Sun. Jul 21st, 2024




“And I don’t break promises. I promised to

bring you to her.”


Eyes flying open, I bolted upright in bed. My

heart raced like I’d been in a marathon.

Dreaming of that woman’s death had

become my alarm for the past six months.

Somehow, she’d managed to survive the

bullet. Ever since, she’d been confined to

her room in the hospital. Although I’d never

visited her, Raheem made sure to keep me

updated on her recovery, even though we

both knew this was the last piece of

information I needed.

I couldn’t get past the fact that she’d

haunted my dreams again. Hadn’t I been

clear enough when I prayed for a peaceful

night rest, with no nightmares of any kind?

One would think by now I’d already realized

that my prayers were marked as spam.

Once, Cinderella had referred to a dream as

a wish our heart makes when we are fast

asleep. I could see the truth in this.

Whenever I closed my eyes in sleep, my

heart made a silent wish that death found

that woman somehow. But this would

conflict with my original intent for her to

stay alive so I wouldn’t be alone in my grief.

Six months had passed, and my wish hadn’t

changed. She had to stay alive and burn in

the fire of grief and devastation.

Raheem’s face skid across my mind. He

would be so torn if he knew the thoughts I

had for her. Every day, I tried to understand

why he’d developed an interest in her. But

nothing made sense.

The hospital had become his second home,

a sanctuary where he’d run off to after

school. He’d even made several failed

attempts to soften my heart concerning her.

Every day, I asked myself why he’d chosen

to support her. Even after I’d told him

everything, from the map of scars on my

body to her two attempts to kill me, he

cared for her no less.

Daylight peeked in through the curtains.

With school on my mind, I sprang to my feet

and rushed through my preparation. I would

not go back to being the chronic latecomer

that woman had molded me into.

I’d barely even touched my breakfast when

someone knocked at the gate. Sighing, I

gulped down my cup of tea, strapped on my

backpack and dashed outside to meet the


But I found Raheem instead. “You? I mean…

what are you doing here?”

Raheem smirked, his trademark expression.

“Hello yourself.”

I turned away, scanning the street. Why

hadn’t the driver come yet?

Raheem seemed to hear my unasked

question. “Apologies, my lady. But Peter

won’t be showing up today.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Day off, I guess.” Spinning his car key

around his pointer, he gulped down a

chuckle and tilted his head toward his car.

“Shall we?”

I dragged myself behind him, thoughts

swirling around my mind. He’d contacted my

driver and asked him not to show up. His

smile gave this away. Obviously, this was

his way of getting me to talk to him. Lately,

I’d built a bridge between us, because he

steered every conversation toward my

stepmother, and how he thought it best to

go see her.

He held open the door for me to climb in. A

transmissible smile crept across his face.

And although I wasn’t thrilled with his

intention of talking me into letting that

woman into my life again, I could feel a

smile tug at my lips.

Once I’d settled in my seat, he shut the door

and moved to his side of the car.

Simultaneously, we fastened our seat belts.

For the first few moments of the drive, he

kept silent. Although I knew I would soon

run out of luck, I said a silent prayer

anyway. I prayed he somehow became

oblivious to my presence and stayed quiet

all through the drive. But as expected, luck

deserted me.

“I’ve been wanting an opportunity like this,”

he said. “To talk to you.”

I looked over my shoulder, and then, back at

him. “Where’s Farah?”

A near-frown tightened his face. “Will take

the bus.”

“But why?”

“Is this you trying to change the topic,

Victoria Brown?” he asked.

I made no attempt to answer. I drew my

gaze to the window, pretending to enjoy the

sight of buildings, vehicles and pedestrians

blurring in and out of view.

“I thought as much,” he said.

I glanced at my watch. Time seemed to be

on his side. I’d only spent three minutes

with him and it felt like forever. Did we

really need to have this conversation? He’d

tried over and over in the past, but this

topic never got us anywhere.

I could already predict how this would end.

It would be no different from his other

attempts. He would try to talk me into

forgiving her. I would tell him over and over

again that I couldn’t. I’d remind him of the

many times she’d hurt me and how she’d

tried to kill me.

Our conversation would end with mutual

frustration. Seething, I’d walk away without

saying goodbye. Why was he so bent on

acting this drama all over again?

“For how long will you keep holding a

grudge?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes. “There we go again. I

mean…do we have to go through this every

single day?”

“I guess it goes on till we are on the same

page,” he said. “But you just keep fueling

your grudge and bitterness. It breaks you.

And it breaks me to see you like this.”

I made a mental quotation mark around his

last two statements. I had gotten myself the

perfect Romeo. But with our never ending

disagreements, I feared our love story

neared its end.

“I’m not holding any grudge,” I said.

“Really? Last time I checked, you hadn’t

even tried to see how she’s doing.”

“Sorry? Am I supposed to care? Six months

ago, I ripped out the part of me that handled

emotio…” Pausing midsentence, I clapped an

invisible hand to my lips. But the harm had

already been done. Eyes drooping, Raheem

looked away. His Adam’s apple bobbed as

he tried to swallow his hurt. With my

thoughtless words, I’d driven him to question

the genuinity of my feelings for him. Great,

Victoria. Just great.

“Your mother is in very bad shape,” he said.

“Don’t call her my mother,” I said. “My

mother was nothing like this creature. Oh,

and the woman, that beast you’re referring

to deserves no less. In case you don’t

remember, she tried to kill me. So don’t

even ask me to forgive her, because I never


My voice had a tone of finality. Couldn’t

Raheem see that there was no room for

softness in the heart I’d spent the past six

months hardening?

“I’m not asking you to. I just—” He

scratched the nape of his neck, an

indication that he’d soon run out of words.

“Have you read the letter?”

How could he even ask me that? I’d made it

clear from day one that I would not be

reading the letter that woman had written

just before attempting suicide. But Raheem

believed it contained some vital information.

Believing I’d let curiosity take the best of

me, he’d stored it in my dresser drawer,

underneath my mother’s letter.

“No,” I said. “My time is way precious to be

spent doing worthless things. I’m not

interested in whatever that woman wrote,

and I don’t think I ever will be. I haven’t

even touched that letter. Maybe it’s even a

time bomb, who knows.”

“You should put away your stubbornness for

once and just read it,” he said. “Maybe it

can help you see things in a different light.

I’m sure she wanted you to know what

drove her to want to take away her own

life. Isn’t that worth knowing?”

“What makes you think I’m not okay with my

view of things?” I said. “That woman

deserves neither sympathy nor

consideration. She got what she deserved,

and I really don’t care what happens to her.

To me, she died six months ago.”

Raheem pulled his car into his space in the

school parking lot. His eyes pierced through

me as I undid my seatbelt. “Is this really

who you are or the you you’re forcing

yourself to become?”

“This is who I am,” I said.

“And the girl I fell in love with?” Raheem

asked. “Where is she?”

His question hit home, sending tears to

tease my eyes. I could feel him slipping

away, losing faith in me, in our love.


Time slid past, with me blending in with my

classmates, pretending to pay attention as

teachers talked endlessly about things I’d

suddenly lost interest in. Sat in the last

class for the day, I counted down to when

the bell would ring.

“You all impressed me in the test,” Madam

Charity said, smiling. “Well, at least most of

you. So, well done.”

My stomach churned as low voices rose

from every angle. Why the excitement?

They’d only been commended for doing well

in six-line poem centering on sadness.

“Why the fuss?” I muttered. “It’s not like

they won a lottery or anything.”

Amarachi stomped my left foot. A yelp

escaped my throat, drawing everyone’s

attention to me.

“Uh-oh,” Amarachi said, stifling a laugh.

“Shall we proceed?” Raheem’s voice

rumbled from where he was sat. Although I

fixated my gaze on my book, I could tell he

hadn’t bothered to glance at me.

Madam Charity returned her attention to the

class. “Okay, where were we? The poems.

Right. So, I was saying your poems are all

beautifully written. It wasn’t easy choosing

the best. But after hours and hours of

reading each poem over and over again, I

was left with two.”

She looked down at the papers in her hand.

“The first, titled ‘Flames and Ashes’ was

written by Victoria Brown.”

She’d definitely picked the wrong poem. If

that thoughtless poem had made it to top

two, then I feared for Western High’s

seniors. What had everyone else written?

Roses are red

And violets are blue

I suck at poems

And so do you?

I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a poem like

that. Arms folded, I listened as Madam

Charity read my work.

“It’s an invisible fire coursing through my


A wall of thorns closing in on me

A silent scream trapped in my throat

A two-edged blade splitting my heart in two

A void in my heart that cannot be filled

Flames and ashes where there once was a



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Although I had no reason to worry, I did

anyway. I feared everyone could decode the

message underneath every word I’d written.

I feared I had bared my vulnerability to

them, showing them the deadly rawness

within me. I feared I had told the whole

world the struggles I faced every moment

my life.

Amarachi touched my arm. “Are you okay?”

I nodded. Raheem turned around to look at

me. His eyes searched mine as though

wanting to hack into my mind and discover

my deepest emotions. His eyes told me I

didn’t have to put up an act anymore. He

knew that behind my mask lived a very

frightened girl.

“Flames and ashes where there once was a

fire,” Madam Charity said. “Beautiful line.

Can you share with us your sentiments when

you wrote this?”

“It’s…not about me,” I said. “I just wrote

whatever came to mind. I suppose that’s

not an offense, or is it?”

“Whether or not it’s about you, I still think

it’s a very beautiful poem.”

“Thank you.”

“Flames and ashes where there once was a

fire,” Raheem mused loud enough for all to

hear. “I am also interested in this very line. I

think she speaks of the feeling of not

feeling. Maybe something happened in the

past. Maybe someone did something

unthinkable, unforgivable. At first, there was

the burning fire of hate, so intense it

compared to the sun’s fury. But then it

slipped away, and now there’s neither love

nor hate. There’s just nothing. It’s a feeling

so disturbing, it drives one crazy.”

Madam Charity beamed. “That’s a brilliant

explanation! I didn’t even think that far.”

“Shall we proceed to the next poem?” I

asked. Raheem flashed me a grin. This was

him getting back at me for our most recent


From the corner of my eye, I could see

Amarachi staring. “What’s with you and

Prince Charming?”

I shrugged. Madam Charity’s gaze tickled

the second poem for a moment or two. She

glanced at Raheem, and then at her entire

audience. “This one is called ‘Why?’ It was

written by Raheem H. Kadir.

Why let yesterday cloud your tomorrow?

Why drown in darkness when light shines


Why reopen the wounds that time can heal?

Why sink when you can swim?

Why burn in hell when paradise awaits you?

Why follow the path that leads to nowhere?”

I knew he’d written this for me, and

somehow, his words sank deep. Was I really

prolonging my bitterness by

Barely an hour later, I found myself at home.

Racing to my room, I yanked open the

drawer. My hands trembled as I reached for

my stepmother’s letter. I s—-d in a deep

breath to calm my pacing heart.

Brushing off the tendrils of uncertainty

flocking around me, I grabbed the letter and

slid it out of its envelope.

‘I don’t know if anyone will ever stumble

upon this. But I can only rest in peace when

I have freed myself of these words weighing

heavily in my heart.

These are the words I wish I could say to

Cynthia my beloved daughter:

If regrets were water, I’d have an ocean.

Nothing feels right without you. Every day of

my life, I wake up, asking myself over and

over again, ‘Why has God allowed me to see

this morning? Why do I still breathe? Why

does the very same rain that falls on good

people still fall on me, and the very same

sun still shine on me?’

I thought that by giving you all the freedom

in the world, our lives would be perfect.

Yours and mine. I was so blinded by love,

always letting you decide your every step. I

remember the first night you went out

clubbing. You were only thirteen. You

returned drunk the next day. And did I say a

word? No. I hid it from your father.

I’m sorry, my darling. I’m sorry I wasn’t a

good enough mother. I was so concerned

with letting you live the way you wanted,

that I forgot to pay attention to more

important things. Had I been a better

mother, trained you as I ought to have, then

you would have been at home with your

family instead of going clubbing that night.

I know I don’t deserve forgiveness. I cannot

even forgive myself for this. It does not

belong to me to keep living. For this reason,

I must end my life.

To you, Victoria. I don’t even deserve to

utter your name. Words can’t describe how

disgusted I am with myself for the way I

treated you. I will not even ask for your

forgiveness, because I don’t deserve it.

All I want is for you to let go of the past,

and move on. I know, I’m in no position to

say this, being the coward that I am for

taking my own life. Before I depart, though, I

must tell a brief story of my life, although I

know that my experience in no way justifies

the ill way I treated you.

I also had a stepsister. Gloria. She was five

years younger. And although my mother

brought her up as her own, Gloria did

horrible things to us. She made a point

clear, that a stepdaughter could never be a


Although it happened years ago, the

memories remain fresh in my head, replaying

over and over again. This was why I taught

myself to hate you. I believed history would

repeat itself if I treated you well. How was I

to know that I was wrong?

I know nothing can make you forget the

hurtful experiences you had with me. All I

ask is that you find happiness. Aaron’s

family loves you very much. And there are

others like Raheem and Stella. With them,

I’ll leave with the knowledge that my

daughter is in good hands.

I wish I could take away every single

memory you have of me. I wish I could turn

back the hands of time, just so I can love

you from the start. If only I had given love a

chance, then the end wouldn’t be like this.

Please don’t cry when I’m gone. I don’t

deserve a single tear.

Your mother.’

A lone tear plopped down on the letter. Only

then did I realize my grief. More tears

streamed down my cheeks like rivulets.

Moments before her suicide attempt, my

stepmother had turned a new leaf. Not

everyone survived bullets to their heads. But

she had. If life had given her another

chance, who was I to harden my heart?

In a split second, I made a decision I never

thought I ever would. I would go see her. A

quick shower stood in the way of my going

to see her. Once done, I clad myself in

casual clothes and headed for the hospital.


Blurring past the nurses behind the counter,

I walked through a passageway I knew

would lead to room 24, where my

stepmother lay.

I remembered walking through this same

passageway, only to find what was left of

my sister. Tears pooled around my eyes, but

I sniffed them away.

Footsteps echoed from the other side of the

hallway. Two men walked into view, pushing

a shrouded corpse on a stretcher.

I halted. A red-hot coal stood where my

heart should be, setting my insides ablaze.

The stretcher’s wheels squeaked past me,

its haunting sound gnawing at my soul.

Had they come from room 24? No. This

couldn’t happen to me. Not a fourth time.

Fighting to gain control of my limbs, I

dashed to the stretcher.

“Hey, what—” one of the men began, but I’d

already thrown open the shroud, baring a

face I would never see again.

My eyes burned with indescribable grief. But

the face staring back at me placed my

emotions on hold. I’d never seen this girl. I

clapped a hand over my mouth to suppress

a joyous shout. This time, death had picked

on some other family.

The peaceful look on the girls face

entranced me. Her lips, slightly stretched,

seemed almost as though she were smiling.

She appeared to be having a pleasant

dream. A part of me wanted to reach out

and touch her, awaken her from her deep

slumber. But if I had such powers, then my

whole family would still be intact.

I stepped away, giving room for the

stretcher bearers to cover up the corpse.

My heart sank as I watched them take her

out of sight. It would break her family and

friends to learn of her passing.

To cope with the death of a loved one, one

must be superhuman. I silently prayed the

good lord strengthened her loved ones and

helped them cope.

Straightening my spine, I resumed my walk

to room 24. I followed a left turn and found

it two doors away. My pace doubled as I

advanced to the door.

Almost noiselessly, I opened the door. Two

pairs of eyes devoured me; Raheem’s and

my stepmother’s. A smile tore through her

lips, and with it came a fusillade of


She had never smiled at me. So why now?

Why love me only after losing her memory?

Why want to fix things when my sister’s life

had already been wasted?

I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t share a smile

with the woman who’d filled my life with so

much darkness. Doing so would mean

betraying my very own self, mind, body and


Shaking my head, I darted outside. I’d

thought I’d be able to handle seeing her, and

then I’d accept her for the new person she’d

become. But beholding her face reopened

my wounds over and over again. These

wounds could never heal. And that woman

would never be a part of my life.

Her smile had lit up my insides with a

scorching envy. She had no memories of the

past, but I did. The image of Cynthia’s burnt

skin, etched to my memory, haunted me

each day, taking away any reason to smile.

I choked on my suppressed grief. Turning

away from the door, I made to leave, when

the door cracked open. Without turning, I

knew it was Raheem.

“I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t stand the

sight of that woman.”

Raheem closed the space between us and

turned me to face him. “Calm down.”

He held me with his gaze and didn’t let go

till my emotions neared stability. “Remember

that you’re here because you saw it fit to

come see her. It was all your decision, and

it is the right one.”

“Allow me be the judge of what’s right or

wrong,” I said.

“Very well,” he said. His facial features

tightened and relaxed, forming a pattern. I

could tell he was torn between talking and

holding back his words.

He chose the former. “That woman is not

the same person who tried to kill you. She’ll

even be appalled if she learns of how she

treated you in the past. Your wicked

stepmother committed suicide six months

ago. And here now, we have a whole new

person. She kept asking why you hadn’t

come to see her. She kept sighing over her

amnesia. You know why? She says living

without any memories of you is so much like

death. Maybe I made a mistake. I should not

have told her she had a daughter. I should

have just let her build a new life. That would

have been better than subjecting her to a

life like this. She wakes up each day, looking

forward to her daughter’s visit. And today,

when that day finally comes—”

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

“I made a promise to her,” he said. “And I

don’t break promises. I promised to bring

you to her.”

If only I hadn’t let myself be entrapped by

Raheem’s well crafted poem, I wouldn’t

have been propelled to read the letter. And

then I wouldn’t have ended up in this

undesirable situation.

“Let’s get this over with,” I muttered. It

would only be a minute and then I would be

gone, never to return. I wanted nothing to

do with that woman, and Raheem knew that

more than anyone else.

Cursing under my breath, I stepped into the

room. Sat on the bed, the last person I

wanted to see welcomed me with a

flickering smile.

“Are you alright?” She rose to her feet and

crossed the room to meet me. Her eyes

searched mine. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m okay,” I muttered.

She reached out to touch me, causing me to

flinch. Her hand hovered in the air, just a

few inches from my face. It trembled only

just noticeably. I stared at it like it were a

poisonous snake waiting to strike.

I cringed as her palm pressed against the

side of my face, emitting an undesirable

warmth. She wrapped me in a bone-breaking

embrace. I stood motionless, with my hands

glued to my sides. No way in hell would I

return her hug.

“You are here,” she said. “I dream. Every…

every night. My daughter—”

My heart darkened at the mention of

‘daughter’. I disentangled myself from the

embrace and shoved her off. “I am not your


“Victoria,” Raheem warned. What lies had he

been feeding her with?

Swallowing my indignation, I stared at the

uninteresting floor, bracing myself for the

undesirable moments I would spend in her



To be continued..

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