Spring stole in when I wasn’t looking – much like everything else around me that happened while I was in a haze of grief and if it wasn’t for Doreen’s push, I would still be wrapped up in my age-old floral housecoat wallowing in deep cups of self-pity and stale packets of Batchelor’s minestrone soup.
Doreen was right, and as much as I hated my sisters’ cheerful countenance, sage counsel, and witty remarks, she was right. ‘You ought to do something, Gloria, you ought to go out, do things, meet people, get your life together.’
‘I really ought to do something,’ Gloria thought for the umpteenth time as she tried to organize her thoughts on her life – or the semblance of her life. A fresh upsurge of panic made her heart race, and her hands grew clammy. ‘Failing to do something is like dying while still alive,’ Doreen’s words echoed in her mind. ‘But that’s how I feel.’ ‘I’m dying alive,’ she argued. “Stop it. “Just stop it,” she muttered. “You’ve got to get back your sense of perspective.”
‘Maybe getting organised or a holiday would be a good way to get started again,’ Doreen suggested. She knew Gloria too well and knew how her sister had enjoyed a predictable and efficient life. For Gloria, everything was planned, in its proper place and therefore she rarely lost control of things – not until the miscarriage, not until her husbands’ sudden death. He was forty-one. Micks’ death appeared to have taken their plans to the coffin – a plan to buy a house, to start a family, to support Gloria’s fledging home-based business till she got off the ground and now she simply floundered.
Hazy eyes’ peered through the glass, gazing at acres of palm trees disappear as they sped past. The bleak look in them grew with each mile covered, widening the gap between her and home, between the known and unknown.
They told her that she is heading for better things; for greener pastures. They told her that she’s the only hope for the family, they told her many things…
Yes, Akunnia wanted to help the family. Indeed, she truly wanted to be a saving grace. Yet, she couldn’t stop the incessant trickle of hot tears and the lump in her throat from getting bigger with each speed bump the van took as it gradually wound its way away from the dusty paths of her village to the big city.
How did greener pastures leave her feeling like a chattel used to repay family debts to a grouchy tradesman well-known for his poor treatment of others? The weight of her looming situation sat heavy on her slight sixteen-year shoulders.
The frilly purple underwear fought the peg that held it to the clothesline as if in protest against being held down. Its vigorous flapping attracted the attention of several eyes’ – it was simply the prettiest thing in sight.
Casting second, third and fourth stealthy glances, imaginary thoughts of its softness encasing and caressing the skin was worth taking the risk.
With no one watching, in a quick flash of hands, the clothes pin was removed, but the gust of wind was faster and the flowery slip sailed over the fence and attached itself to the radio antenna of a van zooming past.
In dismay, he watched the van weave its way down the street with a purple slip of silk waving in mockery.
From the confines of the van, they watched as the embers spat, crackled and popped furiously.
‘Do you think they will ever find out?’
‘Except someone tells them and I expect you have no such plans,’ the veiled threat in Vladimir’s words barely concealed.
His pale blue eyes shone with satisfaction in the darkly lit van. The mission has been successful. All the evidence has either been eliminated or burnt to cinders.
‘Of course not,’ Helmut quickly replied. He pulled his cloak a bit tighter and took a long sip from a small bottle of Vodka, the warmth of the fiery liquid unable to stop the frisson of chill he had within. He knew his days were numbered.
She had to work fast ‘cos it was now or never. Agatha felt a slight pang of guilt at what she was about to do, but her resolve hardened at the thought of freedom and new beginnings.
Finally, she would escape Simon’s pimping clutches. With her mind on the dream of a whole new life and personae, some money in the bank and a new home in a city where no one knew her or her sordid past, she stuck the feathered note under the lapel of his jacket as instructed. The agents have enough evidence of his drug runs, human trafficking, and organ harvesting to put him away for a very long time.
Generously helping herself to the stash of cash in the wardrobe, she adjusted her Spanx, joined the men in the smoke-filled living room and waited.
As I stood in the shallow pool of water, freeze-framed images of us dancing, laughing and splashing water like children played consistently in my minds eye.
Brookes’ happy laughter echoed with delight in my ears. This little gem of a place brought out that childish joy in her that made my heart bloom when I watched her face radiate and her cheeks pinken with pleasure.
I felt her presence, as real and as solid as if she stood beside me. Out of habit, I stretched out a hand to grasp hers, but the emptiness and lack of her warm palm hit me hard.
Has it only been six weeks? Six weeks sounds so short, yet it felt like an eternity. An eternity of hellish existence. Those dreaded words still rang in my heart and I still felt as shell-shocked as I had felt in the Oncologists office. Words like, ‘biopsy, chemotherapy, aggressive, incurable Cancer, metastasized’ and the worst of all ‘few weeks left’…changed our lives so drastically.
I stood there and in that shallow pool of water ‘the secret brook that Brooke loved’ for the first time, I allowed the hot tears to flow freely. I had had to stay strong and had not allowed her to see me cry.
Mama counted the coins carefully and tied them in the old handkerchief which she always tucked into her thick cotton half-slip hidden under several layers of wrapper to keep them safe.
I sprinkled water on the freshly harvested pepper and pumpkin leaves, arranging them in the basket; their luscious healthy colour would attract the eyes of good buyers.
With ease, mama balanced the basket on her head, her headscarf formed a cradle and she set off to Orie Ozuda; she would walk tirelessly for miles and that basket would stay put.
‘Nwamaka my daughter, I hope today’s market day will be a good one and if I sell all my goods, tomorrow I will buy you that shoe for running that you’ve been asking for.’
‘Thank you, mama,‘ I replied with happiness ringing in my voice. I imagined my feet encased in the white canvas and I could hear the voices of my schoolmates cheering me on as I raced to the finish line; they always say that I run like 440.
Tomorrow never came. Mama never made it back. Her crushed body was brought back to the compound with her coins still carefully tucked under her half-slip. Nwamadi’s 440 car killed mama. I never ran again.
She is called many names; the wandering woman, mystery lady, the medicine woman, the mad woman of Katoke or the nuisance.
She always appeared in the neighbourhoods for a couple of weeks before the start of each season bearing numerous pots and bags of exotic plants. Each boiling pot served broths that cured various ailments and all that was required for any to work is faith.
Whenever she visited the poorer quarters, the inhabitant’s welcomed her presence. They would come bearing little gifts in exchange for helpings from her healing condiments, but the experience was the opposite at the more prestigious parts of town where the policing guards did their best to discourage the charlatan ‘as she was called.’
On various occasions, they ran her off the premises with a stern warning of arrest if she kept visiting but at dusk, these uppity members of high society went to the poor side of town to see her secretly.