Big and empty is what comes to mind when I think of it. Uncomfortable too, but we had to make do – Mama said Daddy was experiencing a setback. I remember how it sheltered me in the good days and silenced my voice in the bad days, how it made Sisi so restless. She was a dreamer, Sisi.
Graceful is what I’d describe her. Everything she did had a touch of class and it made Mama angry. Sometimes, I overheard her say Sisi felt too good for the house, too good for them. I never understood what it meant. Sisi lived with us, she was my elder sister and it was something I bragged about to anyone that listened. “Hey, that’s Sisi, my sister!”
And when she’d walk by, she’d send a smile my way, and it made my heart so full of joy. Of course! She was too good; everyone was in awe of her. She had this way of making you feel special, pulling you in until all you thought about was making her happy.
Then the days would come when Sisi wasn’t feeling good. She’d cry quietly in the toilet, or in the corner of her bed when she thought no one was looking. It made me nervous as the air around her carried a wave of melancholy. It was a word I learnt in school – melancholy, it meant gloomy, miserable, sad. She was always sad when she wasn’t feeling good. Those were the two emotions Sisi expressed; she was either gloriously happy or miserably sad.
She spoke a lot about leaving the house, about going someplace far from Mama and Daddy. Looking back, I realize that Sisi felt towards Mama the same thing Mama felt towards her: a certain dislike I’m still trying to understand. I don’t know how it started or why it even started, I can only say that they argued a lot and seeing as Mama was the adult, she had her way almost all the time.
Sisi had this beautiful, soft and silky long hair which she took care of really well, it was the envy of most girls at the parish. We were always told to cover our hair for church but Sisi would manage to bring out a lock of hair and arrange it so that it fell across her face, partially covering her right eye. Then she would apply a lip gloss just as she was exiting the car so Mama wouldn’t notice. She looked pretty afterwards.
On one of these Sundays, after church service, there were some groups of boys and a few of Sisi’s friends conversing while they waited for their parents, who were busy catching up with one another. The crowd around her was twice the usual crowd as they gushed about Sisi’s new dress. The week before, Daddy had given her money to get some clothes for herself.
It was a form fitting pink dress with matching scarf. She also wore bangles, “they announce a woman’s presence,” she says. Only Sisi said things like that. I remember that day; it was one of my happiest memories of Sisi. She was like a flower blooming under the adoration of her audience… a happy Sisi.
I also remember Mama sulked on the way to church and back, and never uttered a word which was surprising as Mama always had something to complain about. I didn’t dwell on it, Sisi was happy, so I was.
This happiness did not last.
Mama had a chore for Sisi to do which Sisi said she would carry out once she’d changed from her dress. That made Mama so angry, she said a lot of bad words and Sisi tried to explain how she didn’t mean to disrespect Mama. This only worsened the situation because Mama grabbed Sisi by her dress and proceeded to hit her.
I couldn’t do anything, and could only watch as Sisi freed herself and ran away to her room. I began to cry, Daddy paid me no mind and asked that someone prepare food for him to eat. Mama ignored him and chased after Sisi. All the while, our gate was wide open for neighbours to see and hear. For the first time, I understood what shame meant. Shame: humiliation, embarrassment.
I felt cold within.
By the time I checked on Sisi, her dress was torn and her once long beautiful hair lay in pieces around her. It looked like a mad woman had taken scissors to her hair.
Sisi didn’t deserve this. She’d done nothing to warrant it. There, as we sat, our fingers interlocked, I cried with her, it was my hair too. She could always buy another dress but not her hair.
Sisi never grew her hair again, and when she left home, she never looked back. The day she left home for school was the last time I ever saw her. She called me regularly but after the time Mama picked the call instead and rained curses on her, she never called again.
I’ve always hated this house, all my good memories are tainted by the absence of Sisi and the reason behind it. Mama is no more, she died a month ago. Daddy died a year before but even in death, he wasn’t granted much reprieve as she would join him wherever he is now.
These days, I think of Sisi a lot. I miss her so much. I know what her opinion concerning the house would be, sell it of course! That’s Sisi, always so sure of what she wants. It’s not quite easy for me. This house holds a lot of memories ― good, but mostly bad. Those memories have shaped me, taught me so much about life, and helped me make decisions.
Is it possible to live here once again, eradicate the sadness and have a fresh start? Maybe, but not for me.
I’d rather see it destroyed, but that’s for the new owners to decide. I have my family waiting for me on the other side of the gate, and peace building within me. Not the peace I get from the arms of my husband or the laughter of my children, but from letting go of this place and its hold in my heart.
I know Sisi is out there somewhere or I would have heard something by now. I hope she’s safe. I close the gate and drop the keys for the new owners. It’s a great feeling – moving on. I get in the car and my husband takes my hand immediately to offer comfort. It’s wonderful having a partner that understands, he knows what this house meant to me.
Miles away from the house, my kids call me, “Mom, Mom, your phone is ringing!”
“Who is it?” I ask.
“It’s a foreign number.”
Featured image: Dreamstime