The woman sitting on the balcony railing took two quick puffs of what would at first glance, pass for a cigarette. The furtive light in her eyes gave her away. Her stark nakedness gave her away. And when she closed her eyes and raised her arms as if to fly, and hence drop five storeys to an untimely death, I figured I better intervene. Today was Friday, her preferred suicide option was self-defenestration. Sure, this didn’t exactly count as a window but Mama wasn’t one to split hairs.
“Good morning, Mama.”
I strolled onto the balcony, pretending a yawn with my hands in my pocket. She frowned at me and hissed, not fooled for one second by my casualness. Defiantly, she took one last puff on the rolled joint before tossing it over the railing with a regretful wince.
“Baba Lekan won’t be happy.” My tone was mild. Our landlord had threatened to evict us just last week. Mama’s antics had taken a turn for the worse; she’d painted Eyo masquerades on his car’s windshield with TipEx. It had taken an hour of grovelling and promises for his ire to subside. One of those promises had been that she would never again smoke marihuana on his premises.
“He can kiss my bum.” She got off the railing and walked into our apartment. I followed her, glancing at my watch to confirm that yes, I was running fifteen minutes behind schedule.
“I have to go to school, Ma.”
“What you have to do, Lola, is get married and leave me in peace. That’s what you should do.”
“I’m fifteen, Ma.”
I combed my hair in the chipped mirror as she plopped down on the worn, torn settee to eye me belligerently.
“Have you taken your medicine?”
I kept my tone friendly like they said to on the internet when dealing with schizophrenics.
“Yes…” Her eyes darted nervously. “Yes! Stop looking at me.”
“I’m your daughter. I will look at you as long as I want.”
I counted her tablets. The same number as yesterday. I advanced with the obligatory two tablets. She flipped me the bird, but she swallowed them. Her hair fell in untidy, dirty-grey braids around her drawn face and I pushed them back. She shrank from my touch.
She wasn’t always this way, my Ma. Once she was beautiful, a showgirl with big hair and arrogant make-up. She had been a great dancer; I have newspaper clippings of her in a tin under my bed. She had been loud, and clever as anything…and she had been one of forty wives to a legendary musician. To hear her tell it, life had been one big hippie party before he died. She assured me he wasn’t my father though. I wish he was, I might’ve been some kind of famous.
I locked down the bars on the windows, did one last sweep of the room for razors and knives. Mama tried to slit her wrists only on Mondays but I didn’t see the point in tempting fate. Satisfied, I grabbed my satchel and headed out the door.
“Don’t come back. I won’t be here.”
For good measure, I went back and locked the metal gate to the balcony.
But she got me. When I returned home, she was lying in a pool of blood, with mirror shards everywhere. It wasn’t Monday, but Mama had never been one to split hairs.
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