By Mercy Williams
It was the soothing scent of citrus leaves that kept her breathing. Wanting more of it.
The plank seemed less painful these days. It danced in slow motion and swayed as her madam wished, a gently landing rod of correction. The impact would be felt seconds later. A slowly building devastating kind of pain. The type that couldn’t be fully expressed in physical manifestation. Pain. The type that caused her waning body to react sharply and then quickly recoil to its crouched position, with her head buried under her arms, and her arms laying as a shield over her head, and over the rest of her body.
“Stupid girl!”, the middle-aged woman yelled, “the next time you burn my soup, I will roast that skinny body!”, she threw the heavy strip of wood and walked away panting.
Although her madam had left, Yemi remained an unmoving mass. She let the cool harmattan winds kiss her sores. She heard her name. But this time, it was a more tender voice that called…
It was too alluring to be ignored. So she gathered strength enough to lift her head and look around.
That was most certainly her beloved sister. She pulled herself up and trailed the voice. This went on for another few minutes before the voice disappeared into intermittent hunks from passing vehicles and giggles from the children playing in the neighbourhood
As soon as she realized this, she looked round to see that she’d walked a few blocks far from where she lived. She dropped to her knees, grazing them on the rocky grounds, and wept profusely for another few minutes. Soon she realized this wouldn’t take her home to Ireti, and the rest of her family, nor would it remove her madam’s wickedness. She wiped her face and dragged herself back to the mansion.
The blackened pot sat over the electric cooker, as sooth oozed from out of it into the atmosphere, and out the kitchen door. As the air cleared out, Madam’s husband walked into the kitchen and headed straight to the fridge. He took out a bottle of fruit juice and eyed the girl pitifully. Without saying a word, he poured some of the juice into a disposable plastic cup he’d picked from the stack and left it beside the pot and quickly walked out. As soon as he shut the door behind him, Yemi gulped down the cold drink before the woman would walk in on her.
“she will kill me! I know she will,” she sobbed as she scrapped the pot, as she washed away the sins she had no part in. Her school uniform was drenched in sweat and a few spots of blood where the piece of wood punctured her flesh. She’d barely gotten into the house when the grumpy woman told her to sweep the backyard.
“Ehen, Yemi, clean up the yard” she ordered while answering a phone call. No words concerning the soup. And so, just as she dropped her bag and bent over to get to work, the smell of burning okro alarmed her and sent her running into the kitchen, but it was too late.
“she will kill me for my parents, oh. She is already turning me into a mad person, oh. I don’t want to go to school again. This wasn’t even the agreement,” she sniffed and wiped her face recalling the trade. Poverty was the only reason a person would leave a peaceful home and stride unknowingly into the gates of hell.
Mama had told her, “the rich mummy would train you well and send us money. She will treat you like her own child Yemi. Just be very hardworking my child.” She recalled, in pain, that it had been over two years since then. A gruesome two years.
“I will rather die trying to get away from here, or this woman will kill me in her backyard, and wipe her hands clean off the matter.”
Her madam’s husband gave her a glimmer of hope in the simple task of understanding her plight. However, he wasn’t allowed to dip his hands into the matters of his wife and her house girl. So gestures like this were made swiftly and subtly and quietly.
This last incidence had happened only two days ago. After which she snuck out of the house at early hours of the morning. With iron resolve, she’d decided she would find her way home. She would find her way to Ireti and mama.
As she suckled on the sour juice of her favorite fruit, she held her rumbling stomach, the hunger had worsened. She’d exhausted the money she stole for transport to her village and was sure she was only a few hours away. The rows of orange trees that lined either side of the road, with food and fruit vendors selling under them, affirmed this. She’d even made a shed of one of them herself, plucking fruits every now and then as her strength could afford, per time. Mama would be making amala by this time of day; her throat became moist with desire as she imagined the delicacy. It was under one of such trees that all three of them sat one day, at the time when dusk comes with gentle greetings. It was on this day that they composed a song asking questions. In mama’s verse, she asked why bad things happened to good people, and why the wicked tasted the good of the land.
And it was this verse she hummed as she devoured a few more fruits until she gave in to the drowsiness that came heavily on her.
“Yemi.. Aburo mi,” a voice startled her out of her slumber
“Yemi, I’m here now,” Ireti called from a distance. She was smiling, but she had tears streaming down her cheeks. She was broken into fragments of regret at her agreement to let Yemi go to the city. All this suffering was in the name of getting a good education. Her outstretched arms would be a safe place for her sister.
Strength came from an unknown source, but it was enough to propel Yemi to her sister’s embrace. She stood up and ran. She felt life surge into her being again. She ran faster than she’d ever done in the last few weeks, but the closer she got, the farther Ireti seemed to be.
“NOO!” she coughed, tears and sweat clouding her vision, “Ireti don’t leave me please…”
“Yemi come! I’m never leaving you again…”
“Ireti!”, the little girl screamed, “Ireti!!!” She screamed until her sister’s image faded into non-existence right before her eyes.
Loud screams pierced her eardrums and made her aware that she’d hallucinated her way away from her shelter under the orange tree and right onto the middle of the main road.
It was a wonder how everything frolicked about in a hushed unreal mannerism. The hawkers waving at her, a few with their hands on their head. Their faces painted with panic, and shock. Yemi, the apparent star of the scene. Swirling in utter confusion and finally focusing on the one object that zoomed in at impeccable speed—the oncoming trailer swerving into roadside vendors, but not early enough to dodge a stunned Yemi, a struggling impression of peace and panic over her face. The monstrous vehicle digging
into her guts and penetrating her facial muscles and bony frame, and ultimately lifting her and throwing her to rest among the trees where she found shelter
It was the soothing scent of citrus leaves that hitherto kept her alive up until this passing moment. Wanting more of it. Craving the home of her. And ultimately, finding her safe place under the rain of orange fruit where her blood spilled.
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