The Ballerina berries were still on the drawer where she had left them, and her mother sat reclined on the sofa in the sitting room listening to the disquieting static the T.V was sputtering with dark shades on. She was feeling so at home, and not dead at all like Sharon had wished. And with a cold can of Pepsi sitting on the stool, she looked like one having a sun bath.
Miss Sharon knew that her mother had noticed her entrance though she still failed to make any indication. She stood there resting her shoulder on the doorpost of the dining room, absorbing the hate that was filling her up. She knew what her mother wanted, knew that she knew the mission was a success, and was waiting for a report. She wished again that she had tasted the berries, one at least if not all. That would have been enough to take off that self-satisfactory oh-Isn’t-it-awesome-to-be-at-home look from her wrinkling face.
Again she imagined how wonderful life would be without her. She had once needed her love very badly and still needs it. If not, why still follow her selfish directives? But that however was not enough to prevent her from nursing ill will for her. She understood the way things were playing out, knew perfectly well where the game plan would begin to change, and to her detriment of course. She knew it all too well. It always ended up the same way: Satisfying the woman and dissatisfying yourself.
“Your Father brought me berries the first and only time he got the chance to leave this coast.” The aging woman announced, smiling at the ceiling.
Sharon started but quickly brought herself to good composure when her mother threw a glance her way.
“Blackcurrant it was, and it tasted good, far better than any of my favorite blackcurrant drinks ever tasted. And I loved that man, your Pa. God bless his soul.”
“Sounds like the loving ceased at some point.” Sharon said, going for the fan switch. She intended to turn it off, it was so much of a nuisance than an instrument for convenience. She knew it would cause an unhealthy argument, but damn it! She had to start standing this woman.
“He who says love never ends has never known love.” She gave a short laugh, then, “put the fan back on!”
“It has gotten too noisy ma. I’m getting an air conditioner tomorrow.” The ‘Ma’ felt strange on her tongue, but that was all the subtle word she could find to forestall the impending argument.
Her mother turned around sharply in her sofa and scrutinized her. She tried not to look defiant but at the same time ensured she appeared rigid.
“Then you should know to buy those old fashioned type that hums like aeroplanes in the sky. Very lovely sound, sound of life.” The smile returned on her face. “And don’t make promises you wouldn’t fulfil. Am I having your word?”
“Yes, tomorrow. Anything more and I cease to be your daughter.”
A thought occurred to her, provoking a smile. She could really prevent the woman from seeing tomorrow.
“Perfectly said young woman, and a task perfectly carried out too.”
Sandy felt sweat gather below her nose and under her arms, the same way they did whenever she was in a fix. Her mother was displaying all the qualities of a witch, the highest order sort.
“You can’t make that conclusion yet, I’ve not told you how it all went. You don’t even know if something more important that needed my urgent attention came up.”
“What more important thing can come up when one is achieving his life’s purpose?”
Sharon chose to be silent on this one. The woman had indirectly called her a murderer, called her own daughter a killer. All she felt at the moment was to get away from the discussion to somewhere that wasn’t tension knotted like this place. She began to understand that staying around her mother had some effects on her. It brought out the darkest side of her.
“Congratulations Sharon, you have just solved one of the many problems in your life. You need a big hug.” Her mother got off the sofa and stood with arms wide open.
“What?” Sharon asked in alarm. “Many problems? What do you mean by that?”
“Don’t stand there and hang an old woman’s spread out arms.”
Reluctantly, she went into the embrace. It lasted longer than she would have wished for. And beneath the musky scent, she got a whiff of something unpleasant. It smelt like wet decay, like putrefaction, like death.
“Many problems does not mean doom as long as you still remain on the right side and do the right things.” Her mother whispered in her ears. She could feel the coldness in the words, it stank too.
“I’m in no trouble, I have in fact set my boat to sail, and smoothly it would sail.” Sharon replied in the same whisper as she struggled out of the embrace.
“Just remember that your mother said these things when they begin to happen.”
Sharon was growing insane from her mother’s insane talks, the thing was contagious. However, as much as she felt they were insane talks, she saw the truth the words carried. She had hurried out of the Lucy’s ward rather too quickly for fear of being caught. What if the girl wasn’t dead yet? She doubted that was what her mother had implied, but knew perfectly how much trouble she would be in if Lucy had survived. She would kill her again if by any chance she had managed to escape this one.
She briskly walked to her room, determined not to spare her mother a final glance. She knew she would see a grinning old witch. She closed the door quietly behind her the moment she entered her room and turned to face the large mirror propped on the wall, standing directly opposite the door. She looked good still, pretty. That was not good enough though; she needed to look stunning for Ochuko. She picked up her phone and read her reply message to him. Following the information she had given in the message, she had taken longer than normal time taking care of her mother. It struck her as funny and she chuckled. It died instantly as she pondered on taking care of her mother for good this time. If things turned out bad at her visit to Ochuko’s place, she’d take care of the her. She would take care of her anyway, whether good or bad. A song she couldn’t recall the artist came to her head and she sang:
Put all the witches on the stakes
Burn them down to ashes
No matter how long it takes
It’s better than their accursed rashes
* * *
Their ride away from Amazing grace was one of utter silence. Lucy would no longer talk to him since he had chosen to give deaf ears to her revelation. It had surprised him when Lucy wouldn’t argue with him in the hospital concerning the matter; he had expected a heated argument. She hadn’t been all shrieks and screams like she had been on the day he had tried to talk her from going for her first class trip, but she had cried nonetheless and it hurt him to see her cry the way she did.
He was certain that the incidence had changed something in Lucy, had given her a certain kind of understanding about life that was not due for her age yet. That on its own could have been cool, but her calmness was disturbing and disquieting. She was not excited at the sweet things he was promising her. He felt the presence of the stranger in their midst was also playing a part in this temperamental display.
Halfway into their silent journey to the new hospital where Lucy would complete her treatment, they had picked up Sandy. She was walking with some air of confidence when they had drove up to her on the sidewalk, whereas the expression on her face told a different story. She looked confused, depressed, and totally defeated; all the lights he had seen in her eyes in that red BRT bus yesterday evening were gone. She wouldn’t even say a word in protest when he opened the door for her, she simply jumped in like she’d been expecting the ride all along.
Sandy’s eyes had caught Lucy sitting in the back seat before she could say anything to Ochuko. She turned to face the beautiful girl who looked as sad as she, maybe even sadder.
“How are you sweetheart?” She had said, and managed to flash a bright smile.
“Fine.” Lucy had replied, looking up briefly from the patterns in her blouse she was examining.
“And what’s your sweet name?”
He had seen then that Sandy was discouraged from continuing the conversation; it hurt him. He hoped they would get along well later when all these was over. It was then that he had began making the promises of taking her to all the places she would love to go and allow her do all the things he had once restricted her from doing the very moment she completed her treatment. All had met silence, the same silence that had stretched up to this moment as he eased the car into a free space in the parking lot of the hospital Lucy was born in.
Something his mother used to say to him on many of those occasions when he had cried about going back to the hospital to complete his dose of injections came to him. It went thus: IF YOU DID NOT DIE IN THE HOSPITAL AT CHILDBIRTH, THAT PARTICULAR HOSPITAL WOULD NEVER KILL YOU. SO DON’T BE AFRAID TO VISIT IT AGAIN AND AGAIN. He was very assured of his daughter’s safety here.
Lucy didn’t wait for him to kill the engine before she came down from the black SUV. She marched right to the gate and stood there, head bowed. He sat in his seat whipped by surprise. This was the first time he’d seen his daughter behave in this manner. A certain kind of eagerness grew in him; an eagerness to watch what she would do next, to see how would how it would end up. He eased himself in his seat and watched keenly.
“You should go after her.” Sandy said, concern evident in her tone.
“I would, but not now. I don’t understand what’s up with her today. I’d give her some time to sort herself out. I think that’s what she really needs.” He said, avoiding to look at her face, afraid she would read the lie right away.
“No Sir, that’s not the way things work with children. I think it is at this moment she needs you most.”
He turned to face her.
“It pains me when you call me Sir.” He said. “Even the lowest ranked worker in my firm don’t call me that. Moreover, we’ve been pals for some days now.”
She caught herself before that careless laughter would escape her. This was a wrong time to laugh. But still thinking of that last sentence, she couldn’t help but smile. What pals? And what days? All these while she’d made sure to send him the message that he was a pest, and today was just Saturday. They had met for the very first time yesterday evening in the bus when the sun was escaping the sky; talked for the first time when the evening had matured. They had their second encounter this morning or was it afternoon? And then now. It wasn’t evening yet, wasn’t yet a complete day since their first meeting.
“Okay Ochuko, right?” She turned, brows raised.
“Yes, but it is at your discretion to call me a pet name or nick name.” He shrugged and smiled mischievously.
“Fine oga.” She smiled when she saw him jerk. “You have to talk to Lucy now. Listen to her, know what she wants, and at least strike a bargain with her. Let her have some of her way and have some of yours as well. Just keep it on the win-win.”
“I bet you’re a conflict manager.” He said, pulling the key out of ignition.
The security guard was attempting to talk to Lucy who now had her head resting on the gate. He was clearly getting nothing from her. The worry lines on his face was evident and deepening as he looked towards the SUV.
Ochuko got down from his side of the car and waited for Sandy to do same.
“Are you not coming along?” He asked.
“I think I’d sit here while you’re at it.” Knowing she didn’t sound convincing enough, she added: “It’s best to keep it intimate and confidential, strictly on the father and daughter level.”
He smiled and left. She thought he looked very handsome on that smile. It wasn’t any smile she’d ever seen a man possess. This one was innocent and purifying in its childlike manner. She let the thought pass and concentrated on father and daughter.
Ochuko walked undecidedly towards his daughter. He did not know how to approach her, neither did he have any idea of the best word to use to soothe her. The feeling was very strange to him considering that it was his daughter and not some lady he wants to woo. He went on his haunches beside her and took her hand; the security guard gave them some berth. At first she wouldn’t respond, then she turned a tear stained face to him and went to hug him.
“Daddy I’m scared.” She said in between sniffs.
“You don’t have to be anymore, I’m here for you.” He wiped tears off her cheeks.
“Daddy, I knew what I saw. It was Miss Sharon and she would come for me again here. I’m well now. Can’t we just go home? Please.” Fresh tears slid down her face.
“Nobody would ever hurt you again sugar, I’d move straight to Sharon’s house from here and talk to her. It’s a promise.”
“Promise?” She asked, brightening up.
“Promise.” He said and handed her a candy, one he had picked from her ward in Amazing Grace. “Now let’s go in and say Hi to the doctor.”
She chuckled at the old joke as he carried her through the gate.
“And daddy once my treatment is over, I’d attend a new school. I don’t want to see Miss Sharon again.”
“Yes, you would not see her again.”
He was beginning to get worried about this sudden and intensifying hatred for Miss Sharon. Maybe he would have to probe the matter. That would be secondary though; he didn’t even know where she lived. All that was important now was that he got Lucy admitted again, and Sandy to wherever she wished. At the end, it all came down to the same thing: Satisfying the female folks. Shaggy was not foolish after all for wondering whether God was a woman.
Couple of minutes later Ochuko came out to meet a yawning Sandy. She hid her face away in embarrassment the moment their eyes met. He wondered why she should be sorry for obeying a reflex action that had probably caught her unaware.
“Good thing we still have the whole car intact.” He banged the door and inserted the key into the ignition.
“Hey, what do you mean?” She smiled in understanding.
“We could check out what our friends at Delicious Treat have for us. Just saying.”
“Don’t worry about that, I’m sick of food at the moment. All I need is rest.” She noticed him scrutinizing her, then added, “How did it go with Lucy.”
“It went fine. She’s just scared and it’s very expected of her.”
At this point, so many questions flooded her mind. She wanted to ask him about what had brought them to Amazing Grace, why they were switching hospitals, why it was expected of Lucy to be scared, why his wife wasn’t here with them… she was plain curious. However, she let the curiosity swallow her.
“It looks to me like you need a course on successful fatherhood.” She said.
He laughed hard and uncontrollably that his hand clumsily hit the horn. It blared and startled both of them. The security guard appeared from the gate with a questioning look on his face.
“Yeah, I think I do need that course badly and you’re the only teacher I can think of to take me. So what do you say? Should I begin registration?”
“Not now, maybe never. You should begin driving though.”
They drove out of the parking lot with smiles on their faces. Things were easing up between them, though there was still some form of hostility in her, one that would surface if he decided to take the conversation the next level. He decided that things would eventually go smooth for them, they would come to understand themselves better, and then love would come. Right now, he thinks Lucy had been the icebreaker, she seemed to have captured Sandy’s attention. But he doubted the feeling was mutual.
“Sure you wouldn’t want us to touch down on any restaurant?”
“Come on.” She smiled. “Don’t be silly. Let’s go home.”
Sensing that he might misunderstand the home she meant she said, “take me to my house. I’d do all the pointing while you do all the driving.”
* * *
There was nothing comely about his new look. He had his head cleanly shaved of every single hair, same with his beards. The skin where his hair once covered shone differently from the skin on his face, and his head now appeared inordinately small, disproportionate to the rest of his anatomy. He had on a loose-fitting tee shirt with Enyce inscribed on the left breast, a tight-fitting brown chinos short that stopped short of his knees, a Nike Air boots, and geeky spectacles. He looked funny, especially riding a commercial purpose Yamaha bike, but that was about the length you could go to escape house arrest.
Casmir was grateful for forgoing the carton of beer that had called out to him at Goodman’s mart. He had badly needed to sober up for good. His whole world had finally crumbled down. And with the three policemen keeping an eye on him from the safe distance they maintained, there was no doubt that he’d gotten all the best out of life. It was all unfair.
Well things had changed. The text message he had gotten from the doctor was all the light at the end of the tunnel he needed. Now he was on the road again, free from the watching eyes of the force men, free from alcohol induced thoughts. He could think straight and clear, he would have his chance to reason better with Sandy without the interference of anybody. Even his new look would not be an impediment. The tide was blowing his direction; he could feel it, and he knew things would come back to normal once again.
He sped past vehicles, humans, trees, and streets with the wind wheezing in his ears. It was an unpleasant sound, but today it sounded harmonious. He began to mutter ‘ALL ROADS LEAD TO SANDY’S PLACE’ repeatedly, and oh boy, it was all the vocal the harmonious beat of the wind needed to form a euphony.