My palms are damp and sweat keeps running from my head down to my body. Unsavory memories keep flashing my mind. The forest is silent and I think for a moment that the police have retreated but then I hear them speak again. Maybe I should just turn myself in, to escape the venom of this serpent which keeps moving slyly beneath my feet. But before I do, I need a pen and paper to write my story from scratch. Perhaps, you may think that I was atrocious by choice. But look, it was the only way I could feel good about myself, it was the only thing that gave me confidence else I would have probably committed suicide long ago.

I need a pen and paper to begin my story from the minute I was born.

I had always been the unwanted child. My own parents saw me as a misfortune just because I was born with certain deformities. I was born with a cleft lip and club feet. And even though these deformities were rectified gradually as I grew, their perception of me never changed. When I was a little older, I once heard my aunty narrating to a friend how my mother didn’t even want to hold me in her arms immediately I was born. I believed what I heard because my mother never took me anywhere with her even if I wailed till I became short of tears. Araba was her pet whom she took and flaunted everywhere. With my father, it was worse because he barely looked at me. He hardly even mentioned my name. There were times when I stealthily watched him from the door, as Araba sat and giggled on his lap. Never did he for once put me on his lap or even hold my hand. There were days I starved because everyone left me alone at home, and went about their daily activities. If I happened to sleep before they returned, it meant I would sleep on an empty stomach and only eat the next morning. Even Araba started school before me and I couldn’t understand why. We were twins and were of the same age, so why did she have to begin before me?  Was I so horrible and unwanted to that extent?

Araba wore better clothes than I did, mine were always tattered because they were her old clothes, the ones she no longer wanted. Even at that tender age, I became aware of my deformity and insecurities began to breed within me. I had no friends. How was I supposed to have one when I was always locked in the house? I always kept to myself and even though Araba tried to be there for me, my parents always prevented her. That’s why I barely had friends to date. I just didn’t know how to confide in anyone. I became my own mother. I nurtured my own wounds because if I mentioned them, I would be beaten up. There were times I fell sick and nobody noticed. I almost died once hadn’t it been for Araba who pestered and cried to our parents before I was taken to the hospital. We were just six years old at the time.

Nonetheless, I was always willing to forgive and give them another chance. I did things that I thought would please them, but they always turned out to be a grave crime. I once washed a basin of dirty dishes thinking that it would relieve my mother of some house chore burden. But no, it didn’t. She beat me mercilessly because I mistakenly broke a plate. She complained about how expensive that plate was and threatened to make me sleep on an empty stomach. Well, guess what? She did exactly what she said. Well, that didn’t discourage me, I promised myself not to make any mistake the next time.

At 5 p.m. every evening, my father would sit on his lazy chair in the compound with his big radio, smoking pipe, and a newspaper. It was a form of relaxation and leisure for him. One day I decided to set all these down for him even before he returned from work. I was elated to do so because I thought maybe if I did, I would get a smile from him for once. I sat on the veranda waiting anxiously for his return. I ran to meet him immediately he walked through the gate. I welcomed him and tried to take his briefcase but he ignored me and shouted at me to get out of his way. As he walked towards the living room, he spotted the lazy chair and other items in the compound.

“ Who did this?” he asked.

“ Da, I did”, I said cheerfully waiting for a commendation. It was so quick, faster than a blink. My cheek felt hot, and I could feel the stamp of his palm. He slapped me!

“ Did I ask you? Do you see me sit there every day? No, tell me, how do you expect me to sit and relax when I am on the verge of losing my job? I don’t blame you, you get everything at your disposal and that’s why you’re failing to think. Stupid girl, Idiot! Get out of my sight” he shouted and waved me away violently that I staggered and pushed the coal pot that was standing beside me. Unfortunately, the pot on it shook and the hot water in it splashed on my leg. And instead of taking me to a pharmacy or hospital immediately, they left me in pain all in the name of discussing how to find money to get me medical attention, and again, Araba interceded before I was taken to a nearby pharmacy.

I was innocent and I meant well. I was always obsequious to their demands because I loved them with all my heart even though I never got that love in return. But you see, if people hate you for no reason, no matter what you do, their feelings towards you will remain stagnant, unshaken. Even if you die for them, they will rejoice instead of mourn your death.

I realised this when I turned eleven. I finally grew out of my foolishness and vowed never to be taken for granted ever again. It was that night when the storm was fiery as though tempered by an evil force. My mother had washed that day but forgot to take the clothes off the clothesline. I stepped out even though the wind kept blowing hard and even threw sand in my eyes. I took the clothes off and it began to drizzle instantly. I reached my parents’ room and raised a hand to knock when I heard my mother say something.

“ What should we do with her? My mother was right, we shouldn’t have brought her home with us. It’s obvious she’s a curse, she’s the reason for all our misfortune. Now see, you are even about to lose your job”, I heard my mother say clearly.

“ You’re right. We need to protect Araba from her before she jinxes her future and destiny. Let’s take her to an orphanage or better still deceive her we are traveling with her and then leave her in an isolated place where she wouldn’t be able to find her way back” my father suggested. I pushed the door open, startling both of them. The clothes on my shoulders fell to the floor and I stared at them unblinking with a stream of tears threatening to flow from my eyes. That was my first betrayal. But that betrayal was so enormous and excruciating because it came from my own parents. Do you know that feeling? No, I doubt you do. I felt grave neglect, belittled, unwanted, and damaged beyond repair! My mother came to me and asked, “ Hey, why didn’t you knock before coming in?”

“ I heard all that you said,” I said almost to myself. “ Why do you hate me so much? What wrong have I ever done to you? Is it my fault I was born like this?” I added

“ Hey, who are you talking to in that tone? Don’t you have any respect for us, your parents?” my father asked.

“ I said why do you hate me!!!” I screamed and Araba came rushing to the room.

“ Eeeeiii, wonders shall never end. So you have now grown wings and you can speak back to your parents eehn?” my mother said, hitting my mouth with the back of her hand.

“ Just leave her, I will deal with her”, my father retorted and took out his belt. He whipped me incongruously all over but I didn’t flinch like I usually did. I felt numb. The physical pain couldn’t compare to how I felt emotionally. Araba was standing beside me, crying in my stead and begging my father to stop. He eventually did after he got tired and defeated.

“ I know what to do”, he said and pushed me out of their room. I slipped from the veranda and fell into the compound. It was raining heavily and the cold that accompanied it was one that I had never experienced before.

“ You will stay there till daybreak”, he said as he and my mother went back inside. Araba didn’t go with them. After a few minutes, he came out, hauled her inside though she resisted and locked the door.

I was diagnosed with pneumonia just a week before and they were fully aware of it. Yet they left me in the rain. I remained still and didn’t move, the rain poured heavily and I began to shiver. I could feel something within me, wash away alongside the rain. I felt different, like a whole new person. It was as though the rain had washed away my old skin, giving way to a new and fresh one. My posture would have given way to someone who entered the compound, to think I was a statue. I saw Araba looking at me from the window of our room and I suddenly didn’t want her pity anymore. I became severely ill afterward and from that day, I became someone else. Even my deformity was rectified, thanks to a kind doctor in the neighbourhood who insisted I undergo surgery. I became like every normal girl and even prettier than all the girls in my neighbourhood.

I became the worst person anyone could think of. It wasn’t deliberate, it just happened. I became the word “trouble” itself and my parents became scared of me. I was like a demon and there were times when they had to beg me not to cause any destruction, they began doing things to please me, not out of love, but out of fear. The irony of it!  I wanted my old self back, but it wouldn’t just return. I became comfortable with the new me because I was in control. No one dared bully me for no reason.

But I shouldn’t have extended that rage to Araba. She did nothing wrong. She gave me the love I never received from my parents. Yet I couldn’t just stop feeling she was the reason I was treated with so much contempt. I couldn’t trust anyone and I didn’t believe someone could ever love me genuinely. Even that night when I was left in the rain, Araba sneaked out around 1 a.m. when my parents went to bed. I had frozen up completely and she literally carried me inside and provided me warmth till I was able to feel again. Even as children, when my parents bought her anything, she would give it to me instead because she knew they hadn’t got me some. She would share her snacks with me, give me some of her new clothes, and ask me not to wear the tattered ones. I knew she felt guilty for the actions of my parents and maybe thought she was the cause. I’m sure that’s why her attitude never changed towards me even after I went rogue.

I never wanted her dead. I actually loved her, but my jealousy and anger overshadowed that love. I wish I could apologise and explain to her the reasons for my actions. I didn’t leave her to die out of my own will, but I was driven by fear. Fear of what my mother would do to me. I was already in her bad books, and she would have blamed me for the rest of her life and probably got me banished from the town. She was already looking for ways to get rid of me anyway. But that’s no excuse, I should have still tried to help my sister. The guilt of her death never left me, it hangs around my head all the time. And that’s why on the day of her funeral, I prayed hard. I didn’t sleep that night. I begged God to have mercy on her and if there was any way of transferring sins, I prayed he transferred all her sin to me and made her pure so she could go to Heaven. I didn’t mind going to hell, I probably deserved it, after all, they said evil people go to hell right? If my sister is still the person I knew, wherever she is, I know she would forgive me.

Now how do I explain the death of the manager? The death of that vicious man who raped me two weeks after he took up his position and threatened to fire me if I mentioned it to anyone. Who would have believed me anyway? He was a reputable man and everyone thought of me as a slut, they would probably think I threw myself at him with the intention of tainting his image. I slept with men, but it didn’t mean it was an act I enjoyed. I needed to survive. I slept with each one of them hoping to get a job, but I was always deceived. I was excited when I got the job at the restaurant, I now had something I could rely on. I was tired of sleeping around. So when he threatened to fire me, I was devasted though I never showed it. He wasn’t firing me because of my lateness, he was firing me because I had ditched his advances and threatened to tell his wife if he continued harassing me. I lied to him that I had evidence of the rape and that his wife would definitely believe me. It worked like magic, he stopped pestering me. The rumours about him being scared of his wife were true after all. I would have helped him the day he died, but memories of the sexual assault flooded my mind and ignited the hatred I felt for him. So I left him to die, he didn’t deserve to live, such people don’t deserve to! They only make life unbearable for others.

Even Richard didn’t deserve to live. But I shouldn’t have killed him. It wasn’t in my place to punish him for his deeds. He had children to cater for. I shouldn’t have made my emotions get ahead of me. But you see, I thought he was going to be my turning point. I wanted to become a better person and leave my waggish life behind. With him, I felt prominent and it gave me hope. But he turned out to be no different. I was deceived yet again!

I felt immobile and my aspirations suddenly disappeared. But that was my mistake, I should have never relied on anyone to become better. I should have trusted myself to do that on my own. I wish I could apologise to him and his wife as well. My actions will now have grave effects on their children whom I never had any intention of hurting.

And my mother whom I thought may have probably changed a little, hasn’t. How could she think I wanted to kill her? What would I even gain from killing her? Even if that was true, then I would have done so, years ago. But I didn’t because I loved her even though she didn’t deserve an iota of emotion from me, I still did. I only took that pillow because I saw a wild gecko lying beside her head and wiggling its tail like a clown mocking its audience. Was I wrong for trying to kill it?

Well, all of these no longer matter. Perhaps, no one will ever know the true story. Even if they did, I doubt their perception of me would ever change. Maybe I should die in silence. No one wants me, not even my mother. Everyone will avoid me like a plague and point fingers at me wherever I go. That’s why I wouldn’t scream for help. Maybe this serpent which is now my companion in the dark, was sent here to shield me from all that shame, otherwise, it’s abode would have been one of the branches of the baobab tree and not beneath my feet.  I will die in silence, not for my sake, but for my mother’s. I will save her from all the shame she has been avoiding or probably endured because of me. Maybe this is my last chance to do something good, with someone else in mind and just not myself. If I choose to die in the hands of the law, I will be buried in the ground. But I don’t think I’m even worthy enough to be accommodated by the ground. It may even spew me out when the undertakers turn their backs after laying me to rest. I’m not even worthy to be stepped on after my grave diminishes years to come and becomes a bare ground for people to walk on.

I choose to totally disappear with no trace and with no grave to be pointed at. I want to be completely forgotten, as though I never existed and I want their tongues to eventually forget my name.

Several minutes pass and the police begin to retreat. “ She’s gone, I don’t think we will find her”, I hear one of them say. I’m left alone with my companion who begins to curl around me. I embrace myself harder and close my eyes. I see the image of Araba in my mind, smiling at me. I press my eyes tighter waiting for my last minute of consciousness. Just a few minutes and everything will be over.

But one thing is for sure, If reincarnation is not just a myth, I would want to be born again. But this time as a better person and in a family and society willing to give me all the love, care, and acknowledgment I deserve regardless of whatever deformity I may have.

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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