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“I felt…so bad…about dying without…without

your forgiveness. But now you are here… I

am forgiven. I will die a happy woman.”

***

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Sir

Aaron’s voice breeched through the

awkward silence in the living room.

Although I’d already made known my

decision, every member of his family hoped

I’d change my mind.

It hurt me to disappoint them, but I had to

return home. My stepmother needed me.

“That woman can suffer for all I care,”

Sharon said. “It’s either her wickedness has

finally caught up with her, or she’s faking

it.”

“She’s sick,” I said. “Why would anyone

fake a thing like this?”

“To get what they want,” she said.

Although that seemed possible, my

stepmother would never do a thing like this.

Lie about her own health? Unthinkable.

“I have decided, sir,” I said. “I must be by

her side during this difficult time. You must

think of me as ungrateful now. After

everything you’ve done for me—”

“We don’t,” Mrs. Aaron said. “We just want

to make sure you’re sure about this. This is

what you want? Really?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Very well then,” Sir Aaron said. “Go get

your things ready. I’ll drop you off.”

With no attempt to hide her retort, Sharon

stormed off. Vicky followed right after.

“They fear for you,” Mrs. Aaron said. “They

fear you’re making a huge mistake and you

just don’t see it. Although I feel the same

way, I cannot stop you from leaving. It is

your choice. I just hope you aren’t walking

into a trap. May the good Lord be with you.

Go well.”

“Thank you, ma.” I headed for the room and

found Sharon arranging my belongings in my

bag. Perched on the bed, Vicky hugged a

pillow.

“You amaze me,” Sharon said without

looking up to acknowledge my presence.

“How can you still think of that woman after

everything?”

“She is still family,” I said.

“Family my foot,” she said. “I don’t know

what kind of heart you have, but this act of

yours is something I’d never do. If I were in

your shoes I’d leave her to die in her evil.”

Done arranging my bag, she presented it to

me. “As much as I don’t agree with this, I

can’t stop you.”

Tossing her pillow to the bed, Vicky sprang

to her feet and crossed the room to meet

me. She threw her tiny arms around me in a

heart-wrenching embrace. “Don’t go.

Please.”

“Vicky—” I said.

Sobbing, she tightened her arms around me.

“Tell me you won’t go, please.”

“Vicky, my mum is very sick,” I explained.

“Wouldn’t you do the same if it were your

mum?”

“If it were my mum, I would,” Sharon said.

“But it’s not your mum. It’s your evil

stepmother.”

“Why are stepmothers so evil?” Vicky

asked, pulling away from the embrace.

Sharon made an ugly face. “Because they

are hideous creatures. They’re ogres.”

“Eeeew,” Vicky said. “Like Shrek?”

“Yup,” Sharon said.

Vicky’s face contorted as though she’d

smelled a decomposing rat. She cupped a

palm over her crinkled nose. “Eeeew. She’s

so disgusting.”

Sharon made a face and pinched her nose.

“Yeah. Double eeew.”

“Will you come back, Victoria?” Vicky

asked. “Ogres are bad. They crush bones to

make bread. Fi Fii Fo Fum. I smell the

blood of a Nigerian girl. Be her alive or be

her dead, I’ll crush her bones to make my

bread!”

“I’ll come visit,” I said. “I promise.”

“No, will you come live with us again?” she

asked. “You’re only going to visit the sick

witch, right? You’ll return right after. You

shouldn’t eat anything she gives you. Not

food. Not water. Remember what happened

with Snow White.”

“Are you ready?” Sir Aaron asked from

behind us.

“Yes sir,” I said.

“Well then, let’s go.”

“Wait,” Sharon said. “I should come along

so I’d know the house. I’d love to visit

sometime.”

“Me too!” Vicky said. “Perhaps there are

other people to save from the ogre-witch!”

Sir Aaron grimaced. “Ogre witch? Sharon,

what have you been teaching her?”

“Nothing, dad,” Sharon said. “I’ll go wait

outside.” Humming a tune, she made her

exit.

***

Moments later, all four of us stood in my

stepmother’s room. Paler than she’d ever

been, she lay asleep in bed. Her hair,

hidden behind a hairnet, and her face,

devoid of makeup, told me the intensity of

her deteriorating health. On a normal day,

she would never wear a hairnet during the

day. She would also never fail to apply

layers of makeup on her face.

“She’s asleep,” I said.

“She’s been like this since I returned from

school,” Cynthia said.

“She doesn’t look good,” Sir Aaron said.

“She should be in a hospital.”

“Our family doctor comes to check on her,”

Cynthia explained. “He administered some

medication. He said as long as she doesn’t

think too much, doesn’t overwork herself,

and is well rested, she will be fine.”

In that case, she would be fine soon. With

my presence, she wouldn’t have to think so

much about the child custody request and

the child abuse sentence that possibly

followed. With my presence she wouldn’t

overwork herself. I’d resume responsibilities

as the one who saw to every chore. She

would be well rested. She would be just

fine. I would care for her like I would my

own mother.

“Victoria—?” Excitement flashed in my

stepmother’s half-open eyes. Watching her

struggle to breathe cut through me like a

sword.

“Have you really come to see me, my

daughter?” Her voice had become a shadow

of itself; a raspy death rattle. I didn’t want

this. Where was the energetic woman who

would yell at me without even pausing for a

breath?

“I am here.” Without invitation, I sat beside

her. She smiled at me. How would I respond

to her kindness when I’d already

acclimatized myself to the venom she

spewed at me?

“My daughter,” she said, barely audible.

Taking my hands in hers, she went on, “I

am happy you came…to…to see me. Now I

—” A chesty cough fought to break her.

Sobbing, Cynthia rushed to her side.

“Mummy.”

“Go get water,” I heard Sir Aaron whisper to

either of his children.

“Now you are here,” my stepmother said.

“Now I can die in peace.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched

her struggle for her life. I let them stream

down my cheeks like rivulets. “Don’t say

that. You will not die.”

My stepmother made to speak, but she

coughed so hard, tears sprang to her eyes.

“I don’t know…if I will live to see the next

day. And I felt…so bad…about dying

without…your forgiveness. But now you are

here…I am forgiven. I will die a happy

woman.”

Sharon strolled in with a glass of water. She

handed it over to Cynthia and stepped back

to view the scene from a distance. My

stepmother jerked her head sideways as

Cynthia moved the glass toward her. Water

spilled onto the bed.

“Water is not my problem,” she said.

“Mum, please—” I begged.

She turned to look at me. Her gaze

softened and she allowed Cynthia feed her

the water. I’d never seen her this hurt. The

pain in her eyes brought to mind my

mother. Had her last moment been just like

this? Had she looked so much like death

itself that no one could look at her without

shedding a tear?

Holding my stepmother’s hand, I stared into

her eyes. “You will not die, mum. I will not

lose my mother a second time. You will

fight this and win. Please, live for us. What

will we do without you? Look at Cynthia.

She needs you so much. Please, don’t

speak about death, I beg you. Live for us.”

“How can you still think of me as your

mother?” she asked. “After everything I’ve

done to you, how do you still care for me?”

“Because we are family,” I said. “And family

supports each other. Whatever happened is

all in the past now.”

“This is suicide,” Sir Aaron said. “We have

to get you to a hospital. There, you’ll be

better taken care of. I’ll take you.”

My stepmother’s jaw tightened. Her

narrowed eyes widened, and in that

moment, the dying woman disappeared. In

her place lay the woman I’d known all my

life. “No one is taking me to a hospital. Do

you know how many people die in hospitals

every day? If I am to die, then it is my

dying wish that I spend my last moments in

my house, with my family. No less. But if it

is the will of God that I live through this—”

A fit of cough cut her off. She grabbed the

glass of water from Cynthia and emptied it

into her mouth.

Cynthia pressed down on her chest to

soothe her. “Mummy, please. Calm down.”

“Sir Aaron’s right,” I said. “You have to go

to the hospital—”

“Hospital doesn’t guarantee life,” she said.

 

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“I will not go there.”

“It’s okay if you won’t go,” Cynthia said. “If

she doesn’t want to go, then let’s respect

her decision. The doctor comes to check on

her, so it’s pretty much the same thing.”

“This is suicide!” Sir Aaron said. “And I will

not be a part of it.” His children trailed after

him as he stormed out of the room.

I made to go after them, but my stepmother

gripped my hand. “Stay. Stay here.”

***

Minutes by her side morphed into hours,

and hours into three days of no school.

Cynthia and I almost never left the room.

We stayed by her side, assuring her she’d

be fine. We ensured she took all her

medicine. We watched her sleep, took turns

feeding her, and fell asleep by her side.

Twice daily, Doctor Smart came to check on

her. He assured us she’d be fine. And I

trusted she would.

Stella, Sharon, Amarachi and Flora had

made it a ritual to call me at least twice a

day. With friends like them, I couldn’t wish

for more. It stunned me that Raheem hadn’t

called yet. Why then did he make it seem

like he cared when he didn’t?

These thoughts revolved around my head

and didn’t go away till I’d fallen asleep. For

the first time in close to two weeks, I felt

the comfort of my bed.

Moments later, I awakened to the sight of

my flashing LED notification. Six missed

calls from Amarachi. Four from Stella. Two

from Flora. Thirteen WhatsApp messages

and three text messages. So much for

keeping my phone on silent so I could get

an undisturbed sleep.

A text from Flora read: Raheem says to give

you his number. Misplaced yours. Ring him.

The text ended with Raheem’s mobile

number. I dialed. And in that moment, I

realized I craved to hear his voice. Speaking

to him would not take away my problems,

but it would at least make me feel better.

Or so I hoped.

“Toria?” Raheem’s groggy voice asked.

I cleared my throat. “Hello yourself.”

“It’s been eons,” he said. “I lost your

number.”

I took his words for sorry. “It’s okay.”

“Where are you? Is everything alright? Your

friends won’t tell me what’s wrong. You’ve

been absent for way too long. Your sister as

well. Is everything alright at home?” He

spoke so fast, I didn’t even know how to

construct my response. “Hey?”

“I’m alright,” I said.

“So what’s wrong then?” he asked. “Will you

be in school today?”

“I can’t,” I said. “I have to stay with mum.

She’s terribly sick.”

It took forever for him to respond. “I’m

sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“She’ll be fine,” he said.

“I know.”

“Which hospital is she?” he asked. “I’m

coming over.”

“She’s at home,” I said. “Raheem, I have to

go.”

“Okay.” After a moment, he added, “Stay

safe. Take care of mum and—”

I ended the call before he could say another

word. “I will,” I muttered. “It’s my duty.”

Adding Raheem’s number to my contacts, I

left for my stepmother’s room. She lay

sound asleep in bed. I sat beside her and

tucked a stray lock of hair underneath her

hair net. “How is she?”

“I don’t know if she’s any better,” Cynthia

said, surreptitiously opening the windows.

Her puffy eyes told me she’d been crying all

night.

“You’ve been crying,” I said.

“No,” she said. An obvious lie. “An insect

got into my eye and I kept scratching is all.”

“Cyn, you don’t have to lie to me,” I said.

“What can I do, Victoria?” Her voice wobbled

and I feared mum would awaken to find her

sobbing. “What can I do? I’m so scared.”

“Mum will be fine, I assure you. Everything

will be alright.”

“I hope so. I just hope so.”

A knock at the gate interrupted our

conversation. I rose to my feet. “I’ll get it.”

“No, let me.”

Before I could protest, she walked out of

the room. I smiled at the new turn of

things. My stepmother’s ill health had

brought our family together. For this, she

had to recover. She could not leave now

that things had finally been sorted out

between us. No, she had to live.

Clad in a navy blue long-sleeve and black

pants, Doctor Smart walked in, brandishing

his briefcase.

“Good morning, doctor,” I said.

“Good morning,” he said. “How is she?”

“Same,” Cynthia said from the threshold.

“She will be fine,” Doctor Smart said.

Movement on the bed announced my

stepmother’s awakening. She grunted into

consciousness.

She smiled at Cynthia and I. To Doctor

Smart, she said, “Doctor.”

“How are you?” he asked.

“I think my health is returning to me,” she

said. “The pain in my chest subsides.”

Hope lit within me. Mum would be fine. I

spent the next few hours brandishing this

hope. Her life-force seeped back into her,

and although it was barely noticeable, I did

notice.

Today, I would ask Cynthia to attend

school. While she went to school for the

both of us, I’d take care of mum for the

both of us. Tomorrow, we’d switch places.

We’d take turns going to school, until mum

was strong enough to stay home by herself.

Mum’s recovery seemed closer than ever.

She’d walked around the house today. She’d

engaged me in conversations, and had even

helped prepare lunch.

Sat in bed, I scribbled the first draft of a

story I planned to write. I’d name it Silver

Lining, and would dedicate it to my Fairy

Godmother. Cynthia didn’t seem

comfortable with me writing a story of my

life, but I had already made up my mind. I

would do this. I would start with a prologue,

briefly showing the world my mother’s last

moment on earth. She would grieve over the

end of her life. She would write two letters,

to the people she loved the most, after

which death would whisk her away, paving

way for chapter one. That would start with

me in dad’s funeral, reminiscing over happy

times with him.

‘The end was here.

And Naomi could feel it. Clutching her

newborn to her chest, she conflicted within

herself. She wanted to believe things would

be fine. It was okay to be weak after

childbirth. But she felt much more than this,

and somehow she knew she would soon

fade into nothingness. Her gaze pierced

through the man beside her. Now he

rejoiced over the birth of a child. Soon he

would mourn over the loss of his wife.’

The door cracked open and I shut my book

on impulse. I wouldn’t be comfortable with

someone reading my book in its crudest

form.

Cynthia stepped into the room. “Vicky, you

have a visitor. It’s a friend from school.”

“Tell her to come in.” Preparing to welcome

my guest, I rose to my feet. Who else would

come see me but Amarachi or Flora? But

then, Flora didn’t know where I lived.

Unless Amarachi had given her directions.

Biting back a smile, Cynthia walked out of

sight. Barely a second later, Farah stared at

me from the doorway. A smile tore my lips

apart as she crossed the room to meet me

with a bear hug.

“It’s been ages!” she said. “I’m sorry about

your mum’s health. We came as soon as we

could.”

We? That only meant Raheem had come

along. “Raheem is here?”

“He’s with your mum,” she said.

“Oh no.” What was he thinking, going to see

her? After a lifetime, we’d finally glued our

family together. I didn’t want her having

new reasons to hate me. She’d feel I’d

invited a guy over. How would she react to

this?

With the speed of light, I made for her

room. I hoped to find her asleep so she

wouldn’t have to see him and have a wrong

impression of me.

Giggling, Farah dashed after me. “You’re in

so much hurry to see him. Aren’t you?”

I stepped into the room to find Cynthia,

Raheem, and my stepmother laughing over

a joke I’d come too late to enjoy.

“You really do have a sense of humor,” my

stepmother said between fits of laughter. It

warmed my heart to see her laugh so whole

heartedly. “What’s your name again?”

“Raheem,” Raheem said.

“Who’s the fine young girl?” she asked,

staring at Farah.

Farah smiled. “I’m Farah. I’m his sister.”

“Victoria, you have such great friends,” my

stepmother said. “Imagine, none of Tonye’s

friends have come to see me, but your

friends keep coming.”

“Not even one of your friends have come to

see you,” Cynthia shot back.

“Well, maybe that’s because I haven’t told

them of my ill health.”

“That makes us both, mum. Maybe I

haven’t told mine either?”

Farah chimed into the conversation.

“Actually, you don’t have to tell your friends

anything. Real friends just have to see you

absent for a day or two, and then they come

over.”

“Exactly!” my stepmother said. After a

moment, she added, “I’m sorry my ill health

has forced your friend away for so long. But

I am on the road to recovery. So she will be

with you tomorrow.”

Farah grinned at me. Raheem, on the other

hand, showed no emotions.

“It’s a blessing your health’s returning to

you,” he said.

“I’ll be good as new in no time,” my

stepmother said. “My daughters are my

reason to live. I wouldn’t leave them for

anything in the world. Raheem, I know

you’re probably looking forward to spending

time with your friend. But I’m keeping you

all to myself. I hope you don’t mind my

selfishness.”

“It’s all good, Mrs. Brown,” he said. “I’m

here to see you afterall. I’m sure my friend

can understand that.”

My stepmother’s gaze settled on me. “What

do you see in Victoria?”

“Pardon?” Raheem asked, taken aback by

the question. Her question had knocked me

off balance too.

“I mean…there must be some positive trait

that makes you want to be her friend,” she

explained.

“She makes me want to be a better person.”

Raheem shot me an abrupt stare. Smiling

sheepishly, I looked away.

“She has that ability,” my stepmother said.

“She’s gifted in stealing hearts. And for this

reason, I pray she doesn’t end up trying to

steal the wrong heart someday. I’d be very

much at ease if I knew your intentions for

my daughter. It’s not every day a guy comes

here to show this much care.”

“And it’s not every day you fall sick,”

Cynthia said.

“My dear, I’m sure you don’t understand

where I’m going with this. But trust me.

Nowadays, it’s rare to see a guy want to be

just friends with a girl. I do not want either

of my children to fall into wrong hands.

Neither you nor your sister. She has gone

through a lot already. It would break me if

anyone breaks her. I swear I’ll break the

bones of anyone who tries to add to her

pain.”

“In that case, Mrs. Brown, you don’t have to

worry,” Farah said. “My brother here is ready

to help you break the bones of anyone who

hurts her. Right, Raheem?”

Raheem nodded. Cat got his tongue? I could

tell he shared my discomfort. Farah, on the

other hand, brimmed with sheer excitement.

“You see,” Farah said. “There’s nothing to

worry about.”

“Keep her safe,” my stepmother said to

Raheem.

“I will,” he said.

“Guys, come on,” I said. “It’s not like I’m

going to a battle field or anything.”

“Sweetheart, I wish you could understand

how I feel right now. But you can’t. And I’ll

try to explain it to you. Now, our family is

finally mended. I want to give you

everything you never had. A childhood.

Love. Safety. Even your first love—”

“Mum!” I said.

“Raheem’s a fine gentleman,” she said. “I

trust he’ll make a good friend. So, I

consent.”

Today, mum had given her consent. But to

what? My friendship with Raheem, or a

relationship with him?

.

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