—Family: The day my mother failed
Evelyn dragged her feet as she approached the green-and-white house. She could see her mother seated in front of the house on a white plastic chair, legs spread apart, digging dirt out of her fingers with a splinter of a broomstick.
Evelyn tightened her hold on the arm of her school bag. She had failed the term’s exams again. 23 out of 24 was written in red ink on the bottom left of her report sheet. She wondered how she was going to tell such news to her mother who was already convinced that her brain was not good for anything. Not like failing her exams was news anyway.
“They did not teach you at school to hail your elders when you see them?” her mother snapped even before she could say anything.
“Good afternoon, ma,” she greeted, tight-lipped.
“What was your position this time?” the latter replied, ignoring her greeting.
“She took last,” Gbubemi, her younger sister interposed.
Evelyn eyed her menacingly. Gbubemi winced.
“Is it today?” Her mother turned her lips at her and shook her head. “Your brain is not useful for anything. Nothing! If I talk now, they will say my mouth is smelling.”
Evelyn sucked on her lower lip and began to move backwards slowly, certain that at any moment, her mother was going to fling her rubber slippers at her and then proceed to give her a thorough beating.
“I don’t have time for you today. It is not me that you will give unnecessary high blood pressure. When your father comes home tomorrow, he’ll do to you what is proper since he always support you, empty skull that you are!”
Evelyn walked past her hurriedly but at alert before she changed her mind. She flung her bag in her room and hurried to the kitchen. The excitement of waiting for her teacher to call out her name and hand over her report sheet to her had surprisingly increased her appetite at an alarming rate. She was ready to devour anything.
“Where are you taking that to?” she asked her sister who was carrying out a stainless tray of eba and the egusi soup that had been cooked only last night. Evelyn remembered the taste.
“To mummy, of course. Who else?” Gbubemi replied and brushed past her.
Evelyn opened the pot that her sister had just taken food from and peered into it. It had been scraped clean. Forgetting that she wasn’t on good terms with her mother, she marched out to the verandah.
Her mother was uncovering a plate of food. Evelyn’s stomach growled.
“Mummy, there is no food for me,” she grumbled.
“And you still have the mouth to ask,” said her mother, without looking up. “You fail again and the first thing that comes to your mind is food. That’s what your head’s good for. Of course, you wouldn’t think of changing out of your school uniform first. This child, don’t let pepper go into my head o.”
“I am hungry now,” Evelyn insisted, her voice getting teary and her nerves growing taut.
“There’s yam and oil in the kitchen,” Gbubemi cut in, “The yam is nice. It’s Abuja yam.”
If eyes were nails, Evelyn’s would have pinned Gbubemi to the wall.
“You heard your sister,” their mother said between mouthfuls.
“Sometimes I wonder if you are my mother,” Evelyn muttered under her breath as she walked back in.
It was gradually growing dark. The colour of the sky had dulled to a dark blue. The power outage only intensified the heat.
Evelyn was lying half-naked, reminiscing on some past events in the room she shared with Gbubemi when her mother’s hoarse voice jolted her to reality.
“Ma!” she answered and walked to the sitting room.
“Put on something decent and go and buy bread and eggs from the Mallam across the street,” her mother ordered. “We have enough Lipton tea to last us this night. Hurry now. I hear that the Baale of one community has died so it’s possible that the Oro masquerade will come out tonight.”
“Better hurry or they’ll use your head for sacrifice,” Gbubemi put in mischievously.
“One of these days, I’ll slap that your crayfish mouth back into your head and you will know that I am not your mate,” Evelyn swore, gesticulating with her finger and tongue.
The smirk on Gbubemi’s face dried. “Sorry o,” she said in a voice that wasn’t sorry.
Evelyn collected the money from her mother and dashed out of the house.
On so many occasions, she had wanted to abandon her family and go somewhere far away. She wasn’t even sure they were going to miss her if she did. Her mother just hated her for no reason. Worse still, her insolent younger sibling was taking the plunge from their mother.
Only her father was different. But he was hardly ever at home and the few times he was, she couldn’t find the voice to tell him anything. Besides, her mother was a formidable presence in the house.
Evelyn quickly purchased her ware from the Mallam and hurried back home. There were fewer people on the streets now and she was starting to feel a bit frightened. She was eager to get home so she took a shorter route. Her mother, on several occasions, had warned her not to take that path because it was covered in tall grasses on both sides. On several occasions, Evelyn had disobeyed her mother.
She was nearly at the end of the route, her house almost in view when two strong pair of hands grabbed her and a strong muscled leg kicked her down. Evelyn struggled, fought, scratched and kicked but her strength was no match.
“Sebi I told you that I would have you one day? All your shakara has ended now.” the gruff voice on top of her whispered fiercely.
When it was over, Evelyn picked up the items from the ground which was surprisingly intact. The only thing she had lost in the scuffle was her mother’s change. Her hair was scattered about her face and her private part was on fire. She headed home, letting her sense of direction take the lead for her eyes were blinded by tears.
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“Hei!” Gbubemi screamed when she saw her.
Her mother, who was sitting idly, stood up immediately and came close to her.
“What happened? Why are you like this?”
Evelyn only responded in body-shaking sobs.
Her mother grabbed the kerosene lantern on the table and brought it to her face and then slowly, down the rest of her body to where blood had stained her thighs.
“Hei!” She almost dropped the lantern in a bid to cover her mouth with her hand.
“Evelyn, which path did you take?” Her whispers sent chills down the spine of Evelyn.
Evelyn’s slow moves to another corner of the house were matched by her mother’s faster pace.
“I’m sorry, ma,” she choked on her sobs.
“I say, which path did you take?” She was advancing towards Evelyn like a bear towards a prey, each step spelled doom.
Gbubemi stood in a corner, already crying too.
“It was the short cut – ” Her explanation was truncated by the force of the lantern that was shoved on her mouth. In a trice, her mother descended on her, bashing her head against the cold floor and giving her such sharp slaps that Evelyn saw only lightning.
“I disown you! Terrible child! Seed of misfortune!” her mother kept saying as she pummeled her.
“Stop, Mummy, stop!” Evelyn heard Gbubemi’s voice from afar. She curled up tightly, trying in vain to shield her body from her mother’s strikes.
“Ha, God, why have you cursed me with such a child?” Evelyn heard her mother say moments later after the beat-down.
“Gbubemi, how many times have I sounded it in you people’s ears never to take that short cut? I wish I’d aborted you when you were conceived. Brain for schoolwork, you don’t have. Brain to obey your parents, you don’t have. Now, look! God, why me?”
Evelyn was still weeping silently. Each word, each syllable, each sentence her mother uttered totally crushed her. She had never felt so worthless in her whole life. Maybe she had the entire while but tonight’s misfortune had utterly destroyed her. She was finished.
“Come, Mummy has gone to her room,” Gbubemi tried to help her up.
Evelyn shook her hand away.
“Sister Evelyn, please . . .”
Like a lioness robbed of her cubs, she charged at Gbubemi until the latter scampered away into their room. Evelyn sank into the settee and curled herself to sleep.
An hour or two might have passed when she woke up to strange sounds. It was still very dark and there was no moon in the sky. Her folks were deep in their sleep.
Evelyn was not thinking well. The thoughts dominating her subconscious mind were that of rejection and despondence.
The strange howling sounds kept reverberating.
Evelyn stood up and let an unseen hand lead her out of the house and into the darkness.
Two days later, Evelyn’s headless body was found decomposing in a swamp two towns away.