TWO HOURS LATER, Nuna sat down quietly waiting for her parents to return. Some adults had arrived to help Eno take her dad to the hospital. She’d been seated outside for some time, waiting for them to return. She’d made sure Dela and Fiko had taken their baths before sleeping. She felt the sharp bite of a mosquito and hit her leg. She felt a slight bulge and knew she’d killed the bug. She flicked it off her leg with her finger and sighed.
She saw her mother approaching from a distance and stood up. Where was her father?
ASOR DREADED EVERY step she took. She was exhausted and sad at the same time. She knew the kids would be asleep so thankfully wouldn’t have to deal with their incessant questions. Something told her that she was going to be woken up to answer them eventually. That is if she would be able to sleep after all.
She rounded the house and stood a bit. She stood with her head bent staring at the ground. The outside light threw her shadow faintly against the ground. She sighed, looked up, and stared straight into the eyes of Nuna. The next events were like a blur as without any feeling, thought or intention she rushed onto Nuna and gave her a hefty slap.
NUNA HAD HEARD footsteps approaching and turned to stare in their direction. There was her mother approaching from behind the house. She watched for a moment as her mother stood as if she was thinking. She’d wanted to call out to greet or ask if dada was okay but something about the way her mother stood all of her sudden, made her keep quiet. She watched her mum run towards her and got up thinking she was coming to receive a non-customary hug. The hefty blow on her right cheek left her stunned as she felt herself falling off the ledge. She tried to prevent a fall but another slap disoriented her. She found herself on the ground and lifted her hand in time to field another blow but it was so painful that she gasped.
ASOR COULDN’T STOP as she hit kept Nuna continuously. It was as if she was on auto-mode and her arms were just lifting and hitting. There wasn’t any satisfaction as all her blows landed. She only knew she had to hit. There was a haze that prevented her from thinking so much that she couldn’t stop herself even when she heard a loud keening voice from a distance.
DELA WAS ASLEEP when she heard Nuna screaming from a distance away. She woke up with a start and looked around. The room was dark but Nuna’s voice sounded so loud. It kept ringing in her ear like the change lesson bell in her school. She looked in the direction of the sofa but her sister’s usual dark form wasn’t there. She could now hear words amidst the screaming. Nuna was screaming “please ma.” She tapped Fiko quickly and stopped. He slept like a dead and didn’t even move.
She sat up and heard sounds of thumping and Nuna’s voice clearly from outside. She looked around but her parents weren’t on the bed. Had someone kidnapped her sister? Then she remembered what happened earlier. She hobbled to the window but at 7 years was too short to see over the pane. She scrambled onto the sofa and balancing on its arm looked out of the window. She could still hear the sounds but didn’t see anything until she saw to the far right the shape of two people. It was…it was her mother hitting Nuna. Dela’s eyes widened in horror as she scrambled down, nearly falling onto Fiko. She quickly righted herself and ran out as fast as her club foot would allow.
PAPA ADJEI WAS in his room when he heard a loud bang on his door. Then another and another.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Uncle, it’s me Dela.”
Papa Adjei’s lips curled in derision. Club foot meant a curse and he’d hated the little girl from the first day he saw her squealing in his brother’s arms. Smiling as if he was happy to see her had been the best acting he’d done in his life. In another town, she’d have been killed before she’d turned 8 days.
“Yes, what is it?” he asked impatiently.
“Maame is killing my sister Nuna. Please help. Uncle please.”
ADJEI WAS FAST asleep in the corner of the room when he heard someone calling out his dad. He just covered his head with his cloth and turned. He was a light sleeper but he had to sleep. He’d wanted to sit by Nuna earlier in the evening but she had rebuffed him as if he was a pesky mosquito. He’d been so hurt that he hadn’t been able to eat. He knew she was worried about her dad but it still didn’t excuse how she treated him.
He heard the words “killing my sister Nuna” and sat up in one sudden movement. Papa Adjei wasn’t about to be bothered about what the cursed girl told him but was surprised when his first boy got up.
“Herhhh, where are you going?” he demanded.
Adjei ignored him and ran out.
“Herhhh, Adjei come here.” He stood up and chased after him. What had gotten into the boy to make him run out as if the dogs of asamando had chased him out of dreamland into the land of the living?
ASOR LIFTED HER hand and felt something like a vice holding it. She pulled her hand but she couldn’t. She turned to look at what was holding her hand like that and saw her eldest brother in law, Papa Adjei. She shook her head slightly. Her mind was foggy. She could hear a whimpering sound from the direction of the ground. She turned towards it and saw Nuna lying down in a fetal position sniveling and crying with Adjei trying to help her up. She remembered what had happened within the last hour and felt a deep swell of anger. She pulled her hand away.
She stopped and felt the mist lift off of her mind. She could feel her chest heaving as she gulped in air. She could feel a heaviness in her throat, a lump that was threatening to choke her. She sharply pulled her hand away and put it by her side. She watched as Adjei finally pulled Nuna up.
NUNA TURNED TO look at her mother. She didn’t know why her mum had hit her so hard and repeatedly because she wasn’t the violent type. It was dada who caned her anytime she became recalcitrant. Eno would always reason with her and advise her not to repeat those mistakes. To have her rather beat her up so painfully today meant that she indeed blamed her for all that happened.
Nuna knew she’d failed her by playing. She’d hurt at every blow but knew it was all her fault that her father was now in the hospital. It was her fault. She hurt in her jaws, her arms, stomach, ribs, and thighs. Her mother had hit her so hard and in places she’d never hit her before. She was hurting so bad. She felt something wet on her face and knew it was blood.
PAPA ADJEI LOOKED into the beautiful face of his sister in law. He’s always wondered how his brother had grabbed such a beautiful woman as his spouse. Sometimes he wondered whether if he’d been younger and been the first to meet her, she would have been interested in him. He gave himself a mental shake. This wasn’t necessary at this time. He’d come home this evening and been told his brother had collapsed and had told his siblings to call him when Asor came back. His plan was to visit the hospital first thing in the morning. He’d had a hectic day at the farm and hadn’t wanted to add the pressures of the emergency room with its bloody smells topping it all up.
Yet, here was his brother’s wife behaving like a lunatic whose baby has been grabbed by another.
“Asor,” he spoke her name gently because that was the effect her beauty had on him. He’d never called her Eno, which was his brother’s preferred name for her because Asor was perfect for her.
“I came home and heard that my brother had collapsed while eating. I decided to come to the hospital first thing in the morning to check up on him but why are you beating up your daughter like that?”
“Because it’s her fault!” Asor couldn’t stop the words from coming out like a shout. Her throat felt so roar. She saw the way Nuna cringed but she couldn’t feel any pity for the stupid child. “It’s all her fault!”
DELA HAD STUMBLED to a halt some feet away unable to come closer to her mother. She’d rushed out behind Adjei and had stood stock-still like Lot’s wife as she saw a woman she barely recognized as her mother hit her sister. She watched Adjei struggle to pull Nuna up and how she cowered when their mother thundered the words, “because it’s her fault.” She wanted to scream that it was all their fault. She, in particular, had only played once and lost so could have volunteered to watch the food. She knew her uncles and aunties whispered to each other that she was useless but at least she could have been useful this time by watching over the food. When her father collapsed, she could have gone to call for help.
ADJEI HELD NUNA close and felt like crying. His future wife was shaking so hard that he could feel himself vibrating along with her. He was ecstatic that she was leaning on him and not pushing him away as she would have on another occasion but he was so furious. How could his auntie beat her up like that? He was very stubborn but his dad or mum will never do that. No matter what.
PAPA ADJEI LOOKED closely at Asor. She looked despondent with all the fight finally seeping out of her. She wilted and looked like a pale shadow of herself as she looked at her daughter, turned to him, and said, “my husband is dead.”
In the stunned silence that followed, Asor drew away from her brother in law, walked around Nuna to avoid brushing against her, ignored Dela and entered the house.
NUNA SLUMPED AGAINST Adjei. He staggered at her weight and turned her face towards him. She’d fainted.
Dela heard him and ran quickly to them. She held her sister’s hand but couldn’t do anything else. She was so confused about what was happening. Dada was dead so why had ma beaten Asor like that? She knew Nuna was sorry but ma had never beaten her before so why had she done so today?
PAPA ADJEI STARED at the scene with a silence that would have disconcerted Asor if she’d been there. He was the type to ask, no, demand questions. Asor had always hated his authoritative and domineering character. He was the one who told Nukunu what and what he should buy for their Traditional marriage. As a result, Nukunu had completely ignored the list her parents had given him and bought different things altogether. Some of them she’d never used to date.
Those thoughts were far from what Papa Adjei was thinking about. Nukunu was dead? How?
Without a word to the kids, he quickly followed Asor inside the house. Adjei stared at his father go with shock. He’d thought he was going to help him with Nuna. He sighed and gestured to Dela to help him. The two of them pulled her to the wall where he propped her against the wall. He was wondering how he was going to carry her into the house. No way would he be able to do that. He had to think of a plan B.
He had an idea.
“Dela, bring me some water,” he requested. He loved watching Kumawood movies. In some of them, whenever someone fainted, people would wash their faces with water. He was sure it would work in her case. He stood there with her leaning onto him and wondering how life was going to be for his future wife. Hmmm.
ASOR’S FEET FELT like lead as she entered the house. It was difficult putting one foot in front of the other. She could hear her footsteps on the hard ground and for a second wondered how she would be able to walk the rest of the way to her room. She was so tired. Her thoughts a heavyweight that caused her shoulders to droop. She reached her door and stopped. She grabbed hold of the sieved door but couldn’t enter with all the questions running through her mind. What was she going to do? What was she going to say? Where was she going to go with her kids? Who would help her? Why now? After all their struggles? Nukunu why?
She swung the door open so hard that the spring connected to a nail protested. She was completely oblivious to it as she entered and gave a bone-chilling scream.