My Sister Has A Gift
The cheap-looking, yellow window blinds laced in gold floral patterns – I think they were meant to be roses; I never cared to wonder – did not show any movement to the drop in the temperature as I stood, looking at the firmly shut window and hoping the wind’s hasty travel was what I was feeling despite the conditioned air in the room.
My skinny legs were rooted in front of the wardrobe that had been left ajar with its door surprisingly still and not swinging in waywardness, a dance I had been used to. If the slab of plywood had life, I would have said that it used to make conscious efforts to communicate, and perhaps it could tell that I was not in the mood, I hadn’t been in a while. But a wardrobe door was an inanimate extension of furniture.
The tiles underneath my bare feet had the sensation of a cold magnet, yet my toes did not drum slowly on it for warmth; again, it was not the kind of chill that came from the room getting colder. I rubbed my right thumb over the left one as my gaze sunk deep at the fibres of one piece of clothing in my loosely ordered wardrobe of clothes folded without gayness. It was the blue shirt; the one I wore that matched Morenike’s vest the day she ran and broke the school’s hundred-meter sprint record at the inter-house sport.
I kept the shirt, I loved the shirt because of the image it brought to mind every time I had it close: Morenike’s very endowed chest’s pendulous display as she blitzed from start to finish every time she ran. She was a gold runner. And even if I did not take anything from the records she broke at the school events, I had that memory of her to savour and console myself for the courage I could never find to talk to her. But catching sight of the blue shirt as the next in line of my clothes to be emptied from the wardrobe worked chills underneath my dry skin.
Morenike was not what I was seeing when I stared at it, then, unsure what touching it would do. I exhaled the breath I had unconsciously held. The sun’s business had packed with daylight, but the pair of fluorescent light bulbs in my room made sure I could see it clearly. It was ten in the evening but sleep was not a luxury, and not particularly because of the excitement. I swallowed air, reaching for the shirt beneath instead, with my fingers assuming the blue one was a plague.
The night was the last we would be spending in the house; as soon as the sun rose, we were moving.
I had one memory of us relocating to a new house – the one that was becoming our old one – when I was younger and even more unknowing, but the fever, then, felt like a taboo now. The silence in the car was palpable; while I worked to keep my gaze averted from everyone, making mental notes of the structures outside my window in goodbyes as we left the neighbourhood I had spent a fair amount of my prepubescence and trying to imagine what the new one would look like when it was alive with people who were probably still snuggled in their beds. For all purposes, our relocation was as unannounced as it could ever be. It crossed my mind that perhaps the new neighbourhood was occupied with families like ours.
Titi, my sister and sixteen-year-old secondary school senior, had her eyes and fingers glued to her phone the last time I checked, and the white earpiece that connected the device to either sides of her head completed her indifference to the lifeless trip. Our dad was the one behind the wheels, his large hands gripping the steering at full attention and producing the new sights that displayed on the window I was focused on. I had no idea what mother was up to in the front seat. It would have been difficult to pretend that I cared. There were no small talks, no jokes, no Michael Bolton playing on the stereo like it often did whenever it was dad’s car, and no one seemed eager to change the status quo.
I peeled my eyes from the window as soon as the car crawled to a stop after a turn, the front of the new house was not a spectacle. I clawed on the khaki hunter shorts I had chosen to wear instead of the camo, till my hand found one pocket flap and a broken button that I fingered thoughtlessly. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket but ignored it like I had done all night; it was probably Bright trying to get me to respond to his messages. I had not told him we were leaving so soon. I wasn’t sure I wanted to; Bright was a smart kid, and an inquisitive one, too, he asked a lot of questions. He would ask me why we were changing houses in the middle of the term. The phone vibrated as the car snuck into the compound properly, and I glanced at Titi’s side and wondered what she was telling her friends, her boyfriend about the reason they would not be seeing each other in the streets anymore. But Titi did not seem as distraught as teenage girls her age would when they were yanked away from their ‘life’ so abruptly. On the contrary, my sister seemed like she did not mind and acted like all was well. All was not well, I knew it, she knew it, we all knew it. But a new house was supposed to signify a fresh start.
I watched her pluck the earphone from her ears and lump them into her purse with her phone before she got out of the car. One after the other, everyone exited and I was the last to free myself from the seatbelt.
The absence of barked orders as we moved boxes, bags and containers of our possessions to our rooms felt so odd, but I was grateful for it. The small moving van that trailed us all the way from the old house with the things we cared to not leave behind was emptied in less than an hour. The new house was already furnished, we were just coming in to occupy it. It was hard to not love the smell of our new home; I was a hound for new things after all, but even that could not coerce my mind into agreeing with what was happening.
Making sure everything was in its right place meant the silence we had journeyed with all the way there would not be sustained for much longer, I had enjoyed it while it lasted. Dad spoke with the men that had helped with the moving before they were settled and they eventually left, Titi and mother soon found their way into the kitchen and I reserved myself in my new room.
There were four blinds, a pair over each of the windows in the room, and they were blue laced with deeper tones of even more blue this time. The walls of the room looked alive in the white paint and wallpapers. The bed was a size bigger than the one I had slept in the night before, and the new wardrobe door had nothing to protest as I emptied the boxes and the bags of my shoes and my clothes – the ones that had made it with me – inside the spaces.
When I felt like a distraction, I took my phone from the bed and read Bright’s messages just before I was done donning the shelve and the table of the rest of my things. It was like I had suspected; he was curious about everything. I asked myself what I was supposed to say to him and how exactly I would phrase it to keep my friend’s overactive mind simple; to keep suspicion out of every interaction.
Titi was the one that came to my room to announce what was now brunch considering we hadn’t bothered to have a last meal at the old house it seemed like we had fled. Everyone sat at the table and worked forks and knives at the slices of yam and egg sauce that was on their plates. It was all like a normal setting, but I was yet to understand how.
“You’ll have to wait a few hours for the cable connection, I’ve called the repair guy and he’ll find his way here before evening,” dad said to no one in particular. I chewed the yam in my mouth and the crunch of the fried onion in the sauce tromped it before mother took the talking stick in form of a small serving dish, and started about how she loved the new kitchen but was going to miss how everything seemed to be one step away from reach at the older, smaller one. Titi picked up after her and said something about appreciating the space instead, a conversation between two generations of women.
“How’s your room, Stephen?”
I didn’t look up to acknowledge who had asked the question; I could pick out the voice in the midst of a multitude of others climbing over each other in a market. I grew up hearing, being attached to, being cautious of the voice. It was one that was connected to so many of my memories, from nights of lullabies to days of chastising my mischiefs. My mother’s voice was not alien, but it made me stop chewing.
“It’s fine,” I managed to respond, my eyes not leaving the plate in front of me, where my fingers pinned a forked egg to a piece of yam and drew a small swirl holding the stainless steel. I hoped for the sake of everyone that I would be left out of reminiscing the old and the admiration of the new abode because it had the tendency to make me burst, drive me crazy, how kumbaya was our song. I was spared further enquiries and allowed to deal with my meal, and twice before I did, I caught sight of my sister’s smile as she motioned her body in excitement to something our parents said. Our mother with the question, our father with the comment and Titi with a chuckle that sounded the answer. I gave up on the last slice of yam on my plate as I took it to the kitchen to dispose of; my stomach was actively rejecting the display; it was making me feel like I might be insane. Like I had imagined it all.
But I hadn’t.
Titi was a star of the drama group back in school, she was adored and she was famous not just for her skill of making her audience see in her, on her, whatever she wanted them to. The entire school knew she was going to be even better when she got discovered, and there was a rumour that the school was planning to get her an audition right after her final exams. Her drama coach said she would someday find her way to the top of Nollywood and beyond, all she had to do was keep acting. My sister was gifted in more ways than just her physical drama skills; Titi could make her voice sound nearly in perfection like anyone else’s. All she had to do was try. It was sometimes terrifying. So a combination of both gifts meant that my family was rearing a gem in the young woman and I was going to be family with an actual celebrity sooner or later.
Omata was our maid; she had been with us for three and a half months. And she spoke with a thick accent that reminded everyone she was not from the city; she was from an Ebira settlement, had no parents or siblings, and her guardian had deemed it best she sought a life where she might just have one. She was young, perhaps just about a year older than Titi – she couldn’t really tell. She was taller, and a lot simpler, too. We had had househelps before, two that I could recall that came before Omata and neither of them had passed the six months mark before they left. Omata was perhaps the least frustrating of all, and I assumed she would perhaps be able to break the record of her predecessors. But when my sister and I got back from school one Wednesday afternoon and found Omata on her knees and on the end of mother’s assault, I quickly re-assessed that hers might be a worse record.
It took me a minute to figure out that dear Omata was not being punished for speaking rudely to my mother or anyone – she hardly spoke – or putting a hand wrong in the kitchen affairs. It took our father arriving home early for the thunder in mother’s voice to clap louder while Titi and I stayed in our rooms. I was lost at what I could hear even though my door was shut, my heart and mind were in the scenario we had been ordered to walk past: our father being the one doing the pleading for the girl being punished. It took me a minute to put it together that a guilty man was the one with fear in his voice, apologizing and begging his woman to calm down and not simply cautioning her. It seemed the walls of the room did not exist when the words snuck into my room; father had seen more of dear Omata than he was supposed to, and her body had started to show signs in response to the things he had done with the girl, to the girl. After having two of her own, safe to say that mother could tell when a girl was in the family way. She had found out and had become unquenchable.
It took the sound of a struggle, Omata’s whimper, a crash, and father’s yell from the living room for Titi and I to finally emerge from our rooms that evening.
We lived in a neighbourhood where no one poked at your business.
Omata called her only contact from the village that evening and told them that she was leaving our house to find somewhere else to work. She said she had talked with her ogas – our parents – and they had said she should call them so they could know. The woman that brought her to the city was not going to be coming back for her. Omata had also told them that taking something that didn’t belong to her was the reason she could no longer be accommodated with us. That was over three weeks ago.
I walked out of the kitchen and passed my sister who had a smile on her face as she made to clean up the dishes in her hands, and disgust rattled my insides. I could not tell whether it was my sister the young girl or my sister the actress, knowing which it was would have been even more terrifying. I did not attempt to meet the gazes of either of my parents as I headed back to my room. They were all acting like what happened never did and I was feeling like somewhere in my head was my voice trapped in a cage because of family. And the voice was either going to break free or die with my innocence. Either way, my family could never be the same.
The very manner with which not one of them had as much as stuttered in speech about it slowly ate at my mind.
I closed the door behind me as I walked into my room, staring at the walls that seemed thicker than the old one, at the gap underneath the door that was nonexistent; at the ceiling and at the blue drapes over the window, and I felt my heartbeat choke my breath again as the colour reminded me of the shirt I had left behind. The same one I was wearing that day when it happened; when my sister and I rushed to the living room to find an Omata that had made it three and a half months in our house and would never be going anywhere ever again.
My sister has a gift, she can sound like anyone she wants. All she has to do is try.
About the author
Victor Oluwalana is a freelance writer and portraitist. He’s a nominee for a Golden Pen Award for Excellence in Writing, 2020. He takes a special interest in writing fiction, short stories, and he’s a hound for psychological thrillers. He lives in Akure, Nigeria and hopes to someday see Barcelona.