I did not know if I had made a sound when I entered the room but suddenly Mama opened her eyes and looked directly at me. Her eyes widened in shock, even as Uncle Jonathan kept on thrusting his hips into her. Her eyes pleaded with me but I was not seeing clearly. My eyes were red with blood. I don’t know how the biro entered my hand. One moment my hands were empty, the next moment I had a biro in my hand and I was stabbing down;
Matilda: “No!!” she screamed. Uncle Jonathan turned slowly… too slow; the pen sank into his shoulder and broke with the pressure I had applied. He screamed and backhanded me off him.
I flew off the bed and landed on the ground but I felt nothing. I was up again and I came at him, my fingers like claws; my teeth like a shark’s. He punched me and air flew from me and I fell down. I gasped and gasped drawing much needed air back into my lungs.
Matilda: “Jonathan! What have you done? Do you want to kill her?” she shouted. I heard her dimly. Blood pounded in my ears like a raging sea. I struggled to get up.
Mama came to me. I let her hold me but when she tried to put her arms around me, I felt her sweaty nakedness on me. I felt disgusted; I pushed her away from me and staggered out of the room, moaning. I could barely see. I was crying heavily. Mama had betrayed Papa’s memory and my love. I entered our room and locked myself inside. Mama came and knocked, pleading and crying but I shut her voice out and closed my eyes. All memory of the euphoria of the all night had been put off like a candle in the wind. My life was empty and it was dark. I slept.
The next morning, I came out late, had my bath and went back into the room. Some few minutes later, Mama came in and sat down on the bed beside me.
Matilda: “I am sorry that you had to see us like that last night.” She said softly. I closed my eyes and turned to face the wall. “Princess, please look at me. I said I am sorry. I am a woman and I have needs. I cannot remain single forever…” she added.
The word pierced the calm I had tried to maintain. I turned to her angrily;
Princess: “So sleeping with my uncle is the solution abi? There are no other men in this town that caught your interest but my uncle abi? Keep on deceiving yourself.” I replied harshly. Mama winced at my words and turned away. “Only God knows if it was not the both of you that killed Papa so that…” I never got to finish my words. Stars filled my ears as Mama gave me a slap that rocked me to my toes. I held back the tears that threatened to flood my face and quietly got up from the bed. Mama stretched her hands to touch me but I snatched my hands away. I picked some books from the only table in the room;
Princess: “I am going to a classmate’s place for group reading.” I said, my back to her. I quickly headed for the door before she could raise any objections.
I headed for school. It would be quiet and isolated. I wanted to be alone but I had come to fear empty places; they were dangerous for a girl. My feet led me to the church. I was almost at the gate of the church when I saw Oke coming out.
Oke: “hey Princess how are you? Why are you back here so early?” he asked concern showing on his face.
Princess: “what are you doing here, yourself? Shouldn’t you be sleeping after all the dancing last night?” I retorted.
Oke: “I came to see my friend in the parish house. You came here to read?” he asked, pointing at my books.
Princess: “I came to be alone mostly but I intend to read too. Exams are almost around the corner.” I replied.
Oke: “I doubt if you will be able to read here o. People are coming to work on the church ceiling today. They will be a distraction if you intend to read.” He said.
I sighed and peered into the church premises. I didn’t want to go home and I could not stay in the church. I bit my lips thinking of the alternatives in front of me.
Oke: “you can come to my place, if you want to.” I looked at him sharply. “Did I hear this guy well? He wants me to come to his house and spend time alone with him? Hmm… he must think me a fool; men!” I thought to myself. “I will be gone the whole day o. don’t start thinking funny.” He added quickly. I smiled in relief. “You can drop the key at my neighbour’s place when you are ready to leave.” He further added as I followed him down the road to his place.
Oke lived alone in a two bedroom flat. He explained that he lived with his elder brother, a spare part dealer, who had travelled to the East for business and will not be back for some time. He handled the shop in his absence and had the whole run of the house. He placed a pack of juice and a cup before me as well as a bottle of groundnuts and cabin biscuits, before taking his leave. As soon as he left, I locked the door and slept.
When I woke up, I felt a bit better than I had felt when I had woken up at home. I opened my books and started reading. At about two, I wandered into the kitchen and checked the pots but there was no real food in it; just rice that was already going bad and lots of dirty plates. I cleaned the kitchen and checked the pantry for food stuff. I found a tuber of yam and beans as well as palm oil and salt. I had a little money with me, so I stepped out to buy crayfish and onions. I came back and cooked yam and beans porridge. After eating, I washed the utensils and went on reading until the bell rang.
I went to the door and met one ugly looking girl, frowning and tapping her feet on the ground like she was out for a fight. I looked her over; her face had heavy makeup; enough foundation to raise a two storey building; her lips were painted bright red and some of the lipstick had managed to appear on the collar of her shirt. Her eye brows were… my dear, I will end there. Just know that she was terrible to look at
Girl: “who are you?” she said, her eyes picking me from the ground and tossing me away as nothing.
Princess: “I am Oke’s friend. Can I help you?” I asked in return.
Girl: “see me o! All these small small twats of nowadays that lack respect. You can imagine; this tiny thing asking me questions. I don’t blame you. Where is Oke? Call the cheat! Let him come and face me like a man. Rubbish! Oke! I say, come out here!” she shouted, clapping her hands together.
I stared at her in surprise. “Who is this one o? This one is Oke’s girlfriend? Na wa o!” I thought within myself.
Princess: “excuse me; are you a friend to Oke or something? Because he is not at home o but I can leave a message for him, if you want.” I said calmly.
Girl: “hey hey! Come and see o! She wants to take message from me? Did I tell you that I needed a messenger? Hey madam message deliverer!” she replied hotly, widening her eyes and stretching her neck towards me like a scrawny vulture. “I am going to wait for him today. He will tell me when this rubbish started. Nonsense…mtschew…” she hissed and ran her eyes over me like I was some rag wrapped with faeces. I banged the door on her face and went back to my books. It was none of my business.
I woke up from a doze to hear voices arguing outside. I went to the door and opened it to see Oke and the girl in a grapple. The girl had Oke’s collar in a grip and Oke was trying to remove her hands off him
Girl: “so when I am not around, you bring all these secondary school girls into your home abi? You are a disgrace as a man, Oke! A disgrace! Today I am going to show you and your small slut that I am not alright. I go show you say I dey crase; yes!” she shouted, standing on the balls of her feet, her head nodding with every word she said.
It would have been hilarious, if not for the fact that I needed to pass the two of them to get away from the comedy. Oke turned and saw me. He was quite embarrassed, I noticed. I just shrugged and tried to pick my way around them. The girl turned and saw me and she quickly rushed to me. I didn’t let her raise her hands before I punched her nose. She screamed and grabbed her nose. Blood was already pouring out. I walked passed her and gave the house key to the stunned Oke.
Princess: “I made yam and beans porridge. Thanks for the hospitality.” I said like nothing happened and I walked away.
I got home to find our neighbours gathered around whispering and muttering like witches. As I entered the compound, all eyes turned on me. I stopped and took in the scene then I rushed through the crowd.
Our house was quiet when I entered. “Thank God!” I thought, sighing in relief; I thought something bad had happened. I went to I and Mama’s room and turned the door handle but it was locked, I saw the key on a stool by the door and picked it. As I inserted it into the door, my uncle appeared;
Uncle Jonathan: “stop! Don’t open it! Where have you been since morning?” he asked coming from the sitting room.
Princess: “I went to read at the school. I told Mama before leaving.” I replied, staring at him curiously.
Uncle Jonathan: “young lady I don’t have time for your lies. I have sent people to the school, to the church but you were not in either of those places. I ask you again, where have you been since morning?” he looked at his wristwatch; “this is to five.” He added.
Princess: “I was reading at a friend’s place.” I replied, getting angry.
Uncle Jonathan: “which friend? You don’t have any friends.” He replied, looking at me suspiciously.
Princess: “where is my mother? Mama!” I shouted, my eyes roving around as I listened for her reply. I got nothing.
Uncle Jonathan sagged before me. He took the key gently from my hands and opened the door to our room. Mama was chained to the bed. Her eyes were wild with madness. There was blood on the bed; her nails were chipped, broken and dried blood stained the tips. I rushed to her but Uncle Jonathan held me back.
Uncle Jonathan: “she has been like that since morning. Immediately you left, the madness came back. I have tried everything but there’s no avoiding it; you mother is mentally unbalanced.” He said softly.
His words sounded as if they were coming from a distance despite his lips being close to my ears. I stood there, watching the only person in the world that mattered to me watch me without any recognition. If it was me several years ago, I would have wept but I was already tired. Tears helped no one. I will not be weak for anyone anymore. I turned to my uncle
Princess: “so what do we do?” I replied.
Question: Do you think Matilda’s mental illness is ordinary? How can a young girl like Princess cope with a mentally ill mother when there’s no one to trust?