*** Read previous chapters HERE.
Eunice came back quite late that night. She had thought that if she returned really late every day, that the possibility of fighting with Andrew would be lower.
For one she would have been too tired to argue and then there was also the pleasing possibility that Andrew might have slept before she was back, saving both of them a whole lot of verbal trouble.
But that night Andrew was not sleeping. But he was in no fighting mood either. In fact, he opened the door for Eunice before she could reach for the handle. He hugged her and said welcome.
Eunice was already dealing with some surprise when she saw Andrew well and a gasp escaped from her. ‘Andrew, you had a haircut?’
Andrew smiled, leaning over to kiss her. ‘Yes, I did, how did your day go?’
‘Fine,’ she said, still looking quite unsettled.
That night they made love.
Eunice had gotten a chill of surprise when she felt Andrew’s hand moving on her. She opened her eyes and clearly it was her husband touching her, wanting sex. She couldn’t remember the last time that happened. And so, she responded with a dose of hesitation.
But in the end it had turned out very sweet, sweeter than she could ever recall. As they lay together after the act, her head on his chest, she felt strangely married again. After quite a time of searching for something to say, or ask, something that would retain the air of promise in the room, she finally asked, ‘How do you find Grace?’
But what Andrew said had her feelings rolling back to the pit they had just started climbing out from.
‘That girl looks so innocent, for a second I wished she was mine,’ Andrew had said.
Eunice sat up on the bed, her head to the wall. ‘Yours? I don’t understand.’
‘You know, like she is our daughter. She looks so young and intelligent, how old is she by the way?’
Eunice did not say a word. She stared at her husband, not knowing what to make from this strange wish. ‘Well, Grace is seventeen so there is absolutely no way she could have been our daughter,’ she said finally.
She lay facing the other way to sleep. But she knew that night was not for sleep. Now she thought about her reason for bringing Grace to Lagos in the first place again.
Time is not so much on her side.
By morning she would start the first phase of the plan. There is no time. Absolutely no time.
Grace was supposed to be doing the dishes, but as soon as Cecilia turned and walked out of the kitchen, she dropped the plate and the wet foam.
She wiped her hand on her dress. Taking a deep breath of freedom, she reached and opened the shelf hanging on the wall above her.
She had felt caged since she arrived; Cecilia’s eyes were always everywhere, her lips always ready to scream.
She had screamed at her before she could go through the pile of CD’s in the sitting room and this morning again just before she could touch one of the glossy magazines arranged at a corner beside the dressing table in Aunty Eunice’s room.
But now Cecilia was finally leaving for the market. In that uplifting spirit of freedom Grace felt the urge to go through every single thing in the house before Cecilia was back and frowning and screaming again.
Craning her neck to look, she saw it was only new, unused plates, glass cups and other similar items that were in the shelf. She locked it back and opened the next one. Nothing of note either.
Her interest ran back to the pile of magazines in Aunty Eunice’s room. On the front page of the one on top, she had seen a beautiful black woman wearing only a ‘pant’ that was even smaller than a regular ‘pant’, her two hands on her chest, each covering one of her breasts. The woman looked sad and Grace guessed she might have been stripped naked and photographed against her wish.
Before she rushed out to the much-desired magazines, a wisp of thought flew across her mind and she felt for a split second that she might not be done with the kitchen just yet. There may just be something in there somewhere for her to look at before she dashed out into Madam’s room to feast on her books.
She looked around the kitchen again. Nothing suggested anything interesting. The shelves looked just as empty as they would be inside on the outside already. And she had gone through the items in the tall fridge before. If anything, the kitchen smelt of Cecilia, like her shadows hung invisibly in the air even when she wasn’t in the kitchen.
As she turned to leave, her knee hit the silver handle of the bottom cabinet and it gave a hollow sound that struck Grace’s interest.
She bent and opened the first shelf. Nothing of note. Only new pots and pans.
She wondered what they were for since there were more than enough pots in use already. She was closing the shelf when her eye glimpsed something. Behind the stack of pots stood a bottle. A white plastic bottle, the kind her mother used to buy local shampoo in the village. After the pinkish soapy liquid had been used up, they’d convert the bottle to a kerosene container.
She carried out the bottle, staring at the brownish liquid it contained. She could make out some leaves and roots swirling in the mixture.
Herbal medicine, she concluded.
But who would take so much trouble to hide medicine in the dark, forgotten cabinet? Maybe it is bad medicine, a new thought rose in her mind.
Her hand was on the bottle cap to open it and smell the content when suddenly the kitchen door swung open.
Grace jolted, nearly dropping the bottle.
Cecilia stared at her, but this time Grace spotted in her eyes not just anger but something else, something that gave Cecilia’s guilt away.
It was that feeling you show when you are both angry and afraid. ‘What are you doing with that?’ Cecilia asked. She jerked the bottle from Grace. ‘Is that the dishes I asked you to do?’
Grace watched her put the bottle back where it had been before. Strangely, she realized, Cecilia was not interested in her answers. She was more interested in the bottle, its content—the way she carefully slipped the bottle behind the pots and closed back the cabinet.
Grace hated the rate at which her curiosity altered. She’s been like that since she was a child. Her mother had told of a story about how her uncles avoided her as a child for fear of being asked a strange question by a kid.
At just five she had asked her mother’s pregnant friend who had come visiting how the baby she was carrying had entered her stomach, where it had entered from, whether she had eaten the baby up as food. The woman had remained still, just staring at little Grace, till Mama Grace asked her daughter to go inside.
It may also have been this peculiar quality of her that had attracted Madam Eunice to her.
A day before she told Mama and Papa Grace that she’d be taking their daughter to Lagos to help out with her education, Eunice’s Jeep had passed Grace and her mother on the dirt road leading to the market. Her jeep had raised dust over them.
Mama Grace in the usual hostile manner road walkers used to treat abusive car owners, had murmured a curse at the big car and its driver. But as she saw the car slow down and start to reverse back toward them, both Grace and her mother waited in confusion.
Then the back window rolled down and they saw the lady in the car was someone dear to them. Mama Grace shouted and dropped the basket on her head so carelessly that some corms of cocoyam fell out from it. She was rushing to Aunt Eunice with both arms open as though she was going to hug her with the car. Aunty Eunice in the usual manner she used to treat over-excited villagers would have only waved from the inside of her car in response, but because this particular villager was related to her by blood, she stuck out one hand for Mama Grace.
As Mama Grace excitedly grabbed her arm, she prayed the happy woman didn’t stain the sleeve of her white lace blouse so much.
Grace on the other hand had remained quite cool, barely smiling as she watched the scene with what looked somewhat like the casual observation of a detective. “Your daughter?” Aunty Eunice said, nodding toward Grace.
Mama Grace looked surprised. She grabbed Grace and jerked her toward the vehicle, not minding if she lost grip of the large bunch of vegetable on her head. “Don’t you remember her, ada m nu—my daughter, Grace.”
“Good afternoon, Aunty,” Grace said.
“Good afternoon, Grace, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Aunty. Thanks.”
Aunty Eunice was surprised that the girl spoke good English, but she didn’t allow it show on her face. Aunty Eunice was always careful with how she showed emotions. She has never for once cried before, a tear or two may come out –that one she has little control over—but to start making crying sounds with distorted face, never. Though over the years she has seen herself weaken more easily than ever, getting overpowered by emotions easier than she could ever have imagined.
Then Grace pointed at her. “Aunty, your left ear.”
Aunty Eunice turned puzzled, looking over herself.
Grace touched her own ear. “I mean your earring, it’s not there.”
Aunty Eunice reached for her handbag and removed her blusher. She flipped it open and looked into the mirror. Truly she’d lost the other pair of her gold earrings. She looked down her feet and around, but no sign of the jewelry piece. She searched inside her bag and brought out another set of earrings with which she replaced the old one.
“Thank you, Grace,” she said, smiling her gratitude.
Grace finally smiled and nodded, as though one of her work on earth has been accomplished.
As they drove off, Eunice had turned to give the girl one last look. Something about her had caught her attention. And the next day she visited Mama and Papa Grace and told them of her intention to take Grace along with her to Lagos.
‘What is in the bottle?’ Grace asked Cecilia as she closed back the cabinet and turned to her.
Cecilia set a scary frown at her. ‘Get back to the dishes. If you like, once I turn away again, turn the whole house upside down. That would only add to your punishment.’
A wisp of fear stroked Grace’s insides. ‘You will punish me?’
Cecilia turned to her with an evil smile. ‘No crime goes unpunished in this house, my little dear, not when I am involved.’ She walked out of the kitchen.
Grace did not just do the dishes, she cleaned all the surfaces in the kitchen and dusted the sitting-room furniture over and over, in hope to impress Cecilia so that she’d forget about the punishment.
Only if she knew that unlike her mother, that technique would not work on Cecilia.