Thu. Jul 11th, 2024

Freedom

.

Continues.

“I’ll schedule a consultation and hire the

right attorney so we can start the court

procedure for child custody.”

***

Something had awakened me. I’d heard a

sound other than the pitter-patter of rain.

Wide-eyed, I listened for it. Moments

passed and it never came. Perhaps I’d been

dreaming.

The book I’d been reading fell off my chest

as I rolled to my side. I slipped my phone

from underneath my pillow. I still couldn’t

believe I had a phone. If this was a dream, I

didn’t want to wake up. Amarachi and Flora

would be so thrilled to have my number.

The time read 2:48. Sliding my phone

underneath the pillow, I lay back in bed,

hoping to get some more sleep. And then I

heard it. The sound that had awakened me.

Amidst the heavy rainfall, something

whimpered. I bolted to my feet and raced to

the windows.

Our animal guest crept beside the wall

opposite my room. It shivered in the cold

rain, whimpering with each step it took. My

stepmother couldn’t stand animals. But I

couldn’t leave the dog to die in the cold. I

would never forgive myself.

How had it gotten in anyway? If Cynthia had

brought it in, then wouldn’t it be in her

room? If neither of us had brought it in,

then it must have dashed in when Cynthia

opened the gate for her mother.

Without a second thought, I sprinted to the

backyard. Ice-cold rain whipped hard,

drenching me in a split second. My teeth

clattered, forming a beat I could almost

dance to, and despite all efforts, I could not

make it stop. I wrapped my arms around

myself and advanced toward my new friend,

but it scooted away from me.

“I’m a friend,” I said.

The dog stared at me as though trying to

decipher if I could be trusted. I held out one

hand. And the other. I placed one foot

forward. And then the other. The dog

stiffened. It let me scoop it into my arms.

I clutched the adorable puffball to my chest.

It nestled in my arms as though we were old

friends.

“There now,” I said. “You’re safe.”

With my new friend in my arms, I made for

my room. But I’d only arrived at the dining

when the door leading to my stepmother’s

side of the house flew open. I crossed to

the other side of the dining, eyes roaming

in search of the perfect hiding place for

Bruno.

Bruno. That would be his name during his

stay here. He stared back at me, his wide

eyes telling me he perceived a threat.

“Who’s there?” my stepmother asked from

the passageway. Her footsteps approached,

forcing me to hide Bruno behind thick

curtains.

“Don’t move.” Whirling around, I stepped

away from the curtains. My stepmother

walked into view, her face darkening at the

sight of me.

Glaring at my soaking-wet nightgown and

the water dripping on the floor, she

scrunched up her nose. “What nonsense is

this?”

“I will mop the floor,” I said.

She rolled her eyes and turned to leave, but

then she pinched her nose and looked back

at me. “What smells like wet dog in here?”

I shrugged.

“Go back to bed, mum,” Cynthia said. She’d

walked in a moment ago. “I’m sure it’s

nothing but her filth.”

My stepmother sniffed. “Goodness. How can

a human being smell like wet dog? There’s

nothing I won’t see in this—” A sneeze

pushed through. Without another word, she

stormed off, slamming the passage door.

“Where is it?” Cynthia asked.

“What?” I asked.

“The dog, you idiot.”

I feigned innocence. “Dog?”

Her gaze fell to the floor. I froze as she

traced the pattern I’d made with drops of

water. It led her right to Bruno. Scooping

him into her arms, she cradled him.

“Nice doggy doggy,” she petted, her voice

like a child’s. “Look how wet you are. Poor

thingy. Will take care of you, love.”

All smiles, I watched her leave. I knew

without a doubt she’d take good care of

Bruno. He would be fine.

***

I awakened to a hysterical scream of my

stepmother. My heart thumped hard against

my chest. Had someone broken into the

house? Jumping out of bed, I dashed out of

the room and into the passageway where

the scene unfolded.

Cynthia clutched a whimpering Bruno to her

chest. My stepmother lunged at Bruno, but

Cynthia scooted to the other end of the

passageway.

“Mum, stop it,” she cried.

“Get this filthy thing out of this house this

instant!” my stepmother said. “Who brought

it in anyway?”

“I did,” Cynthia said. “He was going to die

in the cold outside, so I brought him in.

Mum, please, don’t ask me to send him

away. I’ve always wanted to have a dog.”

“That is not happening!” my stepmother

said. “Not under my roof. Do you know how

dangerous these things are? Look how

you’re cradling that dirty creature.”

“He isn’t dirty,” Cynthia said. “I had him

shower.”

“That’s enough now!” my stepmother said.

“Enough of this insanity.”

“Mum, please—”

“Mum is right,” I said. “It wouldn’t be right

to keep Bruno. His family must be looking

for him. We have to return him after

school.”

“You, shut up!” Cynthia said. “You have

absolutely no right to tell me what I can and

can’t do. Do you understand?”

She turned to look at her mum. “Mum—”

“Do as you wish,” her mother said. “But if I

get bored and something happens, don’t

blame me.”

“Thank you, mum,” Cynthia squealed.

“Thank you so so much. I love you. I know, I

just know it that you’ll love Bruno, and

maybe then you’ll think about buying me my

own pup.”

***

My stepmother’s warning resounded in my

head. But if I get bored and something

happens, don’t blame me.

Cynthia should have paid attention to that

warning. She obviously didn’t think her

mum would do anything to hurt Bruno. I

wanted to share her faith, but I just

couldn’t. My stepmother would get bored

and something would happen to Bruno.

Sat with Amarachi, Flora, Mary and Farah at

our lunch table, I barely even heard a word

from their conversation. I could not get my

mind off Bruno.

“Earth to Victoria,” Farah said. “Are you

even listening to us?”

“I guess,” I said.

Amarachi sighed. “She’s been like this all

morning.”

“Are you alright?” Mary asked.

“Yes.” I stared at her, noting how Raheem

had overcrowded my friend-circle with his

family. I’d been surprised to see her walk to

our table.

“She’s thinking of Bruno,” Amarachi said.

“Who’s the dog?” Farah asked nonchalantly.

Silence greeted her question. “Sorry. Is it a

human being? I’m sorry. It’s that dogs are

called Bruno, so I just thought—”

Amarachi giggled. “Bruno is a dog.”

“So what’s the story?” Mary asked.

“He was shivering in last night’s cold rain,”

I said.

“Yesterday’s rain was cold enough to wake

up one’s dead grandma.” Once again,

silence followed Farah’s words. Punctuating

the silence, Mary and Amarachi burst out

laughing. Flora and I fought to resist the

contagious laughter, but luck eluded us.

“So, about Bruno,” Mary said.

“I brought him in,” I said. “But mum doesn’t

like dogs. And she gave us a very unsettling

warning.”

Coloring her voice with a dramatic evil,

Amarachi said, “If I get bored and

something happens, don’t blame me.”

“Wow,” Farah said. “That woman is so

scary. What does she look like?”

“Farah!” Mary warned.

“The person you’re calling is currently

busy,” Farah said, winking at Mary. Mary

shook her head, and although she tried to

fight it, a smile stretched her lips.

Farah returned her attention to me. “You

best take that warning seriously. Who

knows, you could return home to find poor

Bruno hacked into bloody little bits. Poor

poor doggy. At least you can’t say she

didn’t warn you.”

Farah’s perception of my stepmother had a

striking resemblance with Amarachi’s. My

gaze darted between the two girls. I had a

feeling they would be great friends.

***

I spent the rest of the day with Amarachi

and Flora, giving Raheem close to no

chance to steal away a glance. I’d told them

about his proposal. Amarachi seemed more

than excited to keep me away from him,

although she believed in the end I would

give up on keeping him at arm’s length.

Once the closing bell rang, Amarachi and

Flora guarded me to our car. Raheem stared

from the top floor. His wounded look aimed

to make me feel sorry.

Thoughts of him crowded my mind. Only

when I arrived home did I remember Bruno.

I would find a way to sneak him out of the

house. That way, he would be safe. Cynthia

would hate me for it, but I didn’t have a

choice, did I?

“No!” Cynthia’s scream cut through me like

a sword. I bolted in the direction of her

voice and found her sitting on the kitchen

floor with a mass of fur in her arms. Bruno.

I drew nearer to the scene. “What

happened?”

Tears spilled out of Cynthia’s eyes as she

cradled Bruno’s limp body. My eyes

adjusted to a half-eaten loaf of bread lying

across the floor. And then it hit me. Bruno

had been poisoned. How could my

stepmother have done this?

Tears flooding my eyes, I sprinted to my

room and slammed the door behind me.

Flaring voices sailed to my hearing.

Cynthia’s and her mother’s. Cynthia’s

brittle voice rose and fell with every word

she said. I reached for my phone and called

Stella. She rejected my call and called back

almost immediately.

My sniffle caught her attention. “Vicky,

what’s wrong?”

“She’s killed him,” I said. “She killed Bruno.

I should have taken him out of the house

when I left for school. If I had, none of this

would have happened.”

“Calm down, please,” she said. “I can barely

even get a word you said. Try to calm down

and tell me what happened. In.”

I inhaled.

“And out. Now, tell me what happened.”

“Remember the dog I brought in last night?”

I asked.

“Yes.”

“Stepmother killed him,” I said.

Stella gasped. “What do you mean she

killed him?”

“She poisoned him. I just feel so terrible.”

“Victoria, this is serious. Anyone who kills

an innocent little puppy is capable of killing

a human being! Now I’m afraid, Vicky. I’m

afraid of what she could do to you. She’s

crazy.”

Regrets flooded my insides. “I shouldn’t

have brought him in. It’s all my fault.”

“Shh. Hush now. Don’t blame yourself. It’s

not your fault. The dog snuck in when

Cynthia opened the gate for your

stepmother. And then you brought him

indoors to save him from the cold. You did

your part, Victoria. Don’t let anyone make

you regret your fine works.”

“I’m just so broken right now,” I said. “Why

did she do this?”

“You’ve seen what she did to Bruno,” Stella

said. “Now we know what she’s capable of.

What if she did that to you?”

“I thought of that too,” I said. “But she

wouldn’t—”

“Well, we won’t wait to find out. There’s no

way I’m letting you stay with that woman.”

“What? Are you implying I leave? But you

said it yourself that you wouldn’t let me

leave this house to them.”

“You’re not leaving the house,” she said.

“You’re only going away for a few days.

Just until I think of something. That woman

has to pay for her crimes. I told you from

the start that justice must be served, but

you’re bent on making her accept you as a

daughter. That will never happen. Do you

see it now? You want a chance for love, but

with her, the only realistic thing you can

hope for is a chance for death. Do you not

see this?”

I kept mum. Stella sighed, breaking through

the silence. “Victoria, do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

“Then you must do as I say,” she said.

***

Doing as Stella said involved leaving for

school the next day with a few clothes

packed in my bag. I did just so. Uncertainty

coursed through my veins at the sound of

the closing bell. Was I ready to leave my

family behind? Stella believed this to be for

the best, and Amarachi thought no different.

From the corridor, I watched Cynthia leave.

My heart swelled with a longing for home. I

couldn’t do this. I couldn’t leave my family.

I’d tell Stella. She would surely understand.

I turned to leave, but found myself facing

Sir Aaron.

“I know you’re conflicted about this,” he

said. “But it’s only for a few days. At least,

till Stella and I put things in order.”

“How?” I asked.

He smiled in a way that brought my father

to mind. “That’s my job and Stella’s. Your

job is to seek happiness. Can you do that

for yourself?”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s a good girl. Come now, I have to

finish up with my work. It’ll only take a

minute or two.”

Sir Aaron’s ‘a minute or two’ translated into

an hour or two. Watching him attend to

paperwork made my eyes droop. I pulled

Stella’s Robber’s Heart out of my bag and

flipped to page sixty where I stopped. I read

through four pages, and Sir Aaron’s ‘a

minute or two’, counted on.

“Five minutes and I’m done,” he said.

That would mean five hours. But this time,

he kept to time. It felt awkward following

him to his car. He didn’t seem to notice my

discomfort. Either that, or he was a great

actor.

We got into the car and he pulled out of the

lot, his pace noticeably slower than

Raheem’s. Being with him brought a new

kind of feeling to my body; a bold mix of

fear and the promise of relief.

I looked down at the book on my laps, my

new companion. But Sir Aaron interrupted

me before I could even take in one

paragraph. “What did they do with the

body?”

“What body?” The answer hit me once the

question left my lips. Bruno. “I don’t know.

Stepmother and Cynthia disposed of it. I’m

thinking they buried him somewhere.”

“Or tossed him in the trash somewhere,” he

said. “Why, it’s possible. I doubt that

stepmother of yours would trouble herself

by digging him a grave.”

An image of a decomposing Bruno lying in

the trash raked into the walls of my chest. I

turned away, willing this image away. I

wanted to believe Cynthia had forced

Bruno’s murderer to honor him by burying

him. But the more I thought of it, the more

I thought of his corpse being exposed to

defilement.

“You’re a strong one,” Sir Aaron

commended. “You go through a lot, and yet

you wear a smile and act like everything is

fine.”

“I learned to cope,” I said.

“That’s a fine skill. Holding your head under

water and still breathing fine.”

“Thank you.”

After a moment of silence, he asked, “Are

you nervous about meeting my family?”

“Yes, sir,” I admitted.

“You shouldn’t be.”

“How many kids do you have?”

“Three. Bolaji is the eldest. He’s not home

at the moment. He’s studying Medicine in

Uniport, and so, he stays at Choba. You

know, distance and all. And then there is

Sharon. She’s done with high school, but

hasn’t gained admission yet. I know you’ll

get along just fine. Although, I must say,

she’s obsessed with being neat. Can’t stand

a small stain on her cloth. Washes her bed

sheets and towels every week. She won’t

have a handshake unless she’s sure you

just stepped out of the shower, or used a

hand sanitizer. And then she always carries

with her a hand sanitizer. And finally,

there’s your namesake. Vicky. She’s only

eight, but she’s a handful. Looks just like

her mother.”

“Your family is adorable,” I said.

He smiled. “Wait till you meet them. You’ll

feel so at home, you’ll see.”

I’d feel so at home. Although he’d aimed at

helping me relax with those words, he

achieved the exact opposite. But I wouldn’t

bare his failure to him. The thought of

feeling at home in Sir Aaron’s house

frightened me. What if I felt so at home

that I forgot my family and wished to belong

here instead? Wouldn’t that count as

betrayal?

“Daddy!” a little girl screamed, bursting out

of Sir Aaron’s house. “Daddy! Daddy!”

She flung herself at Sir Aaron and wrapped

him in a bear hug.

“How are you?” Sir Aaron asked.

“I’m fine!” the girl, Vicky said.

Emotions swirled within me as I watched

them. They brought to mind the great

relationship I had had with my dad.

I missed him. At first I’d thought the wound

of his departure would heal, but it never

did. And now, seeing the love between Sir

Aaron and his daughter had just reminded

me of my hurt, and how ruthlessly life had

cheated me.

Looking away from the tear-triggering sight,

I led my eyes to the house before me. It

didn’t compare to the mansion I lived in,

but it held an air of love around it. It felt

like home.

“Where’s Sharon?” Sir Aaron asked. “I

brought you guys a new friend.”

“A new friend!” Vicky said. “Cooool!” She

hopped to me and took my hand. “Hello. I’m

Victoria. But everyone calls me Vicky.”

I smiled at her. “I am Victoria.”

“Great! Dad, she has my name. Come, mum

would be so glad to meet you!”

Before I could protest, she dashed toward

the house, pulling me with her. For a child,

she had some unbelievable strength.

“Mummy, daddy brought a friend for me!”

She made to step into the house, but I

didn’t follow.

“My shoes,” I said.

She gave me a moment to kick off my

shoes. In seconds, I found myself in the

kitchen. A woman turned to look at me. She

held a spoon she’d been using to stir. From

the scent wafting through the air, I

recognized the food-in-progress to be

vegetable soup. Dad’s favorite.

“Good evening ma,” I said.

“Good evening dear,” Mrs. Aaron said. “You

must be Victoria.”

“Yes ma.”

“My husband has told me so much about

you. It’s great to finally meet you. You must

be starving. Food should be ready before

you’re done showering.” To Vicky, she said,

“Vicky, show her to the room.”

Returning her attention to me, she said,

“You’ll be sharing a room with my

daughters. Vicky will show you to the room

so you can freshen up. I’m sure Sharon’s

clothes will fit you just fine.”

“I brought a few clothes,” I said.

Mrs. Aaron gaped at my backpack. “What?

In that little bag of yours or there’s a

suitcase?”

A suitcase? Would I be staying here

forever?

She waved off my unasked question. “Never

mind me. Oh, anyway, you can always try

Sharon’s clothes. She’ll be pleased to

share.”

“Come on,” Vicky said. All smiles, she ran

past me and flung open the door to a room.

She grabbed a pillow and approached

Sharon who lay asleep in bed. Before I

could protest, she slammed into her with

the pillow.

“Wake. Up. You. Sleepy. Head.” With every

word, she slammed the pillow into her.

Sharon grunted. “Vicky, allow me to sleep!”

“No I won’t,” Vicky said. “Wake up this

instant!”

Groaning, Sharon dug her face into the

pillow underneath her head. She crushed

her fist into the wall and leapt to her feet.

“You’re dead!”

Vicky screamed and giggled as Sharon

dashed after her. She leapt behind me and

gripped me for shelter. “Ogre,” she said,

jumping and giggling. “Ogre! Ogre!”

I couldn’t help but share Vicky’s

excitement. Frozen in her tracks, Sharon

took a few moments to smoothen her

disarrayed hair. “Hi, Victoria.”

“Hi,” I said back.

“I swear, had you not been here, I’d have

tickled her to death for interfering with my

sleep,” Sharon said. “I was even dreaming

and she just interrupted it like that. Can you

imagine?”

“What were you dreaming of?” I asked.

She waved off my question. “Speaking of it

will only break my heart.”

“That heart has been broken over and over

again,” Vicky said. “I wonder how it still

works.”

“Vicky, I don’t have strength for you,”

Sharon said.

Vicky detached her hands from me. Her

fading footsteps told me of her exit. Sharon

seemed pleased.

“Come in,” she said, heading for the bed on

which she’d slept. Her reflection in the

mirror caught her eye. Picking a hair brush

from the closet, she kept each strand of

hair in place.

Just as I made to sit on the second bed,

Sharon turned around with a shriek that

almost split my eardrums. “No no! Don’t!”

I held my awkward position for a moment

before straightening my spine. My face

contorted into a grimace.

“Go shower first,” she said. “You’re all

sweaty right now.”

Had I not been warned beforehand of her

obsession with neatness, I would have taken

offence. But now, I could only find it

intriguing.

Moments later, freshened up and clad in a

jean skirt and pink t-shirt, I stepped out of

the bathroom to find a pair of slippers at

the door.

“I wouldn’t want your feet to get dirty,”

Sharon said. She didn’t look away from the

game she played on her laptop.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Mum came a moment ago to tell you

food’s ready,” she said. Too engrossed in

her game, she didn’t notice my departure.

Neither did she notice my presence fifteen

minutes later.

I plopped down in the unoccupied bed and

busied myself with Stella’s Robber’s Heart.

 

More stories @ www.chorusman.com

 

I’d barely even finished one page when

Sharon paused her game. The sudden

quietness forced me to look at her. Laying

in bed and propped up on an elbow, she

stared at me.

“I didn’t even notice you were back,” she

said.

“I didn’t want to interrupt your game,” I

said. “What game is that?”

“Fast and Furious. I doubt you know it.

You’re not allowed to watch TV anyway. But

don’t worry. You’re here now. You’ll get all

the love you’ve been deprived of.”

It felt awkward knowing Sir Aaron had told

his entire family of my misery. But with

Sharon’s sweetness, who could dwell on a

thing like that?

“Wow,” Sharon said. “I can’t believe I

haven’t even told you my name. I’m—”

“Sharon,” I said.

“Ah! I see someone’s been talking about

me. What did dad tell you? I’m dying to

know everything!”

“He said you’re done with high school.”

“What else? I hope he mentioned my

supposed obsession, because only then

would you be able to stand my personality. I

mean, some people take me for a proud

person. But that’s not what you think, is

it?”

“Of course not,” I said. “I think it’s

adorable.”

She grinned. “Adorable. I’m adorable.” She

sat up and leaned toward me as though

wanting to peer into my mind. “Hey, tell me

something. Do you think the Iraqi Sherlock

Holmes likes you? I mean, from what I’ve

heard, he’s allergic to humans, mostly the

ones wearing skirt. But then, he didn’t mind

spending time with you in the name of

solving a case. What’s your take on this?”

“Where do you get your news from?” I

asked.

“Why? Are you stunned about how reliable

my source is?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I know it isn’t Sir

Aaron. No, it has to be a student.”

“Of course it is. But I won’t tell you who.”

She stuck out her tongue.

“It’s a girl?” I asked.

“Not telling you.”

“Oh, please. Come on!”

“No way on earth am I.”

“You have to tell me. If transporting you to

Mars is the only way, so be it.”

Sharon giggled at my hopeless threat.

“Guess what else the person told me.”

“What?”

She grinned. “You are to Raheem what

Juliet is to Romeo.”

“No,” I said. “That’s the sickest thing I’ve

ever heard.”

“Really?”

“Really, it’s totally wrong.”

“Oh, but the look on your face tells me

otherwise.”

A smile stretched my lips, making it

impossible to hold Sharon’s gaze. She

smiled knowingly as I averted my eyes.

“You’re only imagining things,” I said.

“Besides, Raheem would never look at me

that way. And even if he did, I wouldn’t be

ready to play ‘Juliet’ just yet. It’s a really

challenging role.”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, about the case you

solved, my dad is really proud of you. And I

am too. Ever since, I’ve been dying to meet

you, and now here we are.”

“I shouldn’t receive any credit. Raheem did

all the work.”

“Yeah, right.” After a moment, she added,

“Hey, you’re so easy to talk to. I feel like

I’ve known you all my life.”

“I was about to say the exact same thing,” I

said.

“If only we attended the same school, we’d

have been great friends. But I never even

thought of Western High, because the fee is

just too much. It’s more than hundred times

the fees in the school I attended. No

kidding. You can compute it yourself. Mine

was twenty eight thousand per term.

Highest was thirty four. At least, writing my

WAEC in SS2 has helped save one year’s

worth of fees, thank goodness.”

Our conversation went on till darkness

conquered daylight. At one point, I’d even

convinced her to give Stella’s Robber Heart

a chance. Going through my phone, she

found a video of Raheem’s live show I’d

downloaded from YouTube.

“This guy is bomb!” she said.

“There’s more to him than meets the eye,” I

said.

“I’m turning on my Xender. That video

needs to be on my phone!”

I shared the video via Xender. Sharon

cranked up her volume as she played the

video. “When’s his next performance? I

wouldn’t forgive myself if I missed it!”

“I don’t know when,” I said.

“Are you for real? Call him right now and

ask him.”

“I don’t have his number.”

“What? Why?”

“We aren’t exactly friends. We were only

partners in crime solving. And that’s that. I

think now we’re back to being strangers.” A

wistful look crept to my face.

“You’re okay with this?” she asked.

“Returning to being strangers when there’s

a great possibility of a wonderful

friendship?”

“Actually, I’m the one avoiding him. I don’t

think he wants friendship. He—”

“You see! I told you!” Sharon’s piercing

voice could slice through rock. “My source’s

right. There’s a modern-day Romeo and

Juliet in the making.”

“No,” I said. “That’s not even it. He has a

very wrong view of girls. He thinks we’re all

the same. And now he wants me to prove

that not every girl is the same.”

Her smile said she’d seen this coming.

“That is him asking you on a date, my

friend. His way, though, is…wow. Don’t say

yes, though. If he wants you to date him,

he’ll have to drop his ego and ask you

directly. We won’t accept anything less than

that.”

“We?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “We are a team. High

five?”

The door cracked open and Mrs. Aaron

stepped in. “Dinner’s ready.”

“One moment, mum,” Sharon said.

“I don’t think I’ll be having dinner, ma,” I

said to Mrs. Aaron. “I ate barely two hours

ago. I am still full.”

“Sweetheart, I have already dished out your

food,” she said. “So please, come and eat.

You don’t have to finish everything on the

plate.”

“Sorry, my friend,” Sharon said. “But here,

we make sure to have three square meals.

No less.”

Walking away, Mrs. Aaron said, “I didn’t

cover anybody’s food o.”

“Oh poo!” Sharon sprang to her feet. “You

should have said so earlier, mum. Thanks,

mum! Just thanks!”

Sharon fled to go attend to her uncovered

food. I made to follow, but my ringing

phone held me back.

I answered Stella’s call with a smile. “Hi.”

“Hey, what’s up?” she said. “You’re all

good, I hope.”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“Perfect. And your new home? I hope you

feel at home.”

“I do. They’re lovely. Thank you so much

for helping me.” I wished she were here so

I’d hug her.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You have to do

something for me in return, though.”

Words failed me. What would she have me

do?

“Are you there?” she asked.

“Y-Yes.”

“Okay. I was saying you’ve got to do

something for me in return.”

“Okay.”

“Be happy,” she said. “Can you do that for

me?”

As simple as her request sounded, we both

knew happiness was the number one

emotion that eluded me. But for her, I

would try to find a place for it in my gloomy

life.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s a good girl,” she said. “I just wanted

to know how you’re doing. I’ll call you later.

Take care.”

She ended the call. I placed my phone

beside my pillow and made for the dining,

but an ongoing conversation stole my

attention.

“What do you think of her?” Sir Aaron’s

voice sailed amidst the clatter of cutlery.

Careful not to make any noise, I stood

beside the wall, and thankfully, my shadow

hid beside me. Entering the dining would

bring their conversation to a halt, and I

didn’t want that just yet.

“I like her,” Vicky said. “She’s nice.”

“We got along just fine,” Sharon said.

“She’s a lot prettier than I thought.”

“She’s okay with your obsessive neatness

disorder?” Mrs. Aaron asked.

“Mum, it’s no disorder,” Sharon said. “It’s

the best way of life. Don’t you see that I

don’t get sick like the rest of you?”

Mrs.Aaron played deaf to Sharon’s

question. “I’m impressed you all like her.

We need to be good to her, okay? She’s

been through a lot. Sharon, you’re a bitter

old maid sometimes, but put that away

while she’s around, okay? She needs a

break from sickening dramas.”

“Mum, I’m not a problem as long as you

give me all the freedom an adult needs.”

“I’ll start treating you like an adult when

you start acting like one.”

“I’m not a kid anymore,” Sharon said.

“Mum! Dad?”

“I’m invisible,” Sir Aaron said. They all

smiled at me as I joined them in the dining.

A plate of fried plantain and fried egg sat

before me.

“Dad, will Victoria return home sometime?”

Vicky asked. “I’m so worried about her.

She’s happy with us. I don’t want her to go

back to that evil woman you told us about.”

“She has a point, dad,” Sharon said. “That

woman is capable of murder.”

“Your mother and I were thinking the very

same thing,” Sir Aaron said. “We have

decided to take custody over her. I’ll

schedule a consultation and hire the right

attorney so we can start the court procedure

for child custody. But first I’ll visit that

woman to tell her of the new turn things

have taken. Victoria will have no more of

her abuse. That woman is crazy! Killing a

pet dog is unthinkable. It shows just how

depraved she is.”

“You’re right,” Mrs. Aaron said. Staring at

me, she went on, “It is not only not in your

best interests but also to your detriment to

be left with your so-called family. They’ve

caused you much harm already. With them,

your physical, emotional, moral, or mental

health is in jeopardy. You are a fine young

lady who needs an appropriate home. I know

our home isn’t much, but we will treat you

right. Things are hard in Nigeria at the

moment, but my children don’t starve. I’m

sure there’ll be enough food for everyone.”

.

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