© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
For five years I hid my eyes behind my hands. Figuratively. For the same five years, my sister hid away from me. Figuratively.
And for five years, a wall of silence sat between us. Literarily.
I sit in the living room of the home where we grew up together. Asides from the musty smell of an aging lumber house and the fine dust that covers the perfectly-arranged furniture, nothing has changed. Three easy armchairs, once green but now an indeterminate color. Two exclusively for Dad and Mom. Sophia and I would squeeze ourselves into the remaining one.
The mantelpiece still houses the memorabilia our parents collected over the years. Mom’s tiny china cups, Dad’s sport paraphernalia. A dozen or so picture frames. Sophia and I grinning behind candy-laden mouths in identical clothes, aged five. Expertly made-up faces the night we turned eighteen.
Memories clouding my head so terribly, so urgently it feels it would burst.
I try to sit and await her arrival, but my itchy feet carry me to the kitchen. A huge airy place that still has a dining with four chairs, four settings. It’s in this huge kitchen that Sophia and I played many a games of hide and seek. She hiding, me seeking, unconsciously playing out a role that would later define our future.
A solitary engine rolls to a stop outside. By the time I reach the entryway, its occupants have alighted.
Five years have filled out Ben. His cheeks are fuller, his black hair and eyes seemingly darker. He walks with the same self-assuredness I remember so well, his hand unconsciously grazing his chin in its customary fashion.
Beside him is a mirror image of me. When we were young and mischievous, the only person who could tell us apart was Mom.
Sophia walks slowly, uneasily and she’s helped along the pathway by Ben. Five years has not changed either of us. If anything, we seem to look more alike than we’ve ever done.
Anger wells up in me, tinged by sadness. This isn’t the way things should be. Two identical twins should not have been forced apart by a man. By Ben.
“Hello.” Ben’s voice is still as deep as ever, and I am unwillingly transported to the day I met him. Seven years ago. The day I got the call that Dad was dead, Sophia ill, and Mom distraught.
I shake away the cobwebby thoughts. “Hello Ben.” I sweep my gaze to Sophia. She nods her hello, her eyes a pool of sadness and grief.
“Thanks for calling.” Her voice is hoarse, as if she’s been crying non-stop for hours.
I turn and head for the living room. Their echoing footsteps tell me they’re following. In the living room, I sit in Dad’s armchair, Sophia in Mom’s, as if by a mutual unspoken agreement we’d agreed not to sit in the chair that used to be ours both. Ben takes our chair.
“Are you okay, Hannah?” Ben asks.
For the two years that I loved him, he’d blossomed into a caring man. And it seems that for the five years after that that Sophia’s had him, he’s become even more so.
To Ben, we were friends. Close pals and nothing more. But I’d loved him desperately, had spent countless hours rhapsodizing to Sophia. She would be my bridesmaid, would marry Ben’s best man, and then we would live within walking distance of each other. That didn’t stop her from accepting to marry him when he proposed to her instead of me. To me, the ultimate act of betrayal.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t have envisaged was that Sophia had loved him too, had kept quiet when I rhapsodized because she’d thought there was no way Ben was interested in any of us. In her.
“Yes, I guess.”
Mom’s death was not a surprise. Yet it came as a shock. For the past year, she’d succumbed to one illness after the other until the hospital had become a second home. I took care of her in the hospital. When she was well enough to be sent home, she went to Sophia’s and Ben’s. Somehow, through it all, my twin sister and I synchronized our movements such that we never met after the debacle of their wedding five years ago.
“The hospital called last night. They said she slept and never woke up.” I sigh and draw in a shaky breath. “We could have met up at the hospital but they’ve already released the body to the morgue.” I can feel a thousand pinpricks underneath my eyelids. For the first time since I received the call, I allow myself to feel. The tears wash my face.
I do not see Sophia stand but I can feel her arms around me. She’s crying too. Comfort, almost long forgotten, seeps into my being, into my bones. I feel like I used to feel when we were little and I got hurt and Sophia hugged me to share my pain. I feel like I am being hugged by myself. I feel the stars and the moon and the sun shift back into their rightful places.
Somehow, I know things will be fine. Eventually.