*** ~~~ ***
As the last of the distant relatives and not-quite-close-friends mourners drifted out of the house and through the gates, Kaine breathed more easily.
She didn’t really feel relief—or comfort. She was too aggrieved, too sad and too empty to feel relief. She was just exhausted and wanted, needed to be alone again. It had been one horrible week. One week that had changed her life forever. One minute she’d been a simple, not overly ambitious young lady of just twenty—well, not even twenty as her birthday was next month. But she’d been content and full of dreams and had had a father.
She’d had her father. And now, he was gone.
Gone in an accident that had been sudden and fatal. An inebriated truck driver, who’d also died in the accident, had crashed into her father’s car as he made his way back home from the office. That was how the Police had put it, along with other details Kaine didn’t have use of. The only worthy information was that her father was gone; taken from her by a cruel stroke of fate.
Kaine rose from the rather worn couch and trudged to the light switch to turn it off. It was early yet, just barely six-thirty p.m. and she knew the night was still too young to go to bed but she needed rest. Yet, she knew she wouldn’t get any. But a lie down would do her good. She should have some of the rice Aunty Colette had brought along.
She wasn’t really her aunt. Just a third or fourth cousin of her father’s.
Maybe she’d have the rice later. When she could work up the appetite to eat. Now all she needed was to shut her eyes and blank out the emptiness, the heavy shallowness that overwhelmed her.
Absently, she started undressing. Someone had made this dress for her—it must have been Aunty Nne. Another fourth cousin or so. Kaine took off the caftan-like dress and slipped it on a hanger. But instead of hanging it in her wardrobe, she let it drop into the old armchair a few feet away from her bed. Then she slipped on her pyjamas top and bottom and walked to her bed.
And as she’d known it would, sleep eluded her. She switched sides every other minute but rest would not come. And in the absence of sleep, thoughts flooded into her mind and took shelter there.
What was she going to do now?
She had no training, formal or informal. She wasn’t skilled in any handiwork. She couldn’t sew or braid hair and she wasn’t even particularly a fabulous cook. She always thought herself to be a woman with ten thumbs. Her one talent had been her extraordinary beauty. It was the one thing that God gave her when she was coming down from heaven. It was the only thing that earned her innumerable praises from people.
That and her quiet, gentle and too simplistic nature.
Kaine sighed and rolled to her left side. What was one going to do with excessive beauty, eh? Being beautiful didn’t pay the bills unless you were ready to waste it away on lecherous men who’d give just about anything to get a woman on her back.
And that wasn’t the life for her. No!
She hadn’t been able to go to the University. She’d written JAMB twice. Had done exceptionally well both times but there hadn’t been money to cater for a tertiary education. There’d barely been enough to put three-square meals on their table every day and clothes on their backs.
He should have allowed her learn some skill even though they didn’t come naturally to her, Kaine moaned now. Daddy should have allowed her to register at the hair salon when she’d wanted to last year. She should have insisted on it. But she was always so subservient. She’d surrendered to his decision and believed in his promise that she’d get into the University this year.
It hadn’t happened. And will never happen now. Who will send an orphan girl to school?
Kaine was about to roll over again when she heard the noise. She arched up, balancing her weight on her elbow and listened. It was coming from the living room. The door handle was rattling. Someone was trying to unlock the door—or to force it open.
Instant panic sent her out of the bed and to her feet as she pressed a hand over her mouth. Dear God, she should have accepted Aunty Nne’s offer and went with her to her house. A thief was at their door. They knew she was alone and—
She froze the negative thoughts and glanced about the sparsely furnished room for anything she could protect herself with. She saw the umbrella tilted against her small bookshelf and hobbled for it, grabbing it and raising it en-garde as she crept out of the room.
She tiptoed down the narrow hallway, grateful she’d left the light on. But maybe that wasn’t so wise. Maybe she should turn it off. But if she did, how would she see clearly? Kaine stopped by the edge of the living room door and held up the umbrella, vising her small, slim hands around its handle. Her heart was thudding and she could feel her sweaty palms trembling. Her entire body was trembling.
The door squealed open and she heard the shuffle of footsteps. Kaine inhaled silently and prayed God to save her. Implored her dead father to protect her. The living room light flickered on and there was a thump and then the footsteps started towards her direction. She strove to steady her hold on the umbrella and raised it higher above her head. The curtain nudged aside and the person came through.
“Jesus!” The person screamed first stumbling backward.
The sound of the feminine voice and the familiar perfume weakened her grip. Kaine exclaimed in a mix of relief and shock. “Anwuli!”
“What are you doing there with that umbrella?” Anwuli demanded, steadying herself against the wall.
Kaine laughed. She could now. Her sister was here. “Trying to stop a thief.” She replied. “I was all out to defend our home—and myself of course.”
“With an umbrella?” Anwuli snorted before laughing too.
Then they looked at each other. The umbrella dropped from Kaine’s hand, her handbag slipped off Anwuli’s and they crushed each other in a tight embrace.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry I left you alone to go through this alone. I am so sorry, so sorry.” Anwuli’s tears merged with her own as her trembling apologies floated out. “The news only reached me two days ago. And I was on set. I wanted to leave right away but I had to round up some shootings. The director begged me to finish the scenes we were already shooting. Then we had to deal with flight arrangements.” She pushed Kaine back, pressed both hands to her cheeks. “I lost my handset. Again.” She shook her head. “I am hopeless with gadgets, you know that. I just retrieved it that day and then checked my mail and there it was—daddy is gone.” A tear rolled out. “I am so, so sorry, Kaine.”
“I know. I knew you couldn’t have gotten the message and ignored me. When my calls weren’t going through and no message was delivered, I suspected you’d misplaced another phone.” She managed a laugh, sniffled and rubbed of her tears. “They opted to bury him as soon as was possible because there was really no one to handle major mortuary bills. Aunty Colette and Aunty Nne took care of most of the bills.” She inhaled, looked at her sister. “Come, let’s go inside. Where’s your suitcase?”
“Dumped it in the living room.”
Ha, the thump she’d heard. “Okay. Would you like something to eat? There’s jollof rice in the kitchen.”
Anwuli shook her head. “No appetite.” Then she gave her a critical look. “And you, have you been eating? You look thinner. Your bones are shooting out around your neck.”
Kaine supposed they were. “I’m okay. I’ve always been thin, you know that.” She dismissed. “Come along, let’s get you settled in and then we’ll talk.”
And that was just what they did. Anwuli had her own bedroom but they chose to share Kaine’s that night. Kaine told her the little she knew about the accident and what meagre income was left in their father’s account. Which mercifully she was a signatory to. Then they talked about what they were going to do for money. Anwuli didn’t have much. She’d just signed her first major movie contract and had only been paid an upfront.
“It would have all gone down the drain if Oguns—the director—hadn’t offered to pay for my plane ticket.” Anwuli said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do but I’ve got a bit saved and when shooting is done and editing is wrapped and movie sold off to Marketers, I’d get all my money and then I can give you some to maybe start up a little business.”
“Oh no, Anwuli, I can’t allow you to do that.” Kaine protested. “It is your money, your savings. I’ll think of something.”
“Think of what, Kaine? You and daddy were waiting for you to get into school but now…” Anwuli sighed. “Look, we’re sisters and besides, I’m older, I should take care of you.”
Kaine’s eyes filled. They weren’t really sisters. Not by blood at least. Kaine’s father had married Anwuli’s mother when she was seven years old and Anwuli, eight. She’d been a kind woman, Anwuli’s mother. She’d had a small shop selling everyday needs just in front of the house and together with her father’s meagre salary from his Junior-staff position at the Ministry of Agriculture, they’d done well enough. But she’d passed away four years ago and things had become tough. Two years later, Anwuli had started going for auditions. She’d always loved to act and though their father had objected, Anwuli had insisted and stood her ground. Anwuli was wilful and single-minded. Kaine wished she was that way too, maybe then she wouldn’t be without any means of survival.
“Don’t worry, Kaine, we’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Anwuli reached over and wiped off her tears. “I have to go back in three days to finish the shooting. Then I’ll come straight back and stay a while before I begin hunting down another contract, okay?”
Kaine smiled. “Okay.” She felt suddenly better. Better than she’d done in the last week. “Now, tell me about South Africa. How beautiful is it?”
Anwuli chuckled. “Very beautiful, the little of I saw of it. We’re shooting in Johannesburg. It is a spectacular city.” And she went on to dazzle her with tales of fabulous stores, luxurious hotels and restaurants and so many more.
The days swept by too fast in Kaine’s opinion and soon, Anwuli was leaving again. She left her some money, so she wouldn’t dip into what was in her father’s account. Alone with no one to guide her or even object to any of her ideas, Kaine took up a job at a day-care centre and soon discovered she had another talent—taking care of little children.
A week later, Anwuli returned.
“Hmm, this tastes so delicious.” Kaine sighed with pleasure as she spooned up another delicious combo of the mixed vegetable rice and chicken Anwuli had brought with her. “I swear, if I can cook half as good as this, I’ll open a restaurant.”
Anwuli smiled faintly. “Restaurant business is tough work, you know.”
“All work is tough work and I’m not as weak as I look.” Kaine countered.
“You’re not weak, just fragile.”
Kaine cocked a brow. “And what is the difference?”
“The difference is…” She stopped, pushed a hand over her mouth, sprang to her feet and raced out of the room.
Kaine dropped her spoon and followed her. She found her in the bathroom, vomiting. She frowned, it was the second time she was doing that since she arrived.
“Anwuli, you’re sick but you keep insisting you’re not.” Kaine took a cup from the wash basin, filled it and passed it to her. “Maybe we should go to Azu’s chemist since you say you won’t go to the clinic. He usually knows what to recommend for most illnesses.”
Anwuli gaggled, spat out the water and then used the rest to wash her face. “I don’t need Azu to recommend anything for me. I told you I’m not sick.” She set back the cup and gestured for her to step back. “Let’s go continue with our meal.”
“Okay, maybe I should just go over there and buy you Malarich or something.” Kaine suggested as they sat down again at the white plastic table. “It must be Malaria. That is why you’re vomiting. I’m sure stress caused it.”
“It’s not stress and it’s not Malaria.” Anwuli waved an impatient hand. “Just eat and leave this matter alone.”
“I can’t leave it alone, Anwuli.” Kaine was getting more and more worried. “This is how Mummy was sick and would keep telling us not to worry until she died.” Her eyes filled fast as her heartbeat accelerated due to quick fear. “Anwi, you’re all I have now. What will I do if anything happens to you?”
Anwuli exhaled, pressed a hand against her forehead. “Kaine, relax please! Nothing is going to happen to me. Mummy died of cervical cancer and we didn’t even know until it was too late. I don’t have cancer!” She dropped her hand to her tummy. “I’m just tired and need…”
“No!” Kaine tossed down her spoon and glared at her. She was tired of being told what to do and then have everything go wrong right before her eyes. “You are not just tired. You are sick! And I insist we go to the clinic now or…”
“I’m not sick, I am pregnant!” Anwuli yelled. Then pressed a hand against her mouth and forced back a sob. She raised watery eyes. “I am pregnant, Kaine, and I don’t know what to do.”
Kaine stared at her, dumbstruck. She hadn’t even known Anwuli was sexually active. And now she was—pregnant?