On dark rainy nights like this, I sit on the floor in the middle of my sparsely decorated sitting room, a cup of hot cocoa or a glass of wine ensconced in my two palms. It depends on how I am feeling; my choice of beverage that is. Sometimes I want to feel the heat of the cocoa through the mug and other times I want to feel the headiness only a glass of red can offer. Tonight, red is the drink of choice and I am well into the third glass when the flashes start.
A flash of lightning, a journey back in time to the old house; the one with the whitewash walls and the trimmed hedges out-front. Nnenna is on the floor tears running down her eyes. Her crying is ugly; Mama would have been disgusted if she was alive. I am crying too. Who wouldn’t? a flash of lightning shows Papa, eyes glazed over, spittle running down from his mouth down to his throat, like a stray blood vessel, like the blood vessel he had cut. He had shown me this particular artery before when I had asked him to help me with my upper limb anatomy assignment.
‘You see this particular artery gbo?” He had asked me pointing at a spot on his arm. All I saw was flesh but I nodded anyway. I hated anatomy.
“It’s the radial artery. It is very tiny but also very dangerous. The small pot that puts off the fire. If you cut it, you will bleed out in 5 minutes.” Mama had looked up from her rosary just long enough to shush him. I remember laughing, I remember Papa smiling the half-smile that meant he was amused.
This was before Mama died of the Virus before; Papa was retired early because the government could no longer afford to keep him working for the hospital. It was before Nnenna stopped laughing and before the nightmares started.
When Mama died the light left Papa’s eyes. He moped around the house while I took two jobs to keep food on the table and Nnenna in school. Classic orphaned big sister stuff minus the orphan.
That night I had taken Nnenna out. Her jamb results had come out and there was no doubt that she would be in school that year. So, to make her happy, I had taken her to the mall, I had gotten her KFC. I had even gotten roast chicken for Papa. It had started raining on our way back so we rushed into the house dripping wet. The house was entirely dark until lightning flashed and that scene has never left my nightmares.
Another glass wine, another flash of lightning and it’s a different house. The one we moved to when Papa’s scent clung to the walls of the old house and we could see his face on all the mirrors in the house. The one I used all my savings to pay for when I found Nnenna bleeding, shards of glasses from the broken mirror sticking out of her fist. She wasn’t crying. She was curled up on the floor.
I made the down payment for a new apartment and we moved. There Nnenna managed to forget. She got into school and took a job to help me and together we grew, merged, became one, a syncytium of broken souls. We still had nightmares but we woke up to each other and for a while, that was enough to keep us sane.
Then it wasn’t. I began to see Papa everywhere. In my dreams. In the faces of the corpses, I filled with formalin at work. I saw his eyes, empty and hollow stare back at me in the mirror. And that dark rainy night, sitting across from Nnenna at the dining table, I watched Nnenna’s face become his. I blinked and his face was still staring back at me. He was haunting me, in my own house, after he left us all alone. A voice started screaming in my ear; high pitched. Papa lunged for me, trying to grab me, and I slap his hands off. I pinned him to the floor and I grabbed his throat and I choked the life out of him. I cried myself to sleep curled up on the floor. The next morning, I woke up to Nnenna’s corpse lying next to me.
Shards of glasses are on the floor. It’s the wine glass. I have to remember to get another set tomorrow. I will do that after dropping off flowers at Nnenna’s grave. Not that I need to. I see her face everywhere, Papa’s too. They will be at the foot of my bed again tonight, but what does it matter? When you live with your demons long enough, they become friends.