Sandra broke into tears. I tried to console her but to no avail as she sobbed even more, the harder I tried.
She was the lonely maltreated girl that lived next door. I knew her father and mother so well. Even if I didn’t, I thought I did. I just liked her, the natural liking anyway. She has a stature smaller than her age. It was lately that I noticed a kind of ‘rapid development’ you’d expect to see in a girl at puberty, but she’s just 14.
“Sandra,” I called to her with my arms around her shoulder through her neck to her other arm.
“Please stop this. Stop crying. What’s the matter?” I asked.
She put my arm away and drew two steps from me. Facing the corridor wall, she stooped low with her head tucked between her thighs.
“Sandra, please talk to me, I can’t watch you do like this.” I drew closer to her as those words eloped from my confused lips.
I bent low over her, “Sandra, where is mother?” I actually meant to say Mummy.
The sobbing stopped. Good one. At least I succeeded in this attempt. Then she looked straight at the wall, and again raised her angle of elevation to make a 180o direct contact with my eyes, high above hers. Then, I noticed that stern look.
Thoughts ran through my head. Could I have hurt her? She had never looked into my eyes that way before.
Then she cut in, “You asked for mother.”
“Yes, I mean your mum. Is she home?”
“You don’t know her, you’ve never seen her.” She concluded, still staring at me.
It was more of unbelief than confusion to me. I saw her last evening. She called at my house to check for almonds – she so loved almonds.
“Clara is not my mother.” Her eyes brightened up as she said those words. I saw something in her eye balls that spelt desperation just like when a lion sees its prey. That would be the first time I would hear her supposed mother’s name, and probably the last.
“Mother was gone seven years ago. We were still in the village.”
Was gone? Who even cares about grammatical structure in this case?
“She went where?” I managed to ask.
“She died.” She replied. This time, the tears were returning to her eyes.
“She died of Chronic Pneumonia according to Doctor’s diagnose.” She actually meant Doctor’s diagnosis.
“That time,” she continued, “father did not have money, we lived in a hut. We slept on bare floor; we couldn’t even afford a mat. And the hut was close to the river in our village.”
My mouth was a-gap. The Sandra I knew had a multimillionaire as a father. I gave my face a wipe to really check myself of any sleeping pill I might be on, but it wasn’t a dream.
“Doctor said cold caused her sickness.” She continued, “It was when father could no longer buy her drugs that she died.”
“So, how did you get to the city?” I summoned the courage to ask the girl with the bitter experiences or should I say, experiments; not knowing I was about to taste of the most acrid part of the apple.
“Father sold all our properties, including the hut, after mother died. It was I and him alone. With the money he got from the sales, we came to the city where father served as a house-guard for two years. I lived in the boy’s quarters of the house with him.”
My heart melted within me, my eyes went teary. I could no longer stand it. My knuckles shook and I stooped low to join her on the bare floor as she continued,
“It was after this that father started his own business which everyone now sees.”
“Then, who is Madam?” I queried.
“Madam? You mean Clara?” She retorted and I nodded an affirmation.
“Father married her.”
“She is a mother to you then.” I concluded
“No! No!” She barked, “Clara is not my mother. She hates me and I hate her too. There are days I don’t sleep but cry all night from body pains. She doesn’t give me food, only when father is back from office. I do all the house chores while she sits in the house all day. I hate her.” She spew those words like a drunkard.
“Sandra, you are not to hate anyone, however you are treated.”
“What if they hate you first?”
My lips shook at that, but I tried to mutter these bitter words, “Love all and pray for all, even your enemies.” Funny me.
“What if they want to kill you?”
At that, there were no more sermons on my lips, no more words in my tongue. My salivary gland went dry.
“Uncle, talk to me. Am I ugly?” She enquired.
I looked into her inquisitive eyes like one trying to count the un-numbered stars on a bright moon-night. I wondered and pondered on what beauty and ugliness has to do with the current topic of discourse. But, I knew she was beautiful, pretty and…
I had lost my tongue and vocal cords to astonishment. All I could do was stare, keep my gaze straight on her on her inquisitive eyes that displayed eagerness and confusion amidst its many reflections. So, I saw the bright eyes, the pointed nose, the oval shaped fairly complexioned smooth face, the naturally coiled hair, and the the the…
“Jesus! This girl is beautiful. I pray for a kid as this.” I thought I thought within myself.
“Uncle! Am I beautiful? You just said it.” She responded to my ‘thought’.
Oh my God! So, I actually said those words. Or, how did she get to know my thoughts?
“But Clara said I’m ugly. She lies against me to gain father’s favour, so father could punish me.”
The sun’s reflection went down on us and the corridor became darker. I thought I saw something on the corridor wall like the shape of a woman or a mermaid, the jewel of the sea. The wall suddenly became blood-soaked and the soaked area looked like a woman. I noticed her particular gaze on Sandra and I can still remember the beautiful smiles of the wall. Don’t be surprised, walls do laugh!
My trance was cut short when Sandra touched my hands and said, “Don’t cry for me Uncle.” The soft tone in her voice got my heart pierced the more, this time with a dagger and not a sword. I shifted my gaze to her and held her hands.
I was sure she didn’t see the drawing on the wall.
“Sandra, I’m not crying. What did Mama look like?”
Still holding her hands, she looked away towards the compound’s exit gate as she muttered the response, “She looked like this: fat, of average height, fair in complexion, nice and kind, loving and caring. That’s all. And always smiling too.”
That made me understand that I saw her mum in the wall few minutes back.
“Sandra,” “Look into my eyes,” I was emotionally broken though, but I feigned a counsellor, “You can make it, Sandra.”
Her countenance changed that instant, like one who had just lost his possessions to theft. I felt her hands melting out of mine like an iceberg in a furnace. So, I let go.
“What’s wrong Sandra? Don’t you believe you can?” I made my amazement known.
“Not anymore Uncle, I don’t think I can.” The last word managed to elope before she started the cry again.
I drew nearer, holding her bending shoulders high.
“Talk to me Sandra. What makes you cry?”
“Uncle, it’s… it’s Uncle Joseph.” The words struggled out of her lungs.
I knew Joseph, he lived next street, I’m only a year older than he was. How could he have hurt this little girl?
“What about him? Did he make a promise which he failed to fulfil?”
“On days when Clara beat me up and send me out, I go to Uncle Joseph’s house across the street. We would play together before father comes back. But yesterday…”
Like her breath failed, she stopped. What happened yesterday?
“He beat you?”
The evening sun was still fading and darkness was hovering the face of the deep, and covering the surface of the heart too. I knew her father would soon be back from work, and then the case would be settled. She loved her father. But, what happened yesterday?
“He stroked my hairs, like he always did. He said he loved my natural coiled hair… Then he robbed his hands on me, my hands, arms, necks and legs too… I wanted to flee, but I was weaker than his strength. So, so, so, he, he, he, he, s…..” Sandra’s tongue began a stutter and she broke into tears again.
By then, I had known what happened. Shit!
I had always known mighty Joe to be suave. But this innocent little girl too?
“I can’t become great in life again. Am I pregnant, Uncle?”
“No.” I said. How did I know? And how am I supposed to know? Or what should I have said but to console her that all hope wasn’t lost. She could still make it.
This was six months before she was announced dead from complications from a sexually transmitted infection and premature child delivery. What a bitter chronicle and pathetic end. My heart failed me on hearing the sad news.
Ah! Mighty Joe!