mansion, and she was always there, staring down at me while I waited for my father to come outside for whatever food I’d brought that day. Only she never waited long enough. She disappeared into whichever room’s window it was, possibly her bedroom, as soon as Baba appeared.
Baba and I usually sat under any of the two crooked cashew trees in the house’s backyard and while he ate, I focused my thoughts elsewhere. It could be on lizards scooping red tiny ants off the ground or birds chirping far up in the huge cashew trees or withered flowers falling off the pink, orange Bougainvilleas—I mean anything, aside Baba’s noisy chewing.
Until recently, I’d never set eyes on Madam’s daughter before. But when I finally did, it was the way my heart fluttered and my stomach squealed anytime our eyes met each other’s that made me want to see her everyday, even for just a brief moment. I had learned earlier from Baba that Madam’s daughter, like me, was also home on holidays from her “international school in London”, not the government public school I attended with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Still, hearing her speak the first time, in that British-accented voice of hers, greatly mesmerized me, pulled me towards her like nail to magnet.
It was a Tuesday and Baba was eating his afternoon meal—his favourite tuo with ayoyo soup mixed with wele stew deliciously prepared by Mma, my lovely mother— when she came to make the small talk. I shot her surreptitious looks from my spot beside Baba, admiring the lustrous, jet-black hair flowing from her head passing behind her neck and falling in thick, curly waves like water slightly above her waist. Her caramel skin glowed in the afternoon sun like a diligently-polished crown as she spoke in that fast supri-supri way I assumed people who had been schooled in London did. I wished then that she’d keep talking forever, that she’d come everyday to keep us company. But she left few minutes after learning what she came to ask from Baba about the new flowers he was cultivating in the backyard. Later on our way home, memories of her filled my mind, and occasionally forced me to grin and giggle like an idiot which earned me questioning side-eyes from Baba.
Ever since that first day, whenever I was sent to take food to Baba, I ran with the speed of lightning hoping silently in my heart that she would come out again or I would catch a glimpse of her somewhere inside the house. It was a mystery how Baba’s food remained intact by the time I reached, panting and gasping always, like a proud but tired winner of a hundred-metre race. But she never came out and I never saw her again. Until that day I looked up trying to scan the cashew trees for any ripe nuts I could pluck later and saw her, at that half-opened window, watching me.
From then on, many times I caught her staring, and in those times, my brain or heart, one of those two organs ceased working properly. I’d watch her watch me through the drawn-apart half-opened window, her slim figure slightly leaning against the golden window frame, her gaze piercing and unaltered. Minutes after I caught her, she’d move slowly away, like a spy who did not mind being caught by the object of target. This gawking from a distance continued in the coming weeks—as I began to take notice—leaving me perplexed, a bit discomfited yet excited at the same time to have at least caught her priceless attention. I began wishing for us to talk; I wanted to hear her and see her, not just from the window of some upper room but up-close and in person.
My desire to talk to her increased strongly with the passing days and for some reason I was convinced she felt the same way. It was her mother I was not sure of, whether or not she would appreciate my speaking to her daughter or allow it even. I had only met a few times Madam, my father’s salary payer, also known as the witch who killed her husband for his wealth among the town gossips. Although I wasn’t very fond of Madam—because seeing her scold Auntie Monica, the help, one time taught me to stay completely out of her way—I had a hard time believing those rumours. They seem to have been spun out of jealousy by the townsfolk who despised her, especially the ones who claimed she was not charitable enough with all her undeserved wealth.
It seemed like my lucky day until it was not, that particular Friday when I arrived at the mansion and my caramel cutie wasn’t beside her window looking out for me. “I must enter this house and talk to her today!,” I said to myself, though I was not even sure what to say to her yet. I knocked heavily on the varnished door. I was still putting my thoughts together on what to tell Baba so he can let me in when Auntie Monica opened instead. I sighed, relieved that it was not Baba who came to the door first. I asked to come in and she politely ushered me in, offering to go and fetch Baba for me while I waited in the hall. And so for the very first time, I entered the ochre-painted living room which was furnished with brown sofas and soft, feathery cushions. After she left, I looked around in awe. It didn’t take me long to notice how just the living room alone was six times larger, wider than the self-contained shack me and my family of seven lived in. A black flat-screen television sitting magnificently on its stand was bordered on each side by two audio players. Golden flower-filled vases bordered the four corners of the hall. I struggled to tell whether the chandelier was indeed dancing or I was just imagining it. The room was indeed beautifully decorated but something felt amiss about it. Then I noticed, rather oddly, how there were no family photographs or images of Madam or her daughter or any family photo hanging or sitting anywhere in the room. There were photos of art and other things but no human image was plastered anywhere.
Carrying Baba’s food, busily gaping around, I did not hear nor see Madam’s daughter come down until she was already in front of me, so close to my body I could touch her by just stretching a finger. Goosebumps suffused my whole body while my heart thumped against my chest wall as if it wanted to come out and prostrate itself before her. I took some steps backwards while shyly, swiftly looking away, trying not to meet her eyes. From the corner of my eye, I still could tell how glamorous she was in her red lacy dress, bits of hair falling over her forehead in cute, little twirls.
“How old are you?,” she asked. When I finally managed to look at her, I saw the glassy eyes with which she looked me over in my grey-with-red-stripes T-shirt and designer jeans, one of my faves from the new set of clothes Baba got me some months ago on his way from work.
“Huh…errrrm…fifteen,” I stuttered, befuddled by the unexpected enquiry.
Was she trying to compare our ages or what?, I wondered. As all the inside-my-head conversations I’d imagined us having never started off with age, I was confused and did not know whether to ask of her age too or start with a name which was what everyone I knew asked first. Or maybe it was different in London.
“Same age as he would have been if he were still here with us,” she said cutting into my thoughts.
“But I thought…I asked him to burn them? Hmm.” She sighed.
“Huh?” I was now more confused than ever.
“I asked him to burn them. My brother’s clothes.” she said with emphasis tilting her chin towards me with the same stolid expression.
I cast intermittent glances between what I was wearing and her, not quite sure if I was getting her. She must have sensed from my face that I was clearly disoriented. She strolled to the nearest sofa, perched on it and began speaking, slowly at first then faster towards the end.
“When leukemia took my brother Todd from us four years ago, everything changed for my family. Dad wouldn’t talk to mom or me or anyone anymore. You see, he was his boy, his heir, the apple of his eye. So it was no surprise to me when he joined his boy just a year after his demise, caring less about those of us here. Some people blamed it on the accident. Others still believe it was my mom’s doing. Because how else could she have survived alone? Pff. I’ll tell you why. It’s because she wanted to stay. Dad died because he wanted to leave. Those of us who knew him well knew he was gone long before he actually did.”
She paused and stood, folded her arms across her chest and said in a flat tone, “I don’t really care much but my mom would go ballistic if she ever saw you in Todd’s clothing. She cannot know I’ve emptied his closet. Could you please not wear them around here anymore?”
Then she walked away same way she’d come. My dilated pupils followed her till she was out of sight. I was still rooted to the spot gobsmacked when Baba showed up. My legs were feeling too heavy for me to move.
I remembered how about two months ago, Baba came home with a chunk of boy’s clothing, many of them well-fitting and brand new; not the usual three sizes big, old and used ones he always got me. We’d all gasped—my mother and sisters inclusive—wondering how he was able to afford such clothes. But he said they were from a second-hand store giving them away for next to nothing because the store needed space for new stock so were clearing out their old stock. Now I could barely control the rage that was building within my chest as I pushed Baba’s food into his hands and bolted out the door. All the embarrassment, anger and fury I felt mixed together with my tears clouded my vision as I run. So I did not hear the horn fast enough.
Even as my body flew high up into the air before landing with the loudest crush; even as I saw Baba and other blurry humans I couldn’t make out rushing towards me and my body felt like a thousand pins and needles were being poked into it simultaneously; even as all the blood was rushing to my head and I could taste it in my throat and smell it in my nose; as I felt Baba’s hands lift me, saw his bulky legs pounding the earth towards some vehicle, all I wanted to do was to yank those dead-boy clothes off my body.
thank you for reading,
don’t forget to stay safe and stay loved.