Aunty Amanya is not a bad person. She is a person who values cleanliness more that life. Aunty Amanya likes the western lifestyle perhaps that is why anytime I looked at her she was either chewing that gum that never left her mouth or painting her nails. I wondered what she intended to achieve with the continual finger painting. She also likes spending her precious time with puppies and smiling at them for no good reason. I laughed silently whenever I saw her do this but would be careful to avoid her murderous eyes.
Another thing, auntie Amanya never smiled with anyone who messed any of her properties. Her room was always locked and this is regardless of whether she was in the house or not. The only person who got the privilege of entering that room was my cousin Agiza, who had perfected the art of disguising whenever my auntie was around. She was her only child whom she treated like something capable of breaking, priceless porcelain.
At some point, I also believed that the only thing she valued in this whole world were her clothes. We had a hard time in the house the day Agiza wore one of her dinner dresses to a nameless place. I was sited in a small stool in the kitchen when she came to see me off. I was re-reading my worn copy of The River and the Source, a book that has taught me so much. I wondered for a moment what her destination was but gave the decision to ask her a back sit when I saw the don’t-bother-me look on her beautiful face.
“I will be back late. Tell mother not to worry because the meeting in church can take a much longer time”
That was all she said as she turned around asking what I thought of ‘her’ dress.
Now, this girl was becoming interesting. How is it true that a fifteen year old can fit and fit well in a dress belonging to a forty-something aged woman? Maybe I should not have been surprised because nutritionists are always saying that the foods some people eat nowadays make them bigger than their age. It also looked like the two generations (mother and child) shared a fashion taste. It is a strange world.
She looked really good. The bangles made her look much older, a full grown woman. The hair-do was one never seen in my life before, but it still looked fabulous on her-am ignoring the fact that she had mixed very many colors. She had told me earlier that, her mother had taken her to ‘High Quality Saloon’ where her friend worked. She was the one who had suggested the hairstyle.
“It must have cost an arm and a leg” I had quipped.
“Of course it did, after all it is the most-expensive salon in town.” She replied with her autograph pretty smile.
When she turned to leave, I closed my eyes and prayed she was going to a safe place. Of course she was not going to church. She was never in church even on Sundays although she always left the house in the name of attending the service. Whenever her mother noticed she was missing and wanted to know where she had been, her answer was always a quick one. She had been sent to fetch drinks for the guests from a nearby shopping centre. It was always that same old, tired line not considering whether we had had visitors in church or not.
That evening, her mother came in slightly late, at around nine o’clock in the night but still Agiza had not made an appearance. I wondered what I would tell auntie Amanya, she never wanted her only daughter out so late, but she never told her so because previously when she had gotten to the house in the middle of the night, auntie Amanya had sighed with relief, thanked God she was back safely and then turned to ask me with a high voice why I did not ask her to come back home in good time. I did not say a word.
I was sited on the bed I shared with my much younger cousin. A good child by any positive standards, and although ten years my junior, she always gave me the mental stimulation I needed all the time. I always asked myself why creation had wasted a lot of brains on such a young child, why wisdom chose to rest on shoulders so small.
“What are you thinking about?” The question sounded inspired.
I lifted my face and our eyes met. Her eyes looked misplaced; they looked like an adult’s eyes on the face of a baby. I stretched my hands and chivalrously caressed her back. I did not know what else to do to brighten up a baby. And especially a baby as loveable as Nnedi was.
“I am just wondering where I should tell aunty Agiza went. I am scared because I know she will soon call out her name. She always calls her when she needs something” I explained.
Nnedi looked at me quizzically and I was taken aback. What was she thinking? She toyed with my right hand and I did not stop her. Perhaps what she wanted to tell me was dependent on that.
“Why don’t you tell mother the truth?” She queried.
“Which truth?” I asked surprised.
“I know you know Nivera. Tell her where Agiza goes.” Nnedi said assuredly.
We heard footsteps moving towards the room so we hushed. We could never have confused who was coming. The stilettos were definitely the latest auntie Amanya had bought, which she said had attracted her because they were in one of the most expensive shops in town and had a higher price tag than those of mama Nna, her best friend whom she seemed to be in competition with for something I did not know. I also did not know if her buying the shoes had anything to do with her loving them. Maybe she bought them to show off to mama Nna because anytime she wore them, she passed by her house to spent some time with the other gossiping women. I was not sure why she bought the shoes.
The door swung open and there stood auntie Amanya, looking unusually radiant.
“How did you fair today?” She asked her usual question.
“Fine.” We also gave our usual answer.
“Nivera please, get me my pink and lilac flowered dinner dress. I am going out tonight.” She said sweetly, and made her way to the bathroom.
I wondered why things had to go wrong on that day. Earlier in the day, her house girl had accidentally burnt the dress which aunty Amanya had said she would wear to a friend’s wedding that coming Saturday. And now, she was here asking after a dress Agiza had worn to a place only the gods knew. I looked into her wardrobe wide-eyed without any hope. I was never going to find the dress there, all the same, I hoped for a miracle.
Nnedi already knew that the dress her mother wanted was absent. She, like me and Angela did not know what to do. She feared her mother so much so that she only talked to her when she had to, otherwise she always sent her sister to request for what she wanted on her behalf from her mother. Nnedi said that only Agiza was attended to by her mother without long stories.
A few minutes later, auntie Amanya walked into the room from the bathroom. She looked on her bed and there was no dress.
“Haven’t you been searching for the dress I asked you to get out for me?” She asked askance.
“It is not here.” I replied.
“It is not here? This is where I keep my clothes, it cannot be elsewhere, so go on, search for it.”
“It is not in this house. Agiza wore it and she is not yet back.” I said hoping for the best although fully prepared for the worst.
“Agiza wore it? She is not yet back? Where did she go?”
I passed on the information Agiza had left for her and surprisingly, she accused me of not telling Aggie not to wear her dress. Was this woman serious? How would I have stopped Aggie from wearing her dress when they practically shared a wardrobe? Even the previous day Aggie had stopped her mother from wearing a dress she said she wanted to wear and auntie Amanya had given her free reign, so who was I to stand on her way? As for asking her to come back early or in good time, didn’t darkness fall wherever she went to? But I did not tell auntie anything. I looked at her and said I was sorry.
When I went back to our bedroom, I found Nnedi angry at me. She said I was a coward because I did not tell auntie the truth about where Agiza went anytime she left the house ‘dressed’. Just then auntie called out for me and my heart skipped a bit.
“Ask Angela to get me the dress I asked her to iron for the wedding, I will have to do with that one.”
More trouble. How do you again open your mouth and say it was ‘accidentally’ burnt? I tensely walked out of the room and called Angela who was in the kitchen tidying up the cupboard before joining us in the bedroom for the story telling session. It was always a good break to sit quietly in the bedroom and just tell stories about things that mattered to all of us. We loved the cultures of the world and it was therefore a favorite discussion topic.
“You would rather burn me than burn my dress” I heard auntie Amanya’s high pitched voice and I knew that Angela had told her about the burnt dress. She went into the living room and furiously begun watching the television. It was better that screaming the whole house down as we had all fearfully predicted. Her night out had been abruptly cancelled.
Fifteen minutes later, Agiza knocked at the door and her mother opened it for her. She hugged her and as usual, thanked God that she was back. Auntie Amanya never asked Agiza many questions because she said Agiza was very moody and asking questions would make her annoyed for nothing. Auntie instructed that her food be properly warmed because cold food would give her a disease called ‘Amoeba’ and she was also tired so she could not warm it for herself. I felt Nnedi turn angrily on bed and I knew she did not like what she had heard. Nevertheless, Angela had to do the honors for her.
We were quietly preparing vegetables several days later when Nnedi explosively asked me a question I loathed.
“Is Aggie’s mother my true mother?”
“Yes, she is” I replied quickly and then closed my eyes tightly.
I was lying to the little girl. She was a father’s child, but not a mother’s. Her father had had her out of wedlock. Unfortunately, their father had died when she was five leaving her in auntie Amanya’s household. I still could not understand why she had suddenly asked me that question.
“You see, when father was alive, we were treated impartially but ever since his burial, things have changed so much. Agiza is like the only child and I think mother is spoiling her, and it will be very late when she discovers.” She confided.
I felt relieved. At least it was not as serious as I had expected, or so I thought.
“Is that what makes you think that she is not your true mother? Of course you were not bought.” I said in jest to calm off things completely.
“No Nivera, it is not only that. I saw a photo of me with another woman when I was four years old. Behind it, and in father’s handwriting, it was written ‘mother and child’.”
That question destabilized me but I was not sure reveling the truth was the right thing to do, so I thought of how to evade.
“You see Nnedi, writing is an art and anyone can write anywhere and anyhow, without necessarily meaning what they write. Have you heard of fiction?”
I asked her but I knew I had not made any sense, in fact I had not said anything. I was unsettled for the remaining part of the day. Does it mean that even babies know it when they are being ill treated?
I was standing at the living room window. That window directly faces the road. Auntie Amanya had travelled. On the road, I could clearly see Agiza in her red miniskirt and a very brief blouse, as if she wore something, as if she did not. She was not alone. On her side, was the boy she used to swear was as handsome as Brad Pitt. He was spotting a trendy jeans which like all his peers’ was well surged He was putting on an ‘unfinished’ t-shirt with Bob Marley’s photo on the rear, no doubt he was a reggae fanatic. He had glittering earrings on, something that would have otherwise scared me especially if I had seen them in darkness. His hair was post modernly relaxed.
They walked on, slowly. Conversing fondly and with intervals of hearty laughter. They finally made their way into the house and I sneaked into the bedroom before they could see me. Agiza was never a darling of the kitchen but that day, she went inside there and prepared omelet for her guest which she served with strawberry juice. There was also soft music playing from the television and after squeezing my ears, I found it was ‘Islands in the stream’ Kenny Rogers ft Dolly Paton. The two were really having fun. But I did not understand how they managed, singing, chewing, drinking and talking at the same time. I just smiled, and prayed and thanked God.
On the day my auntie came back, I decided to let her know about the latest development. But I could not simply walk up to her and start blabbering, I needed a strategy. So I prepared her a cup of chocolate, exactly as she liked it. Dark brown and sweet. She took in a few seeps before I could start unrolling my sleeves. I took my time telling her the details of what had happened with insistence that she talks to her.
Auntie Amanya said she was highly disappointed in me. She did not believe that I could have the time, not to mention audacity to sit down and come up with unique rumors against her wonderful daughter. I tried to defend myself. I told her that I did not say her daughter was not wonderful, I just wanted her to know and then decide how best to address the issue.
She did not trust a word I told her. The Agiza she knew was very different from what I was telling her and even suggested that I was confusing her with someone else. Now, how would I confuse my own cousin? A cousin who miraculously resembled my own mother when I did not even take after her single ear? To auntie Amanya, Aggie was a God-fearing girl who only left the house on her way to the church which only herself knew or to pick some unseen revision books from some non-existent school mates.
I finally gave up and stopped bothering auntie with issues concerning Agiza. I did not tell her about the beer joint she went to every Saturday evening in the pretence of going for choir practice. I did not tell her about the half-smoked cigarette I saw in her bag accidentally when I was looking for a jelly-comb on a certain morning. I did not also tell her about the sugar daddy that had send her a whole ten thousand via m-pesa to procure an abortion. I did not tell her about so many other things, after all she would not believe me. She had even ignored me the day I told her that Agiza spent a lot of her free time watching pornography, which I thought was not the best thing to do.
“Aggie is a Christian girl. She goes to church, to school and for peer counseling so she can not be in such a vice.” That was all she told me and I backed off.
I was watching Agiza. She stood up from her bed and looked fixedly on the ground in the middle of the room like someone in a deep thought or having a self recollection. I decided not to interfere. She looked at her palm as if reading something but stopped suddenly and rushed to the toilet. She was vomiting. I thought maybe she was sick because she went to stand in the heat of the sun after that. Later, I talked to her into seeing a doctor but she refused saying she knew she was not sick. When I looked at her face, I saw that it was lighter than usual.
“Do not pass sentence too soon, after all her mother has not noticed.”
It was not long before her mother got wind of what had happened. For a long time, she could not speak because she went into denial. When she recovered, she could still not speak. She did not know what to say and especially to me. Perhaps she thinks I reprimand her. Perhaps I do, but not primarily. What happened could happen to anybody and it is therefore a lesson to everyone. I ask myself several questions though; what has our society become? Are our morals that below? Is it true that sometimes parents fail to understand the children they bring up or was auntie Amanya simply putting up a show? I wonder.
© Nandeche Daisy Okoti 2011