CrossdeLena

Nigeria

An everyday boy living an everyday life.

It Haunts: excerpt

November 17, 2020

Zarah and I are still not speaking when Mummy drives us out of the school. Zarah sits in the passenger seat, asking Mummy questions as she steers the car. My earphones are plugged into my ears—Mummy is incredibly thoughtful every time the dormitory closes, bringing our phones so that we can start using them even before we get home—but I cannot bring myself to play any song. I am afraid that I will miss out on Mummy and Zarah’s conversation.

Mummy is an expert driver. Perhaps that is why she travels across state lines to bring us back from the boarding house anytime school closes. She also makes sure that anyone driving alongside her knows that she is an expert driver. She continually lambasts drivers who break the rules, yelling from her open window, “Yield to traffic on your left, fool!” or “This is the speed lane. GET OUT OF THE WAY!” She yells at them so confidently, so unconcernedly that I wonder what holds her tongue whenever Grandmama comes visiting.

Each time Mum yells, Zarah waits for her to be done then asks her what rules the erring driver has broken. As they speak, I wonder why Mum and I never have such easy conversation.

Zarah shakes her head to the left slightly, that eccentric shake that she does whenever she wants to say something that can cause trouble.

“Kaluchi has been 5-and-6 with a new student throughout this term,” she says. “A boy,” she adds, for good measure. “Biracial.”

Mum’s left eyebrow begins a slow crawl up. “Mmm. Is that so?”

Her voice is so low I wonder whether the question is directed to me or Zarah. I don’t know what to say. Zarah and I do not speak at school. It is common knowledge that we are sisters: we arrive at the dormitory together and leave together; we are both the smartest students in our respective years. But we never speak at school.

“What’s he like?” Mum asks. “Do you like him?”

“I don’t,” I say. “He’s a new student who is struggling in the STEM class when he’s really into the commercial class. I’m helping him make the switch.”

“You? Helping someone?” Mum’s voice is incredulous. Six months ago, she would not have said this. But Zarah has regularly sung it for everyone to hear. Slight anger creeps into the back of my throat.

My thighs stiffen; the right one twitches. “Yes.” My voice is tight. 

We drive in silence. Before it is broken, I know someone will break it. I know what the person will say. I’m just not sure who.

Zarah does me the favour. “Help someone? Like you helped me that night?”

My thighbone twitches uncontrollably. I bite down hard on my lip.

*
As we pull into our street with main houses that look like museums and guesthouses that should be criminal to own when sixty people are homeless right outside the gates of the estate, Zarah’s head shakes again. A little to the left, twice to the right. In resolution. I look up from the phone I am pretending to press. Gab’s car is in the driveway.

We drag our suitcases from the boot of the car and enter the house. Grandmama is centred in the parlour, in the prime position, as Lordess of the House, daring anyone to challenge her because isn’t it perfectly normal that she is here and it isn’t the third week of December yet? She looks up briefly as we come in. My eyes dart to the ceiling and back at Grandmama very quickly. My tight lips shift horizontally.

“Welcome,” she says in Igbo. “Nno.”

“Mhmm,” Mum responds. Zarah neither speaks nor looks at her. I say thank you to her.

I briefly look around for Gab. He has religiously avoided any contact with Zarah since that night two years ago. I berate myself for looking for him. That is not the way to reconnect with Zarah.

In the evening, Dad comes home early for dinner. We sit at our usual positions, except Mum’s is taken up by Grandmama. We pray together and begin to eat. Gab’s chair is empty.

“Are you surprised I’m here early?” Grandmama asks, her face impassive. By the direction of her voice, I am expected to answer the question.

“Yes,” I say.

Her face sets, resolve dancing in her eyes. Whatever she’s about to say, she’s prepared for it for weeks. Zarah, on her part, does the little shake, clutching her eating knife tightly, grasping her fork possessively. If eyes could kill, Grandmama would be dead. Zarah’s lips part, and for a fleeting moment before she speaks, I wish that I were still at school with all the stress of grade 9 final exams and Olympiad preparation; that I never had to come back home until Grandmama died; and that I had spoken up, screamed, maybe, that night that Gab had been raping her.

“This is not your home,” she says to Grandmama in a cold, measured voice. “Never come here. Never bring your suggestions to us. All of them have been horrible. You and that boy should leave and never return.”
Grandmama’s eyes roll back in their sockets. She shoots backwards on her seat. Her arms are up like lightning, quickly planting a slap on Zarah’s cheek. As Zarah’s fingers curve around the neck of the decanter with the expertise of someone who has practised for years, that night hurtles past my eyes.
 

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