I was sweating and breathing hard by the time I got to the end of the street. Ekpan Police Station was still far away. I had no money for keke or bike. I stood at the street junction, biting my nails, my eyes brimming with tears. I had not stood for more than ten minutes, when a keke drove out from the street and stopped by me;
Mrs. Otite: “get in, Princess. So you were going to run all the way to the police station?” she asked, frowning.
I jumped quickly into the keke and the driver zoomed off.
The police station was filled with people coming to make one complaint or the other. I turned as Mrs. Otite called out to me. I had not waited for the keke to stop completely before jumping out and running into the police station. As I stood there, seeing black uniforms all over the place, an irrational fear gripped me, so I waited for Mrs. Otite to come. As soon as she got close, I grabbed her hand and held it tight. She walked confidently to a building that stood directly opposite the gate. As we moved to enter, Mama came out with one man. I rushed into Mama, nearly pushing her over with my hug. She hugged me back, laughing.
Matilda: “Hey, my princess, sorry o. I know you must be very hungry o. don’t worry, when I get home, I will yam pepper soup for you, okay?” she said, smiling down at me. I didn’t care about the food. I was happy that she was free. “Landlady, thank you for bringing her for me.” She added, turning to Mrs. Otite.
Mrs. Otite: “it was nothing. She wanted to run all the way from the shop to this place; I had to do something.” She replied, staring at Mama curiously. “What happened? Why are you in the police station?” she asked, unable to hold back her curiosity.
Matilda: “it was a family squabble. It has been settled. Thank you for your concern.” Mama replied, her voice suddenly losing its warmth.
Mrs Otite nodded her head, then we turned and left the police station.
A month after, the police station incident, Mama sold the house that I had grown up and we moved to Benin. She had wanted to sell the shops and relocate the business to Benin, but the man that had paid her bail, who happened to be Papa’s lawyer, advised her not to. So she opened a new shop in Benin but still went to Ekpan every week to check on the work of the people she had placed in charge.
I had started a new school in Benin. When I closed from school, I would go to the shop to meet my mother. After lunch, I helped her in the shop until it was time to go home. One afternoon, I came back from school, sweaty, tired and hungry, and met Aunty Ebube seated with Mama outside the shop, chatting. I hugged Mama then went to hug her. She smiled and asked me about school, before I went into the shop and dropped my bag. There was food in a small food flask. I picked a spoon and started eating without bothering to pull my uniform.
Matilda: “Princess!” she shouted. “Will take your uniform off before I come there to meet you? Do you think the person washing it, does not get tired?” She said.
I ignored her. I heard Aunty Ebube laughing and they whispered and laughed more. I didn’t care, I was hungry. After I had finished eating, I covered the food flask and went back to the front of the shop. Mama and Aunty Ebube had already eaten; they were drinking malt. I gazed at the bottle hungrily but I was too full to dare to take anything into my stomach. I sat down on a small stool beside Mama and watched other children return from school.
Mama looked at me and frowned but she said nothing. I soon dozed off as they chatted and remembered better times. When I woke up, it was almost dark. Shops around us were already locking up for the night. I turned around sleepily at first, then my eyes cleared when I realised that I was the only one in the shop. I got up and moved around but could not find Mama. I was scared. In my mind, I thought the police had come again and they had kidnapped her. I burst into tears and ran outside. But I didn’t know where to go. It was getting dark rapidly. I have never been out by myself after six in the evening.
Princess: “Mama! Mama!” I screamed into the early night. But I got no response.
I was shaking with dread and sweating profusely. The shops closer to us were closed. I ran towards the entrance to the street, then I saw her. She was walking towards me. I could not see her face. The flashing light of passing cars hid her face in shadows.
Princess:”Mama!” I shouted and rushed towards her. I hugged and she placed her hands on my shoulders. Her palms were warm as she shoved me off her. I stumbled and fell to the ground; my eyes wide with shock.
Matilda: “what is wrong with you? Is it everybody you see, you hug? Are you mad? They sent you abi? ehn! Who sent you?” she shouted. Her eyes were bright and in them I saw no recognition.
Princess: “Mama…” I said softly, unbelieving.
Something seemed to snap and she sagged like an empty sack of garri. She looked at me, shock in her eyes, then she frowned
Matilda: “why are you on the ground, young lady? Come on get up. Shey, I told you to pull off the uniform? Oya let’s go home.” She said, looking about her worriedly.
I stood up, watching her carefully. She placed her arm on my shoulder and drew me close to her. We walked briskly back to the shop, without a word. I tried to understand what had happened but I could not make any sense of it.
Chief Dominic; the man had three wives and many children. He had a big stomach and big flapping lips. He was dark as night with yellow teeth and hairy nostrils. He was also rich with several houses scattered all over Benin. He also considered himself eligible to woo Mama. I hated him on sight but he was our landlord, which meant I had to abide his sweaty face and heavy breathing that stank of garlic every time he came to pay us a visit.
It had been three years since Papa died. It had not been good years and it had not been bad either. I had finally entered a secondary school close to the house. Mama still hard control of Papa’s assets but it had not been easy. She had been duped twice by drug merchants, who had sold her fake drugs. This had affected our finances and her self esteem too. Mama had changed as I had too. Her change was obvious because she never knew what was going on, no matter what I said.
Her blackouts had increased over the years. Periods in which she forgot who she was, who I was, what she was doing and where she was. I had managed to cover for her lapses in public. I had become my mother and she had become my daughter but I was just thirteen years old. What did I know? The painful part was that she never believed me. I had become a liar in her eyes and that hurt more than the way she looked at me sometimes without a hint of recognition in her eyes.
Chief Dominic entered the sitting room after knocking twice. It was a Saturday morning; I was cleaning the house. Mama was having her bath before she went to open the shop. I had on shorts and a small top. I had started noticing the slight changes in my body; my notorious bony chest was filling up around my nipples.
I raised my head and saw his big stomach, blocking the light and air into the house. I muttered a greeting and turned away, bending to sweep under the centre table. Suddenly, a big palm smacked my buttocks and grabbed. I turned in shock and saw the sly smile of the demon. I whipped his face with the broom without thinking about it. Chief Dominic screamed and stepped away from me. He hit a chair and staggered. He spread his palm before him trying to wedge his fall but it was too late. He fell against the door, his big stomach rising like mound of pounded yam. I burst into laughter at the way he looked stupid on the floor. I turned to walk away and stopped. Mama stood there, looking at me, soap suds drying on her naked skin.
Matilda: “who are you? What did you do to my husband? You have killed him, you bitch!” she screamed. There was no recognition in her eyes.
Question: what do you think is wrong with Matilda?
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