Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 21

Episode twenty-one
Grief

"But the next time you ever say a thing like that again, I will make you bathe in your own blood."
***
Days crawled past. But my grief remained. Nothing could take away the rawness I felt inside, as though it happened only yesterday. Barely twenty four hours after it happened, news spread that my stepmother had taken Cynthia's body from the morgue and had buried her in secret.
My indifference to the news had caused people to rumor pointless things about me. Most people believed I didn't care about my family, and had abandoned my grieving stepmother at a time she needed me the most.
Although no one else would admit this, I was a curse. Everyone I loved and deeply cherished got hurt. They didn't just get hurt, they died.
It was hard to believe my sister would never come back. Each day, I'd awaken, hoping the tragedy was all a dream, and she would return. I'd fool myself for a moment too long, only to explode into grief when I realized she would never come back. I would never get to see her again.
I lay in the bed I shared with Sharon, refusing to eat or drink. I'd been torturing myself ever since the day of Cynthia's death. I'd spent six days locked up in my grief.
I was a plague, and for this, I isolated myself from everyone who seemed to care. I didn't want their comfort, nor love, because I'd love them in return, and then they would leave me someday. I was destined to be alone.
Even when a swarm of comforters came over, I saw nothing but an empty room. And when they sought to console me with colorful words, I heard nothing but the silent scream of grief.
I rolled over and buried my face in a tear-soaked pillow. A silent scream tore through my quivering lips. I'd never felt so alone in my life. Not even when father died. Because, back then, I had my stepmother and...Cynthia.
The sound of footsteps approaching told me to prepare for company. I wiped my tears with the back of my hand.
"Have you been crying again?" Vicky asked.
I faked a smile and raised myself to sit. "I'm good."
"Mummy says it's not good to cry too much," she said. "It doesn't change anything. What's happened has happened. But that's just what she says."
"And what do you say?" I asked.
"If you don't cry, you'll just be trapping in all the pain," she said. I could tell it was a quote from somewhere. Or could a seven year old be this wise already? "Do you know what I did when I lost Tommy?"
Her question knocked me off balance. Tommy? Had she lost a brother?
"I cried," she said.
Although I didn't know who Tommy was, I could relate to her grief. "I'm sorry about Tommy."
"I got over him," she said. "Mum got me a new Tommy."
And then it clicked. Tommy. A teddy bear almost as tall as her.
"When you lose something, it comes back in another form."
Stunned by the point she'd just made, I gaped at her. It amazed me how she had already befriended logic at such young age. I wished I could share her positivity.
"This isn't Fiction," I said. "This is real life, a city of broken dreams."
She scratched her neck. "What?"
"Don't mind me,” I said.
"Breakfast is ready,” she said. “Everyone's at the table. We're waiting for you to join us."
For days now, they'd been trying to get me to blend into their family, just like I had before. But why would I want to ruin their day with my cursed presence. Ill fate followed me wherever I went, hurting the people that mattered to me.
Vicky stood at akimbo. "I won't take no for an answer."
"Please, just tell them I'm not hungry." Although I hadn't eaten for a whole day, the lump of grief in my stomach made it impossible to think of food.
"Maybe you're not hungry, but I am starving." She tugged at my arm. "Please? They said if I don't come back with you, then they won't let me eat. Please, please. I'm starving."
How could these people blackmail me into eating? Would they really starve Vicky if I didn't show up? Her stomach rumbled, speeding up my decision making process.
"Let's go eat,” I said.
Hopping her way to the dining, she led the way. She slid onto her seat, completing the perfect family picture. A dark cloud made to settle over me as my thoughts lingered on how happy and complete they looked.
I eyed the empty seat beside Bolaji. He'd returned home yesterday and had come to say a quick hello. Tentatively, I advanced to the seat and lowered myself onto it.
"Good morning," I muttered to everyone without looking at them.
"Good morning," they chorused.
I stared at the meal set before me. Bread, omelet and tea. One way or another, I would have to stuff them inside my mouth.
Half-way into my meal, I could still feel multiple pairs of eyes boring into me from every angle. Although I fixated my gaze on my plate, I could tell the look in their eyes; the painfully soft look as though they were staring at a dying animal.
Their eyes burned into me as I sipped my tea. It seemed as though they'd all stopped eating, for I could only hear the sound of my slurping.
Sir Aaron cleared his throat. "Victoria.” Only after I'd raised my face to look at him did he continue. "I understand the past few days have been—"
My eyes misted over, forcing me to look away. Did they not know that talking about my loss only made it worse?
"I'm fine," I said. I hoped my voice didn't betray me. Once again, I dragged my gaze to meet Sir Aaron's. His eyes told me he could see right through me.
"You've been in that room for days," he said. "Any more of this and you'll break. Which is why I want us to go out. Maybe have a stroll, or go shopping."
"I don't want to go shopping," I said.
"Then a stroll it is," he said.
"Actually, sir, what I mean is I already have plans for today. Raheem and I are going out. He also thinks it's best to step out for an hour or two."
Mrs. Aaron's lips stretched into a smile. "I don't know if I've said this before, but I really admire that kid. He's always here for her. I can't thank him enough."
I hated to lie to them. But if I told them the truth, they wouldn't let me go where I was headed. At least not alone. I'd forgotten mum's letter underneath my pillow at home. And I had to go retrieve it from the witch’s lair.
Subtly, I tapped my foot underneath the table as I awaited my ringing phone.
And then, it rang.
Pulling away from the table, I pulled my phone out of my pocket. "It's Raheem."
I hastened toward the room and turned off the alarm I'd set just before coming for breakfast. I returned to the dining only after a minute had sailed past. "I have to go. He says to meet him up."
I turned toward the exit, hoping to escape before someone hauled a question at me. But I wasn't fast enough to avoid Bolaji's question. "Why would he ask you to meet up somewhere? Does he have a problem with coming here?"
"What?" I asked. I'd thought situations like this were only reserved for people who had elder brothers. Or had I accidentally gotten myself one?
"I just thought in your condition he would come pick you up," the elder-brother figure said. "Or isn't that how it's done, dad?"
I didn't give Sir Aaron a chance to speak. "I'm sure Raheem has his reasons. I have to go now."
Without another word, I made my escape.
With each step I took toward my destination, I sank deep into a sea of thoughts holding memories of Cynthia. Although it hurt to think of her, I could only be grateful I had these memories.
I remembered us standing before my stepmother. She'd been furious about someone dumping her phone in water. Back then, dad still lived. He'd stood around the corner, observing the scene. He'd had us raise our hands for extended periods, hoping we told the truth.
"For the last time, I ask,” my stepmother said. "Who did this?"
"It's not me," Cynthia said.
But it was her. I'd watched it happen. I'd seen the phone slip out of her grasp and into the kitchen sink. She'd begged me not to tell anyone. She'd promised to tell them herself.
Torn between speaking the truth and lying to save my sister, I swallowed my words. Her punishment would surely double if I told the truth. Mum and dad would be upset she'd lied to them even after they'd taught her the importance honesty.
Cynthia glared at me. "I thought you promised you'd tell the truth. You're the one who did it. Why do you keep lying even after I caught you red handed?"
The day had ended with me being punished for a crime I hadn't committed. Cynthia, on the other hand, had been commended for speaking the truth. At barely even six, she'd already mastered the art of manipulation.
Every other day, she'd done many more unacceptable things, and the blame always rested on my shoulder like a pet raven. Ruining my life had become her hobby. But in the midst of it all, my love for her had shone through.
I blinked away the tears threatening to make me the center of attention. I wouldn't shame myself this way. Who was I fooling, though? I'd already become the center of attention. Everyone stared at me like I had something on my face. A number of them even approached me, offering their condolences. They wore the best sad faces in their individual emotional markets. Were they all on a mission to see me dissolve into tears in the middle of the road?
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"Be strong."
"Take heart."
"God knows best."
The so-called comforters hurled a fusillade of grief-alleviating comments at me, making my life more pathetic than it already was. I clenched my teeth and nodded, occasionally muttering "Thanks," and "Okay."
Relief washed over me as I arrived at the gate of the place I once called home. At least the condolence session had come to an end. Three figures stepped out through the gate, succeeding my relief with uncertainty.
Why were they here? Last time I checked, we weren't friends. So what were they doing here? Unless of course they'd come to see the murderer who lived within the four walls of the house.
Pulling away from Nancy and Precious, Confidence stepped toward me and threw her arms around me. I stood like a robot, my arms never straying towards her. She'd never liked me, so why this?
"I'm sorry about what happened," she said. She broke the unwelcome hug and looked into my eyes. For the first time, I saw a non-slutty side of her.
"It's okay,” I said.
"We came to see your mum," she said. "We found the gate open. But we've been knocking at the door for over an hour. Maybe she isn't home."
That self conscious witch had left the gate open? Weird. She never did that.
"I'm just so sorry about what happened," Confidence said. "It's a huge shock for all of us."
"Thanks for stopping by," I said. In other words, I meant 'get lost.' I was better off without their pretentious sympathy.
"Will you be in school on Monday?" she asked.
I shrugged. Arms folded, I trained my eyes on Nancy and Precious. They never went anywhere without Cyn. But today, here they were, very well alive, while my sister was gone. How could life be so unfair, picking on me whenever it pleased?
"Sorry about what happened," Nancy muttered.
I averted my eyes to my feet. "I really have to go rest now.”
"Okay," Nancy said. Waving me goodbye, she took a few steps away, with Precious close behind her.
Confidence placed a soothing hand on my shoulder. "Be strong. Okay? I know this isn't easy, but you just have to be strong. I can understand how you—"
"Have you ever lost someone in death?" I asked.
She shook her head. "No. But—"
I shrugged off her hand. "Then you don't know how I feel. Do you..."
Nancy and Precious seemed to be in a serious conversation. I strained my ears to listen.
"Wow," Precious said. "She should really sign up for drama club. See the way she acts like she's really hurt, when really she never liked Cynthia."
"Can you just shut up for once?" Nancy said.
"Why? You know it's true. Right now she's so happy that this happened. It's no secret that she never liked her."
Nancy froze when she caught me glaring at them. It took a moment for Precious to follow suit. Now I knew why the two of them had come. They wanted something to talk about. And although they'd found nothing, they would not return empty handed. I would give them something to talk about.
Adrenaline surged through me, heating up my blood. My heart beat impossibly fast, like a time bomb just about to detonate. Letting my emotions enslave me, I hurled myself at the object of my rage, knocking her into the wall behind her. She grunted and made to tear away from the wall, but I grabbed her neck and pinned her to the wall.
My hand trembled with untamed emotions as my fingers stretched like tendrils, halfway encircling her neck, leaving her without air. "You want something to talk about? Well, here is one."
I could hear Confidence and Nancy screaming for me to stop. I could feel them gripping my hand, trying to peel it away from Precious' neck. But with their efforts, my hand tightened instinctively, crushing what I hoped was her windpipe. The veins in my neck and arms bulged dangerously, but I didn't loosen my grasp.
Ragged gasps slid through the tightness of her throat. Silent screams tore through her. Veins stretched across her forehead. Her arms and legs flailed about as she scratched, kicked and clawed like a wildcat. But like a worm to a bird, they caused me no harm. If anything, they only amused me.
"No...air," she gasped, her eyes bulging. Her hands fell to her sides in surrender.
"Victoria, please stop," Nancy sobbed. "Please I beg you, just let it go."
"Thank God you're here!" Confidence said to someone. "Stop her, please."
I heard footsteps as the supposed hero walked toward me.
"Where is your self control, Victoria Brown?"
Raheem? What was he doing here?
I let my grip on Precious' neck loosen. She sagged to her knees, coughing her life out. She sucked in lungfuls of air as though she'd been drowning. Her hands flew to her neck in an attempt to provide soothing relief.
"Look at me," I said. My feet connected with her kneecap. She yelped in pain. Seething, I gripped her face and dragged her gaze to meet mine. "You got lucky today. But the next time you ever say a thing like that again, I will make you bathe in your own blood."
I shoved her head backward and stormed through the gate. I plucked a bunch of keys from my pocket and unlocked the door. Swinging open, the door crashed into the wall. I slowed down my stride as memories overcame me.
Cynthia and I had just returned from school. She'd slammed the door so hard, I feared the house would collapse.
"Who's trying to break down the house?" my stepmother yelled, her footsteps rushing toward us.
Cynthia gaped at the trail of dirt left by the soles of her shoes. Smirking, she crouched and took off her shoes. Her smile broadened as she stood up, dumping the shoes in my hands.
"You came in with your shoes," she said. "You messed up the floor. You banged the door. Understand?"
A lone tear glided down my cheek. Sniffing away the memories, I stepped into my room and rolled away my pillow. I sighed with relief as I found mum's letter in one piece. Retrieving the letter, I made my exit.
I stood only a few steps away from the room that once belonged to Cyn. I could feel a maddening sensation in my chest, as though an invisible force pressed down on it.
Eyes watering, I sauntered to the door and wrapped my fingers around the knob. In my mind's eye, I could see a five year old me doing the same. I'd stepped into the room, only to find an English textbook rocketing toward me. I'd tried to duck, but it struck my shoulder.
"Why are you here?" Cyn yelled from where she was sat on her bed. "Have you come to steal?"
"Can I play...with...you?" I asked.
She slapped her knees in frustration. "No. Shooo! Just go away! I am not your friend!”
"But...but...we are sisters. And sisters are friends." I advanced to her and made to sit beside her.
She sprang to her feet. "Just leave me alone! I am not your sister!" She snatched her Barbie doll from the bed. "Come, princess."
Teary eyed, I'd watched her storm out of sight. I'd spent the next few days drowning in a pool of my own tears. I'd spent every moment of my life wondering why my sister could never accept me.
Her bed, made and empty, made me reminisce over the other times she'd spent the night away from home. More than once, she'd returned drunk, throwing up all over the floor. I had sighed and murmured while I cleaned up the mess. I’d always groaned about the irresponsible girl she'd become. But today, I'd give anything to have her here again, all drunk.
The emptiness of her room made it all too real. She would never come back. Cupping my face in my hands, I dropped to my knees. With gasps, tears and hiccups, I let out my pain.
I'd only had a few moments to grieve when Raheem advanced to me. He crouched beside me and took my hands in his.
"I can't believe she's gone," I half-whispered.
He made to speak, but I rose to my feet, cutting him off with my swiftness. I didn't want sympathy. It would only devastate me more than I already was.
"I need to get water.” Swiping at my eyes, I left for the kitchen.
Walking through the passageway flooded my mind with memories. I blinked them away. I had to stay strong. Only then would I live through this.
Who said I wanted to keep living anyway? Why keep living when everything had been take away from me?
Yanking open the fridge, I grabbed a bottle of water. I undid the lid and made to drink, but once again, memories overcame me.
Once, I'd drunk directly from the bottle, only to earn a bone-breaking slap to my throat. I'd barely recovered from the shock when my stepmother's palm slammed into my face. Gripping me so I couldn't escape, she'd pounded me into a sore heap.
Jaws clenched, I flung the bottle of water in the sink and marched toward the witch’s room. Although she was the last person I wanted to see, I knew her grieving self would be so thrilling a sight.
I threw open the door and stormed into the room. I froze at the sight before me. I wanted to tear my eyes away, but control of my senses eluded me. Devoid of any emotions, I could only stare at it like it were a log of wood.
My stepmother lay supine on the floor, and beside her laid a gun she’d at one time been holding. Tendrils of hair spilled around her face. Save for the blood smearing the floor around her head, and the unnaturalness with which her head jerked to the left, her casually closed eyes could have fooled me into believing she was only asleep.
Judging from the smell of iron and wet earth filling my nostrils, she hadn't been in this position for too long. If only I'd come sooner, perhaps this could have been prevented. Or perhaps it would have been me in this position. I shuddered at the thought of just how close I'd been to eternal bliss.
Emotions shot through me with a fierceness I hadn't seen coming. My heart thumped hard against my chest as reality dawned on me.
"No!" I cried out, dashing to her side. I fell to my knees and clutched her limp arms, shaking them with all the strength I could summon. "No! Please no! You can't do this! You can't leave me. Not now! You have to stay alive and share with me in my grief."
I shook harder, but she didn't budge. This day, death had finally succeeded in taking away the last member of my family.
My heartbeat pulsated. Tons of questions flitted across my mind. Hot tears tortured my cheeks.
It wasn't her death that triggered the tears. For all I cared, the body before me worth no more than a log of wood. But I just couldn't get past the fact that she'd found a shortcut out of her grief and guilt, leaving me alone in my devastation. How could life be so cruel to let this happen?
How could life go easy on a person who deserved a fate worse than death?

To be continued

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