Sun. May 12th, 2024




“If you love her as much as you claim, then

just take her with you.”***A fist of water

slammed into me, drenching me to the

bones. I bolted upright in bed, my heart

hammering like it would burst out of my

chest. The sound of plastic smacking the

floor hit my ears, bringing my attention to

my stepmother. She stood a few steps

away, glaring at me. Beside her, a bucket

lay on its side; the bucket she hadjust

emptied on me.”Good morning,” I

said.Snapping her fingers, she said, “Get up,

you lazy bone!”Like a robot, I sprang to my

feet. Head bowed, hands held behind my

back, I awaited her next order. I watched

the water from my body glide to my feet.

Forming a pattern, they plopped down on

the floor.”You are to do the dishes, launder

my clothes and Cynthia’s, scrub the floors,

clean the entire compound andwash the

cars right away. Only when you’re done can

you have breakfast. Did I forget to mention

anything?””The glassware,” I said.”And the

toilets,” she said. “I will be back to inspect.

And if on my return I find that you skipped

anything, I will—”“Hack you into tiny bits and

feed you to the street dogs,” I said. I knew

her pick up line all too well.“What did you

just say?” she fumed, her face like a cloudy

day.She lunged at me. I ducked, brushing

past her. A knock at the gate forced a

giggle from my mouth. We had a visitor.

This placed our cat and rat session on

hold.Snapping her fingers, she said, “It’s me

and you in this house today.”Did she think

she could scare me with that? What would

she do that hadn’t been done before? She

had made me pass through fire, forced me

through the thorny gates of hell and taught

me to embrace pain. Nothing scared me at

this point.Drops of water trailed after me as

I made for the gate. Once there, I yanked it

open. Taken aback by the person staring

back at me, I could only gasp. I certainly

hadn’t been expecting my fairy godmother.

My stepmother wouldn’t like this one bit.

But despite this, a smile tore through my

lips.”Good morning, fairy godmother.”She did

not return my smile. Her gaze locked on my

drenched clothes. “What is this?”I looked

away, groping for the perfect lie. “I’m a

heavy sweater when I sleep.”After she’d

stepped into the premises, I moved to lock

thegate, grateful for a chance to hide my

face so she couldn’tsee through my lie.She

tugged at my arm, her eyes flying wide. “I

know you, Victoria. All week, I watched you

sleep for no less than four hours at a time.

And you certainly aren’t a heavy sweater.

Besides, you sweat all over your hair too?””I

—”She shook her head. “Tsk. Tsk. If I find

that that witch did this to you, I swear, it’ll

be an eye for an eye.”Without another word,

she made for my room. I trailed after her.

The door to my room flew open and she

burst in,halting almost immediately as she

found the emptied bucket and the drenched

bed.”That woman has certainly overdone it

this time,” she fumed. “And she will get

what she’s asking for.”Shaking her head,

she picked up the bucket. I had no idea

what she planned to do. But I knew it would

be nothing to smile about.”Stella, please,” I

said.She raised her non-dominant hand,

splaying her fingers ina ‘stop’ gesture. Her

other fingers bowed, leaving only thepointer

to poke my shoulder.”Don’t even say a

word,” she said, her voice cold as

death.”Now, show me to the kitchen at

once!”I’d never thought a day would come

when I’d be conflicted about obeying my

fairy godmother. She’d always been friendly,

an angel. But today, I saw a different side

of her.”Show me to the kitchen, I

said!”Unable to hold her flaming gaze, I

looked away, swallowing hard. “This…M..

way.”She muttered a few incoherent words.

I could only grasp the last phrase. “An eye

for an eye!”A sudden realization sent a

shiver down my spine as she headed for the

fridge. She would empty bottles of cold

water into the bucket and empty the bucket

on someone.”You will show me to Cynthia’s

room,” she said.”I’m sorry,” I said. “I

can’t.”Stella smiled a threatening smile and

tugged at my arm. Gripping it hard, she

turned me toward the door, but I didn’t

budge.”I cannot,” I said. “I won’t.””Very well

then. I guess it won’t be difficult to find that

step-sister of yours.” Letting go of my arm,

she started off toward the rooms. The first

three doors showed her to empty rooms.And

the next …My heart shattered as it flew

open. Cynthia lay in her air-conditioned

room, on her king-sized bed, sleeping amidst

pink pillows and teddy bears. Stella

advanced to her.”Cynthia!” I called, my voice

loud enough to wake the dead.Cynthia’s

eyes flew open just in time to watch the

ruthlessly cold water lunge at her. She

made to roll to safety, but didn’t stand a

chance. Drenched, she sprang to her

feet.”What is the meaning of this?” she

yelled. “How dare you insult me like this?

What is the meaning of this?”Stella flung the

bucket at Cynthia’s feet. Shrieking, Cynthia

side-stepped. The watery floor made her

slip. I gasped as she hit the floor with a

painful thud. Sat helplessly on the floor, and

drenched to the bone, she wailed like a

woman who’d just received news of her

husband’s death.I moved to help her, but

Stella held me back. “Her mother will

come.””What have you done?” I

asked.Cynthia wailed on. She made no

attempt to get off the floor. Obviously, she

wanted her mum to find her in this state.

This spelt trouble.”What’s happening here?”

My stepmother’s voice boomed from the

doorway.”Mummy,” Cynthia whimpered.

Catching sight of her, her mother rushed to

kneel beside her.”My baby. What happened?

Who did this to you?” She helped Cynthia

get on her feet. Holding her in an

embrace,she patted her back. “Come now,

mummy is here. It’s fine now.”Stella

smirked. “Now we’re even.”Glaring at Stella,

my stepmother disentangled from the

embrace. Her right hand lashed out, aiming

for Stella’s face. My breath caught in my

throat. But the slap never landed.Stella

gripped her hand, suspending it in the air,

her glarematching my stepmother’s. “Don’t

you dare.”It took a few moments for Stella

to detach her hand. She trusted my

stepmother would not make another move.

And for the sakes of both women, I hoped

so. Cynthia looked between the two women,

her eyes mirroring my fear.”So it hurts you

to see your daughter abused,” Stella said.

“And yet, you do the same to someone

else’s child. A child who should be like a

daughter to you! You go ahead and abuse

her without any qualms. In the same way

you carried your daughter in your womb for

nine months, someone carried Victoria. She

did not just fall from the sky. Neither was

she born by an animal. No! She was born by

a woman like you. And you go ahead and

abuse her withno feeling of remorse? How

could you be so evil?””I will not let you

come into my house and insult me,” my

stepmother said.”And I will not let you insult

your stepdaughter and her mother’s good

name!” Stella said. “Once or twice, I met

hermum at the orphanage. And she spoke of

how it broke her heart to see the less

privileged suffer. I will not watch you

subject her child to the very same life she

didn’t wantfor other children.””If you love

her as much as you claim, then just take

her with you,” Cynthia suggested.Stella

seemed to consider Cynthia’s offer. “I would

if I could. But that would mean her leaving

the house for you and your mother, wouldn’t

it?””What do you want?” my stepmother

asked. “Why are you here?””I’m only here to

remind you of the deal you signed. You best

take it seriously. Tomorrow, I will be leaving

for the Uk …”Unable to conceal their

excitements, Cynthia and her mother

glanced at each other.”But I am not leaving

her unprotected,” Stella went on. “And the

deal remains. You do well to remember that.

I willhave people on the lookout for any form

of abuse. And I will appoint a guardian in my

place. So you best not get any

ideas.”Cynthia looked between her mum and

Stella. “Mum, say something. How can you

just let her threaten us in our own

house?””It’s not a threat,” Stella said. “When

I threaten, trust me, you’ll know of it. That

said, today is my last day here in Nigeria,

and so I am taking her out with me.””You

will not—” My stepmother started.”It is my

understanding that your daughter goes out

with friends as she pleases,” Stella said.

“So, why can’t your other daughter do the

same?”After moments of unnerving silence,

my stepmother said,”Return her by noon.””I

will bring her before nightfall,” Stella said.

“And don’t worry about chores. I’m sure

Cynthia knows how to keep a house in

order.” Taking me by the hand, she led me

to myroom.The scene in Cynthia’s room

revolved around my head. What had I gotten

myself into? Would they not kill me once I

returned home? Would Stella be with me

then? No. I would be all alone to feel my

stepmother’s wrath. And after what Stella

had done, they would sure hate me burying

imaginable.Oblivious to the danger she’d

placed me in, Stella rummaged through my

closet. “Goodness gracious. It’s almost

unbelievable that the very same woman who

abuses you cares enough to give you a

fitting wardrobe.”A smile tugged at my lips.

“She wants her public to believe she treats

me the same way she treats her

daughter.””That sure is something,” Stella

said. “Go freshen up while I find a perfect

outfit for our outing.”I’m afraid I can’t go,” I

said.”What?””My stepmother—”Stella

snapped. “I am not listening to your silly

talks! You will go freshen up and prepare for

our outing. Look at you,your father’s death

has you locked up in this woman’s cage.

You don’t even know what fun is anymore.

You only do the things she let you do.

Chores. Chores. School. And more chores.

Where’s the fun in this?””I have fun,” I said.

“I have fun at school with my friends.”Stella

rolled her eyes. “Great. You could also say

you have fun with the rats and roaches

while doing your chores.”I grinned. “That

too.””I’m done listening to this. You are

going out with me, Victoria Brown. And I will

not take no for an answer. Comeon, this is

my last day here. Will you actually deny me

mylast wish?” She batted her lashes at

me.When she put it like that, how could I

turn her down? “I need to hurry with my

chores then.””Vicky dear, you shouldn’t

worry yourself,” she said. “I want today to

be a holiday for you. Cynthia will do the

chores.””You don’t understand. It won’t feel

right to just walk away, leaving the chores

undone. Please. I promise I’ll be fast.”Stella

weighed my request for a moment or two.

“Fine then. The movie doesn’t start till

twelve anyway.””We are going to see a

movie?” My eyes beamed with

excitement.”A movie called Cinderella

Retold,” she said. “It’s new.”***Sat in the

near-darkness of a theatre, I brimmed with

expectations as I gazed at the giant screen

before us. The movie, like my life, was a

reenactment of Cinderella. Set in Salem,

Massachusetts, during the Witch Hunt

period, the movie revolved around a young

orphan abused by her stepmother and two

half sisters. At a ball, Michael Huntington,

the priest/executioner’s son fell for the

mysterious girl who disappeared at midnight,

leaving behind a glass slipper. Upon knowing

Cinderella was the girl after Michael’s heart,

her evil family framed her as a witch and

delivered to the priest for execution.Things

would heat up, making us gasp and almost

fall off the edges of our seats. But like all

fairytales, a happily ever after climaxed the

movie. The villains were made to suffer.

The hero got the girl. And they lived happily

ever after.”That’s the best movie I’ve seen

in years!” Stella exclaimed as we stepped

out of the theatre. “It’s such a bold retelling

of Cinderella. Did you like it?””It’s a great

movie,” I said.Draping an arm over my

shoulders, Stella led me to the cafeteria.

She sat across from me. “Do you know why

I wanted you to see that movie?””Because

she went through hell just like me?” I

guessed.”Yes,” she said. “I wanted you to

see her overcome every obstacle, climb

every mountain, live through every

disappointment, and emerge victorious. I

wanted you to see her forge ahead even

after Aunt Maggie, her supposed fairy

godmother abandoned her when she was

accused of being a witch. It is truly a great

movie.”A waiter advanced to us with a well-

practiced smile lighting up his face. “Good

afternoon. What would you like?””Chicken

and chips should do.” Stella said. “What

drinks are available? Chapman?”The waiter

nodded.”Chapman it is then,” Stella decided.

“And a bottle of water.”The waiter wrote

down Stella’s orders in his notepad. To me,

he said, “And you, miss?””Same,” I

said.”Whatever they’re having, make it for

four,” I heard a bubbly voice say. Farah.

Raheem stood beside her, his face as

though he’d died in a dream.Farah waved at

Stella. “Hello.”“Hi,” Stella said.”What are you

doing here?” Farah half-squealed at me,

muting out Stella’s and Raheem’s

greetings.”We saw a movie,” I said.”Same

here! Raheem and I saw Cinderella Retold.

That movie is just amazing! I could watch it

over and over again.””Raheem saw the

movie?” I asked. I could never have tagged

him as one for cheesy love stories.”I am not

one for such movies,” Raheem said. “She

forced me to come along. The movie was

crappy. Waste of time.”Farah nudged him

with her elbow. “Liar.””I’d rather be at home

playing,” Raheem said.”He’s only putting on

an act. He enjoyed the movie.””I know,”

Stella said. “Everyone did.”Farah made to

join us, but Raheem tugged at her arm.

Forcing an overly formal smile, he said,

“We’ll sit at our own table. We wouldn’t

want to bother you. Enjoy your day, please.”

His eyes begged that we backed him up.

“Actually, it’s no bother,” Stella said.She

smirked at the beat up look on Raheem’s

face as Farah hurried to occupy the seat

beside mine. Left without a choice, Raheem

occupied the last seat. He cast Farah a life

threatening glance that made me wonder

how they survived at home.The waiter

returned with our order. Once he placed

them on our table, Farah started getting

acquitted with hers. Noticing Stella staring

intently at Farah, Raheem said,”She’s Farah.

My kid sister.””Wow, I can see so much

resemblance,” Stella said. “It’s great to

meet you, Farah. I am—””The school nurse,”

Farah cut in. “Oh, please, tell me I’m right!”

She clapped a palm over her eyes, but I

could see her peeking at Stella from the

space between her fingers.”I am she,” Stella

said, half-giggling. “I’m just curious about

how you could tell.”Plastering an ear-to-ear

grin on her face, Farah uncoveredher eyes.

“With vivid descriptions like the ones

Raheem gives, even the king of fools can

tell who he speaks of. For example, I

haven’t seen the principal yet. But I know to

expect an overweight man, his skin as

burned chocolate. His hair, styled as an

afro, is a mix of black and white. And then

he’s five foot six. He walks as though every

step were a punishment. And then there’s

Sir Aaron, a man of stone. He lives in his

own world and doesn’t even—””Farah!”

Raheem warned.Farah recoiled in an

attempt to escape Raheem’s fiery gaze.

“Uhm …yeah?””Could you just shut up and

eat?” Raheem asked.Farah pressed a finger

to her lips. “Oops. Sorry.”With the new

found silence, we all had time to dig into our

snacks. Farah finished first. She swept her

eyes around the table, aching to speak. I

could tell it wouldn’t take longfor her to

break the silence.”Who could have thought

Raheem Kadir could actually make friends?”

she thought aloud with a smirk. Glad to have

my attention and Stella’s she went on, “In

our former school, he almost never said a

word. I’m just really surprised he’s actually

making friends now. Loner!””I’m not—”

Raheem said.Farah cut him off. “Oh, shush.

The only friend you’ve ever had is your

guitar.””There was Malik, Yusuf and

Karmani,” Raheem said.”Only because you

were all in a band,” Farah said.”Wait,” Stella

said. “Raheem is a singer?”Farah beamed at

herself for steering the conversation in this

direction.Raheem nodded. “I’m in a band.

Impaling Sedation.””I’ve never heard of it,”

Stella said.”I don’t expect you to,” he said.

“The band’s popularity never crossed Iraq.

We mostly played at clubs, diners and some

shows. We were meant to do a really huge

audition. But then the war came along,

shattering our dreams.”Stella seemed

genuinely interested. “Are your songs on the

internet? Perhaps you could send me a link?

I want to watch you sing. I’m a fan of rock

myself.””Cool,” Farah said. “Are you a fan of

Bring me the Horizon?””That’s one of my

top rated,” Stella said.”Perfect,” Farah said,

rubbing her palms together. “Then you’ll

love Raheem’s band, I assure you. His band

is bomb!”“I can only imagine,” Stella

said.”Can you heal my heart,” Farah sang.

“It’s bleeding. Can you fix my soul, it’s

broken—””Quit ruining my song,” Raheem

said.Farah pouted. “Oh, come on. I’m just

trying to—””Don’t.””Okay then, sing.””I’m not

singing. That’s the lead singer’s job. Not the


sing to her feet, Farah clapped her hands to

gain everyone’s attention. “Ladies and

gentlemen, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a

little background music, would you?””Farah,

what are you doing?” Raheem whispered

between clenched teeth.Farah played deaf.

Lighting up her face with an enchanting

smile, she pulled in her observers. “With us

here is a rockstar who’s dying to share his

music. He represents a male fronted rock

band called ‘Impaling Sedation’. Will you

deny him a chance to sing? Please put your

hands together if you want to witness this

live showtoday when it’s free.”A roar of

applause followed Farah’s request.

Energized, by the encouraging noise, she

introduced in a full bloom scream, “Give it

up for…Ra-Heeeeem!”She gestured at

Raheem and winked at him. Raheem

swepthis eyes around the room. He held

everyone’s attention.Whimpering, he

bounced in his seat. Farah giggled. My sixth

sense told me she’d kicked him. If he didn’t

get up and feed the crowd with quality

music, she would definitely kick him again. I

could tell from the look on her face.‘Please

don’t disappoint, please don’t disappoint,’ I

chantedto myself.Raheem rose to his feet

and waved at the crowd.”I’ll…uhm…I’ll go

grab my guitar.”The audience seemed to be

okay with his hurried departure. Either that,

or they didn’t want to watch him, but didn’t

want to make Farah feel bad.***”What if he

doesn’t come back?” I asked. For the past

five minutes, I’d been staring at the

door.”You shouldn’t worry,” Farah said. “He

wouldn’t want to miss this, trust me. He

loves performing.”Stella tilted her head

toward the door. “There he is.”With an

electric guitar strapped to him, Raheem

strode back into view. Strumming his guitar,

he sauntered towards the counter, his

temporary stage.”Can you heal my heart,” he

sang. His voice brimmed with colorless

emotions, causing my heart to sink. “It’s

bleeding.”More than half of the audience

held their phones in the air, recording the

live show. Now more than ever, I wished I

had a phone.Raheem clutched his guitar as

though it were the most important thing in

the world; as though his life depended on it.

Squeezing his eyes shut and flinging his

head backward, he strummed his guitar,

sending off a haunting echo of his song’s

intro. Was he in pain?Working a magic I

couldn’t fathom, he switched his guitar

notes from painfully quiet to one I could

almost dance to. Ilistened intently to the

lyrics as he sang on, faster this time:Can

you heal my heartIt’s bleedingCan you fix my

soulIt’s brokenThe intensity of his voice

awed me into breathlessness. His eyes

settled on me, hitting me full force with the

bitter emotions behind them. His song had

me thinking. Who had broken his heart?Can

you feel this deep despairA void in my

chestWhere I once had a heartUntil you

came alongRipping it with your liesWith your

lies”Wow,” Stella said. “He is just…

Wow.””His voice,” I said. “It’s so

intense.””He’s my personal Oliver Sykes!”

Farah said. “Doesn’t he remind you of

him?””Never heard of him,” I said.Farah

seemed stunned. “You don’t know Bring me

the Horizon? He’s the band’s lead singer.”I

wanted to believe Raheem had just

composed his song without anyone in mind.

But the pain evident in his voice led me to

the other possibility; that he’d written this

for agirl he used to love.”Raheem’s song,

what’s it called?” I asked.”With your lies,”

Farah said.”It’s a sad song,” I said. There.

The perfect bait. If he’d written the song for

someone, Farah would tell me.”It sure is,”

Farah said, watching the stage. Moments

passed, and she said nothing.I didn’t want to

come off as nosy, but I had to get Farah to

tell me. It probably didn’t matter if he’d

written the song for someone, but I had to

know. “Who’s it for?””Jameela,” she said.

She seemed to have been expecting my

question. “She used to be their lead singer.

She had a thing for Raheem. But then, there

was Austin, a transfer student. At first,

Raheem kept his distance because he

thought Austin and Jameela were an

item.”My mind filtered Farah’s last sentence,

and chose to revolve around the first two

words. At first. At first, Raheem kept his

distance. At first. This only meant he didn’t

succeed in the end.”But she said they were

just friends,” Farah continued.”Everyone

thought it best for Raheem to go for it.

When I say everyone, I mean me, mum, and

the other band members, who were at that

time his only friends. As for dad, he was just

indifferent about the whole thing. Well

anyway, it turned out that Jameela wasn’t

the angel we thought her to be. She and

Austin were an item, and we only found out

when he confronted Raheem, which had a

very ugly end. He started a very scary fight

that led to him being suspended, and

Raheem expelled. Jameela didn’t know how

to face Raheem after that, and so she left

the band. That was how he came up with

the song. With your lies. He never had a

chance to perform it, though. The war came

along.”“With your lies,” Raheem concluded,

his voice barely a whisper. He bowed at the

overly excited crowd slamming their palms

together with beaming faces.I joined in the

applause. “He’s good at what he

does.””More, more, more!” a kid

squealed.”Sing us another song,” a man

said.”Okay,” Raheem said. “I’m singing just

one more. For the kid. This one is called

‘Highway to Yesterday.’””This is my favorite

Impaling Sedation song,” Farah said.”You

are so going to love this one, guys.”As long

as it didn’t involve some girl from Raheem’s

past, I sure would.And I did love it.Drawn by

Raheem’s song, a crowd streaked in through

thedoor, doubling the audience. They

bobbed their heads up and down as they

watched him use his voice to the fullest.

Girls screamed out in sheer excitement as

he stomped and staggered. This part made

me scowl. Rockstar Raheem had killer

moves. But did the girls have to be so

obvious about it?Raheem sang on,

strumming hard, unleashing all his pent up

anger on the guitar. His dramatic picking

made the crowd cheer even wilder. It

stunned me how an orderly group of people

had morphed into an uncontrollable,

noisycrowd.Raheem sang the chorus for the

third time. Everyone sang along as though

they’d known the song all their lives.I did

too.At the end of the chorus, Raheem

strummed even harder, spinning his head

around in circles wild enough to break

abone or two. Moves like this deserved the

‘kids, do not try this at home’ caption.I

feared for his neck. An end to his head

banging session made me release the

breath I’d been holding. I’d expected him to

show a sliver of fatigue after rotating his

head so fiercely. But he went on just

fine.”Incredible!” I cried out.For a dramatic

effect, Raheem threw his guitar in the air.

My breath caught as I watched it flip right

back into position. I wished this show could

go on forever. But just like every other good

thing, it ended. Jumping to my feet, I joined

the crowd in a thunderous applause.An

outrageous crowd of Raheem’s new fans—

most of which were girls—closed in on him,

blocking him out of sight.”What are they

doing?” I asked.”The expected,” Farah said.

“They are no doubt taking his number so

they can be present at his next show.””Will

there be a next?” I asked.”Didn’t you see the

look on his face?” she asked. “I’m sure he

can’t wait to do this all over again!”Staring

at Raheem’s fans, Stella said to Farah, “If

Raheem lives through this, tell him we

enjoyed his show.”Farah’s face dulled as

she watched Stella signal the waiter.

“You’re leaving?””Yeah,” Stella said.”You’ll

be in school on Monday, right?” I

asked.Farah sighed. “I’ll try.”The waiter

strode to us, his well-trimmed smile still on

his face. He received our bill from Stella

and made to speak, but she beat him to it.

“Keep the change.””You are so kind,” he

said. “I hope you enjoyed dining here.””Why,

yes we did,” Stella said.The waiter directed

his attention to Farah. “Thank you forthe

quality entertainment you initiated. Our

customers are extremely satisfied today. I’m

sure the manager will seek to hire him. He’s

a fine young man.””He sure is,” Stella said.

We simultaneously vacated our seats.

Waving Farah goodbye, we made for the

exit.I turned around to cast Raheem one

last glance, and perhaps wave him goodbye,

but his fans had built a solid wall around

him. Sighing, I walked away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *