Fri. Feb 9th, 2024




“When I faked that sickness, I had already

resolved in my heart to kill you.”


“Written by Stella Adewale?” Cynthia asked,

picking up Stella’s Robber’s Heart from my

bed. “Isn’t that our school nurse?”

“Yes,” I said. “She writes.”

“Seriously? She doesn’t even look like a

writer. I could never have guessed. What’s

the book about anyway? Let me guess.

Someone falls in love with a thief?”

I nodded. “That’s the plot in one sentence.

It’s a great read. There are many twists to

it. A thief jumps into a compound to steal,

but breaks his leg and is nursed by a little

girl who develops a daughter-father love for

him, and so she hides him in her room, away

from her mum.”

“Does the woman ever get to see him?”

Cynthia asked.

I smiled as I thought back to the slow and

steady relationship building between the

woman and the thief. “Yes. And it’s a very

humorous scene. To please her daughter,

she allows him stay with them till he

recovers. But whenever he’s about to

recover, he breaks his leg all over again, just

so he spends more time with the girl. And

then, for the few weeks it takes for him to

recover, the woman envies the bond he has

with her daughter. And so, it’s as though

they are competing for the girl’s love. The

robber seems to be winning in everything. A

fight between the girl and her mother makes

him feel bad and he sneaks out one night,

never returns. His absence makes him

realize he’s fallen in love with the woman.

And the woman realizes this too.”

Cynthia grinned. I had no idea she fancied

fiction. “What happens next? How does it


“The man is back to being a thief,” I said.

“What?” she asked. “Why?”

“He’d rather return to his old self than be

this love-sick puppy,” I said. “I can’t tell you

more. I am yet to complete the book.”

“I want to read it so bad,” she said. “It’s my

kind of story. Give me when you’re done?


“Deal.” We sealed our deal with a smile. The

door lazied open and my stepmother walked

in with three wine-filled glasses on a tray.

“What are we celebrating?” Cynthia asked,

reading my mind.

My stepmother smiled. As though learning a

pattern, she fixated her eyes on the wine

glasses. “We are a family again. And my

health has returned. This calls for

celebration, doesn’t it?”

“Of course it does,” I said.

Cynthia reached for a wine glass, but my

stepmother sidestepped with such speed

that alerted us. “Mum?”

My stepmother feigned anger. “Do you want

to kill the joy? I’m the only one allowed to


“Oh, sorry,” Cynthia said.

My stepmother’s focus adjusted to Cynthia’s

black dress and her made-up face. “Why are

you all dressed up?”

“Party,” Cynthia said. “A friend’s about to

relocate to France, so we’re hosting a send-

forth party at some club. Didn’t I tell you

about this?”

My stepmother set down the tray on the

bed. “Oh, you did. I forgot. When will you be


“I’ll be back around eleven,” she said. “If I

can’t make it though, I’ll call to tell you not

to expect me. I’d like to take Vicky along.”

“Don’t even think of it!” my stepmother

yelled, a dark shadow creeping to her face.

“Mum, please, calm down,” Cynthia said.

“What’s wrong?”

“Victoria has never been to such parties,”

my stepmother said. “How do you think

she’d handle the boys, the bear and all? I

would never place her in any situation that

could harm her. And besides, I want her

here with me tonight. Or do I not deserve to

have her with me?”

“Mum please don’t talk like that,” I said.

“I’m not going to any party. I’m staying


“Thank you. Now let’s drink to our

happiness.” She fixated her gaze on the

wine. Taking the first glass, she presented it

to Cynthia. “This is yours.”

“Thanks, mum,” Cynthia said.

“And you, my dearest—” She moved her

hand to pick mine, but then she froze, her

palm hovering over the two glasses as

though she were trying to remember

something. Her face contorted with


“Mum?” Cynthia called.

My stepmother clutched her head. “My head

hurts. But neither headache nor any other

intruder can separate me from my share of

happiness. This is yours, dear Victoria.”

Smiling, I gripped my glass. “Thanks, mum.”

My stepmother raised her glass in

salutation. “Let’s toast to our happiness.”

Cynthia and I raised our glasses. “To our

happiness,” we chorused.

Cynthia lowered her glass with a speed that

emptied it of its contents.

My stepmother gasped. “Tonye!”

Cynthia waved off her mother’s worry.

“Mum. I’m fine. Let’s not spoil the fun.”

Turning towards me, she said, “Here, let’s

share yours.”

“No,” my stepmother said. “It’s been years

since we let Vicky drink wine. Let’s allow

her have a full glass. Let’s share mine,


“Mum, I’m sure my sister wouldn’t mind,”

Cynthia insisted. I could see tension rear its

head between them.

“Do not bother the poor girl,” my stepmother

said. “If you won’t share mine, just wait, I’ll

go get another bottle. Is that okay?”

“I’m not considering that option. I’m sure my

sister wouldn’t mind. And no, I insist.”

Cynthia presented her glass, and just as I

made to pour, my stepmother swatted at my

glass. Both glasses hit the floor, spewing

glass fragments and blood-red wine.

“You stupid girl!” my stepmother growled.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve just

done?” Shaking her head, she snapped her

finger at me and stormed out of the room.

Cynthia sank down in the bed and dissolved

into tears. “I can’t believe mum tried to kill

you. I suspected this. I knew it was all too

good to be true.”

Sniffing back her tears, she went on, “I’m so

sorry this happened. She’s hated you all her

life. It was all too suspicious that she loved

you overnight. I always had a bad feeling

about it. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell

you. A part of me said I was jealous and

couldn’t handle having mum’s attention


Moments passed, and I said nothing. “Vicky,

please say something?”

“What can I say?” I asked. “Can you answer

the questions swirling around my head?”

“I know you’re upset,” she said.

“Upset doesn’t cut it. I feel nothing. I should

feel angry, scared, anything at all. But I feel

nothing. Nothing but curiosity. Why would

she do this? I know she hates me to the

moon and back. But kill me? Why? What

would she gain?”

“I don’t know what’s in it for her. And I don’t

want to know. This is just too much. I’m

ashamed of being her daughter. Where has

my mother gone? I do not know the woman

who tried to kill her daughter!”

“You’re forgetting I’m not—”

“Blood be damned,” she said. “Blood or not,

you are my sister. We are family. Or do

these past few days mean nothing to you?

Mum has denied us each other for so long.

Now that I’ve tasted what life is with a

sister like you, I do not want to go back to

the darkness life was without you. I’m going

to talk to mum. If she ever tries to hurt you

again, then she’ll lose us both. If she

doesn’t like you, then fine. I won’t force her

to, but she shouldn’t keep trying to hurt


I watched her storm out of the room, her

blonde wig bouncing behind her. As sincere

as she seemed, I didn’t trust her. What if

she had a hand in her mother’s plan and had

only changed her mind at the last minute?

Grabbing my phone, I dialed Sharon’s

number. She picked up almost immediately.

“Heya. My sister from another mother. How

are you?”

I swiped at my teary eyes. “Do you know if

your parents are still interested in taking

custody over me?

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Did that

woman hurt you? poo! I knew it was all an

act. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“Can you hear yourself? People who are fine

don’t cry like this.”

“I…I miss my mum,” I said.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice had softened


“If your parents will allow me return, I’d like

to come tomorrow,” I said. “I’m so stupid. I

just thought she was really sick and that

she’d changed and—”

“You’re right,” she said. “You’re an idiot. I

don’t want to say I told you so, but did I not

tell you I didn’t believe she was really sick?

And then, when she insisted that she

wouldn’t go to a hospital, it made me even

more convinced. And you just couldn’t see

it. That woman and her daughter are not

related to you in anyway. I wonder how you

are so attached to them. You are strangers

living under the same roof. I should stop

talking now and save the rest for when I see

you in person. When are you coming


Although I hated to admit it, even to myself,

she had a point. “I’ll come once it’s

morning. There’s nothing for me here. I

cannot stay here.”

“You are leaving?” Cynthia stared at me

from the doorway.

“Sharon, we’ll talk later.” I ended the call

and put away my phone.

Unable to hold Cynthia’s gaze, I looked

away. Going away was the best decision I

could ever make. Why then did the wounded

look in her eyes rip out my heart?

“Don’t go,” she said. “Please. I know what

mum did was not right, but please don’t

leave me again. We’ll stand together.”

“Cynthia,I cannot stay,” I said. “I can’t live

like this. This is not the life I want for

myself. I cannot continue in this fight. I give

up. I lose. Your mum wins. Sir Aaron’s

family is ready to accept me as their own.

I’ll be happy there.”

Cynthia’s eyes blurred with tears. It would

be a shame if she smudged her mascara

because of my supposed selfishness. “And

me? You won’t even think about me?”

Nothing would happen to her, and we both

knew that. Or could her mother give her

stone instead of bread and snake instead of


“You will be fine,” I said. “Your mother loves

you so much and you know nothing beats

that. But when it comes to me, she despises

the very sight of me. If you care about me,

then you’ll let me go.”

“I need you,” she said.

“You don’t,” I retorted. “You’ve never

needed me, so—” The hurt look on her face

alerted me to my thoughtless words. She

looked as though a dagger had just severed

her heart.

“Don’t listen to me,” I backpedaled, although

I doubted words would be any good at this

point. “I’m sorry I said that.”

She sniffled. “No, go on. Say it. I guess

that’s how you feel. After what’s happened,

I know you don’t trust me. For all you care,

I’m with mum in this. That’s what you think?

That’s how you feel, right?”

She had just described how I felt. But

admitting to this would only break her. And I

didn’t want that.

“How would you feel if you were me?” I

asked. “Would you continue living amongst

people who have tortured you so much in

the past and have now resorted to killing

you? Would you?”

I awaited an answer that never came.

Unless her tears counted.

“Your silence,” I said. “It says it all.”

“I am not with mum in this,” she said. “You

have to trust me, please.”

“I know. I believe you. You knew nothing

about it. But what does it matter?”

Careful not to step on shards of glass,

Cynthia crossed the room to meet me.

Placing her hands on mine, she pleaded,

“Please don’t go. Please stay. Don’t leave

me with her. After what she’s done, it

scares me to think I’ll live alone with her.”

“She would never hurt you,” I said, stroking

her disarrayed strands of hair into place.

“You are safe with her.”

“And as long as you are with me you are

safe too,” she said. “I will stick with you.

Mum will not be able to hurt you. I give you

my word. You stole my heart, Vicky. Who

knows, maybe with your good conduct, your

perseverance, your mildness, longsuffering

and endurance, you’ll be able to win over

mum’s heart too. You’ve always fought for

this, haven’t you? Now, just when you are at

the brink of success, you want to give up?”

“It’s a lost cause,” I said, perching on the


“You’ve made up your mind? This is it? You

are walking away?”

I let her questions go unanswered. Her voice

had taken a formal tone I didn’t like.

“Okay,” she said. “I will not try to stop you. I

just…I hope you find happiness where you’re


With the rigidity of a robot, she swiped at

her cheeks and made for the door.

“Cyn?” I called.

She halted, but didn’t turn to look at me.

“Can you ever forgive me?”

“I don’t hold grudges, Victoria.” She turned

around with a transmissible smile. “And to

prove that, I’m asking you to get ready and

come with me to the party. After what

happened here, I didn’t want to go again, but

now that I think of it, I really need to be out

for an hour or two. I need to clear my head.

And you need this just as much as I do.”

“Party?” I asked. “Me? Not happening!”

She pouted. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. Please? I

know you’re not the party type but—”

“Cynthia, I will not be going for any party at

eight in the night. Not happening.”

She plopped down beside me on the bed

and draped an arm around my shoulders.

“Hey I know you’re probably thinking terrible

things right now, but trust me. It’s fun, and

it’s safe. You’ll get to meet new people.”

I would never attend a night party. Not

bloody likely. Dad would writhe in his grave.

Or at least his remains would. Why would I

go partying at night? Possibly, I appeared

old fashioned, but I had principles. Clubbing

would speak no good of my personality, so

what’s the point?

“I know you’re not the party type,” she said.

“But I’ve already explained why it’s

important that we go out for a while. After

what mum tried to do, I don’t feel good

about leaving you all by yourself.”

Arms folded, I stuck out my chin in defiance.

“I don’t feel good about you going for a

night party either.”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “I’ve partied

several nights.”

Touché. “And I’ve spend several nights

alone with mum. I’ll be fine.”


Moments after I watched her walk away, I

conflicted within myself. Had I done right by

rejecting her invitation? What if something

went wrong? Something I’d have been able

to prevent had I been there?

Shoving off my pessimism, I pulled out

Stella’s Robber’s Heart from underneath my

pillow and buried myself in it.

In barely an hour time, I found the last page

of the book. It ended with Katherine’s death

bridging the gap between her mother and

the robber. At this point I wished I hadn’t

even read the book from the start. I’d fallen

in love with Kat, only for Stella to kill her in

the name of her mum’s careless mistake.

Why read a depressing book when my life

already had all the depression the world

could offer? Stella had constructed a perfect

story only to mess it all up in the end. Not


My thoughts drifted to my sister, my exact

opposite. Deep down, a part of me feared

our personal differences would threaten our

new bond. I scrolled through the pictures on

my phone. With the smiles know our faces,

one could mistake this for a magazine front-

cover. We were the perfect family. Or at

least could have been. If only stepmother’s

love was true. What about me did she

despise so much? Did the overdose of hate

not wear her down?

Something crashed into my door. With a

gasp that sounded more like a shriek, I

sprang to my feet. I tiptoed to the door and

peeked through the lens. My heart thumped

at the sight of my stepmother knocking like

her life depended on it. What did she want?

“Victoria, open up,” she said, her speech

slurred. Even from a distance, I could tell

the stench of alcohol camped around her. “I

know you’re in there.”

She waited a few more seconds, after which

she said, “You stupid, stupid girl. You should

have let me in yourself. But stupid is stupid


Her voice trailed off as she staggered away.

I let out the breath I’d been holding. That

was a close one. What if I hadn’t

remembered to lock the door? What would

have become of me?

I’d escaped her this time, but soon she

would surely return. I would not wait to find

out how soon. I moved to my closet and

pulled out my travelling bag. Placing it on

my bed, I stuffed my clothes and my other

belongings into it.

The sound of footsteps and the jingle of

keys rooted me to the spot. I barely had a

moment to react when the door flung open.

Hands held behind her back, my stepmother

strolled in as though she were stepping into

her own room. My heart thumped in

harmony with her footsteps.

“I called you,” she said. “And I knocked. And

knocked. And knocked. You were right here.

You didn’t let me in. You silly, silly girl.”

Her right hand flew out of hiding. I gasped,

not at her swiftness, but at that which she

brandished; a gun, aimed at my head. I

raised my hands in defense. “Mum. Mum…

mum, please.”

“I have told you again and again, you stupid

girl.” She waved the gun, but never lost her

aim. “Don’t you ever call me mum!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, words heavy on my

chest. “I will never call you mum, if that’s

what you want. I’ll do…I’ll do anything you

want me to, I promise. Please don’t kill me.

Please mum, please.”

I eyed the gun, trying to find a way to play

‘hero’. But she gripped the weapon with a

fierce determination that spelt the death of

me. Slow desolate tears streamed down my

unblinking eyes.

“Mum, mum please calm down,” I said.

“You’re upset right now and—” Hell, what

was I even saying? She was buying none of


Smirking at the contents of my unzipped

traveling bag, she said, “You even made

plans to leave?”

“It’s not what you think,” I said.

She waved off my little white lie. “Had

Cynthia not gotten in the way, we wouldn’t

have gotten to this moment. I wanted you

dead. And I still do. One way or another, you

have to die.”

I sobbed. “Mum please what are you


As though the gun weighed heavy on one

hand, she gripped it with both hands. “What

part of ‘you have to die’ do you not


“Mum I know that you don’t like me, and you

don’t ever want to cross paths with me, and

I can understand that. But I don’t

understand why—” I hiccupped. I couldn’t

even say those words.

“Mum please tell me,” I pleaded. “If I am

going to die, can I at least know why?”

“You are alive,” she blurted out. “I cannot

stand the sight of you. You are everything

my daughter is not.”

“Mum—” The bitter tears I’d had started to

shed could not make her mind grow soft

toward me. But I didn’t sob because I

needed compassion. I sobbed because it

was the only thing I could do at the


Raising the gun she had lowered barely a

second ago, she said, “You will not interrupt

while I speak, or I swear I will make this a

very slow and tortuous process. Do you

understand me?”

“Y-yes.” I followed the gun with my frantic

gaze. I stood like a statue, barely breathing

as she walked slow circles around me. I

could feel her piercing glare thrashing its

way through the back of my head.

“That guardian of yours,” she said. “Aaron.

He poked his ugly nose in matters that don’t

concern him. How dare he threaten to have

me serve a Child Abuse sentence? No, my

life is way too precious to be wasted like

that. But we can’t blame him now, can we?

Had he known who he was messing with, he

would have thought twice. As the fast

thinker I am, I devised a plan to bring you

back here.”

It all made sense. She had faked the

sickness. This explained why she had so

strongly opposed the idea of a hospital.

As though reading my mind, she said, “Yes. I

faked it. Are you surprised? Really, I am

surprised that you believed the whole

drama. But then again, I shouldn’t be

surprised. The offspring of two full-grown

fools cannot be anything other than a fool.

When I faked that sickness, I had already

resolved in my heart to kill you. You don’t

know how I feel each time you come close

to either me or my daughter. It took so

much effort not to strangle you to death.

Every time you came close to me, I killed

you a million times over in my mind. And

now’s the time for your death scene to play

out in reality. It wasn’t easy deciding the

method to go with. Strangling would involve

a strenuous struggle and I really am not

ready to have your filthy sweat all over me.

Stabbing would be a really messy situation,

with your blood defiling the whole place.

This brought us down to two options. The

first, as you already know, failed, thanks to

my nosy daughter. But I will not miss this

chance. It will be so much fun shooting you

with the very same gun your father had

bought for self defense. Poor, poor him. If

only he knew.”

“It’s hard to get away with murder,” I said,

hoping to ignite fear in her. “The police will

get you. What will you do then?”

She barked out a laugh. “The police? The

police are stupid. They believe whatever I

bring before them. Don’t worry, it’s all under

control. I have already portrayed myself as a

better mother. Everyone believes I’m a

changed person. So, even when I kill you

and bury you in the backyard, no one will

suspect me. I’ll discard some of your

belongings to make it seem like you ran

away. And then I’ll play the part of a worried

mother. It will work out.”

My mind revolved around a way out of this

mess. I could launch at her and knock out

the gun. But what guaranteed my survival?

“Okay, enough talking,” she said, her finger

on the trigger. Her voice, strident and cold,

worked its way into me, shattering what was

left of my broken heart.

I looked toward the doorway and found a

sliver of hope. “Cynthia?”


To be continued



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