Too frightened to move, I would clamp my eyes shut as if to shut out the the pain I could feel ebbing through my sister. The raffia mat that separated us from the cold floor was tattered and I felt the cold concrete against my skin. I found myself counting down as he shoved himself into her. Sometimes he would be done before I reached a hundred and the slight creak of the door, the only indication that we were free of his evil presence. The sound of my sister’s whimpers were unbearable and many times I’d feel her pain like it was mine. She would return to the mat and hold me tight from behind and wipe away from my eyes, the tears she refused to cry.
Ada quickly matured after Mama died. Her rounded breasts were just starting to jut out of her chest and her hips didn’t take long to sway elegantly. But she didn’t have the time to flaunt it before the boys that stared at her eagerly.
Too quickly, she strapped a wrapper around her breasts, balancing Nneka snugly on her hips as we took to the market daily, selling any fruit that was in season. Her shoulders slouched and her face took on more lines than she deserved. All beauty was hidden, but not from Papa who claimed her night after night.
That was before she started to vomit and her waist started to thicken.
“Ada wants to disgrace me, but I will not allow her.” That was the excuse Papa gave Mama Chidi, who came to take her away up north, to hide the disgrace.
Then my counting at night ceased for a while. Until one night, two months after I turned fifteen, Papa came home past midnight reeking of cheap alcohol. He stood towering above me for a while as I felt his eyes run over my body, the heat from them burning me rudely through my light wrapper.
Then he grabbed me roughly from the mat, and pinned my body hard against his chest. Without needing words, he made his point, glancing at Nneka menacingly. She would pay the price if I refused, and that I couldn’t live to bear.
I knew the pain before I felt it. I had shared it many times with Ada, except this time, like her, I didn’t give him the pleasure of my tears. As he tore his way into my flesh and lodged his manhood deep inside me, I shed more than blood. My dignity and pride flew out the window, and I felt my sanity slip out in tiny bits.
He was through before I reached one hundred and pushed me, along with the blood stained sheets down to the floor. Instinctively, my hands wrapped around Nneka and I held her tight, but her naïve eyes had no tears for me to wipe. Then I remembered Ada’s words before she left, the words she said as her eyes brimmed with tears she had held back for many years. “Don’t worry, Papa cannot touch you. I did it for you and Nneka, so that he wouldn’t touch you.”
But he did touch me, night after night, until I felt my sanity leave me completely.
That was a long time ago, before I put the poison in his food that put him to sleep. After the neighbours came for his body, I burnt the bed and all his belongings, and watched the black smoke suck up to the sky for hours until the only thought I had of him and any man who gave me more than a mere glance was black and smoky.
Now, Nneka has a ripened body that calls for attention without making any effort. Her smile reaches out to warm the coldness that has become me, just as her touch is the one of the few that does not feel like sharp needles. And I know without a doubt that for her, I would first turn into smoke, the man that thinks to snatch what has not been given.
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