Posted in Girls, Short story

Lost years

Lost years
©  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.

Until now.

“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.

 

 

Posted in Contemporary, Girls, Short story

What’s in a name?

Today, Stephanie sheds the surname we’ve shared for twenty-three years. The surname that was originally, rightfully hers. The one I was given out of love.

She dances with her brand new husband; a dancing style that hasn’t yet been invented, for they are as close as two humans can ever hope to get. She is practically standing on his legs; they are barely moving, lost in a new world they’re about to explore together.

There’s a burning sensation behind my eyelids, tears I dare not release. I tell myself I’m not losing my sister, assure myself that a name change wouldn’t stop Stephanie from being the intimate sister I’ve always had.

What’s in a name anyway?

In my short life, I’ve had two last names. And in two weeks, I’d have a new one as well.

For a day, my surname was Brown, etched in calligraphy on the birth certificate the government hospital automatically issues.

A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. The day after I was born, my mother went home to be with the angels. For four months, she’d borne the weight of her pregnancy alone, had wept every night into her pillow, was practically heartbroken. Because her husband, the man that was my biological father, had been snatched from her in a car accident that made less and less sense as the days passed.

My mother had gotten pregnant with me in the same month that her sister, Aunty Mariah, became pregnant with Stephanie. Stephanie had arrived ten days before me.

Heartbroken, almost disconsolate at the loss of her sister, Mariah was desperate to have the last thing her sister had left behind.

So I came home to my family. I became Stephanie’s sister rather than her cousin. We suckled at the same breast, shared the same nursery, were dressed identically. Many a times, we were mistaken for twins.

When I was a year old, I legally became Catherine Agbaje.

“Are you all right?”

The memories dissipate behind my eyelids at the sound of our daddy’s voice. Over the years, he’s become mellow and sweet in that way only age can bring about. His hair is now more gray than black, and there’s a faint network of wrinkles at the sides of his eyes.

“Oh dad. It’s so hard to watch Stephanie go. I miss her so much already.”

He smiles his expansive smile. “You’ve always been the tender one. Of course you’ll miss her. It’s only natural you feel that way about a sister who’s shared your whole life with you.”

I turn to him and grasp his hand in mine. “How’re you and Mum going to cope when I leave too?”

A cloud seems to birth in his eyes. He blinks it away and leads me to a seat before he speaks. “It’s only natural for children to grow up and leave their parents. That’s how it works. I admit it won’t be easy but we’ll cope. We will cope.” He suddenly chuckles, “But you girls are sure funny. Your sister came to us ten days before you did. Now, she’s leaving two weeks before you. Aren’t you guys something?”

I blink back the rows of teardrops behind my eyelids. “Yes we are. And you guys are the best parents two girls could ever wish for. By the way, where’s Mum?”

“Doing what she knows how best to do.”

I laugh, a delicious sound. “In the kitchen, bossing the caterers around.”

We laugh together, quietly, companionably; the father of the bride, and the sister of the bride.

“Excuse me, but may I have this dance?”

I look up into the brown eyes of Sam, the man whose wife I’ll become in two weeks. I smile at him. “Of course.”

Posted in Christian fiction, Girls, Short story

The life of the party

 

wine cups 2

In her eyes, a little girl hides.

 

This little girl has been through hell and back, a hell that entails the stealing of her innocence by her own daddy, the murder of that same daddy, estrangement from her mother. Life in the trenches.

 

This little girl has grown to become the life of the party.

 

After the silence that ensued as people sipped their drinks, Julie is back on her feet. Where the little girl momentarily lived, there is now a sparkle, a gleam that has sent so many men to their doom.

 

“To Tim.” She says, and there is more glass clinking.

 

Silence terrifies Julie. When you’re silent, other people have the power to abuse you, to demean you, to make you do whatever you don’t want to. So she fills her every waking moment with chatter, with jokes, with flirting.

 

Tim is my fiancé, the man who has helped cure me of some of my demons. He is smiling at Julie but there is concern in his eyes too.

 

When I first met Tim, he seemed the last person on earth I would commit myself to. He’d had a happy Christian childhood, was a trainee pastor, was outspoken.

 

My life and Julie’s couldn’t have been more different. Both abused by our father from the time I was six and she five to the time I turned ten while our mother pretended not to know. Late one night, as daddy violated me yet again, Julie ran the sharpest kitchen knife into his side. Again and again and again. He died in my mother’s laps, on the way to the hospital. My father’s sister took us in with her while mother visited mental after mental institution.

 

For reprise, I turned inwards. Into books and magazine and libraries. Into a world where only my imagination was necessary. Julie turned to parties and short skirts and boys. Aunty Rose was patient, but not patient enough when Julie got pregnant at fifteen. After the abortion, she began to have nightmares. In the ethereal stillness of the night, my sister would shoot out of bed, her eyes terror-glazed, whispering daddy’s name. Sometimes she called to mother.

 

Even though we’re no longer kids, and even though this is a Christian function to send Tim forth into ministry, Julie’s blouse is a little too see-through, her skirt too tight, and her make-up too much.

 

In a way, her demons are mine. We lived the same terror for four years, never knowing whose turn it would be to be raped, making a pact never to tell a soul. But for a while, books were my salvation. Then after Tim, I surrendered to Jesus. The memories of those four years have not been wiped from my heart; the remembrance is yet like an itch under the skin that you cannot scratch. But I have come a long way towards healing.

 

Julie hasn’t.

 

“We should have some music.” She says a little too loudly, sealing her designation as the life of this party. “MaryAnne, don’t you think so?”

 

“Sure.” I say, wincing as she swings her hips a little too hard on the way to the CD rack. Tim’s four friends are watching her with a mixture of fascination and horror. I catch Tim’s eyes again and see sorrow. Sorrow and compassion.

 

He knows our story, is yet prepared to be my husband and Julie’s brother-in-law.

 

“Don’t let it bother you.” He whispers to me. “It’s only a matter of time.”

 

By this, I know he means that a day will come when Julie will give her hurts to God as I did three years ago. By this, I know he means that we need to continue to love this crazy, outgoing, skimpily-dressed woman the same way that God loves us – unconditionally.

 

I nod. Suddenly, I am not as embarrassed by my sister as I was before.