Her father’s eyes were angry. He wagged his finger threateningly as he spoke in a high and clipped voice. Shaken, Amara cast her eyes at the space between him and the wall, but it was too tiny for her to squeeze through and escape if he started beating her. The only other time she had seen him this furious was the night he admonished her for fooling around with Masai, a man he considered a nobody. But even then, she did not feel like he would pounce on her and rip her skin apart like she did now. Her heart pounded so hard she felt its pulse on her neck and with every word he uttered, she felt as if he was closing in on her like a predator on a prey. A small voice in her head told her to beg for his forgiveness but her lips trembled when she tried to speak. She clasped her hands and pleaded with her eyes.
“Why are you determined to embarrass this family? What haven’t we done for you? Tell us now so we know!”
“I-i am sorry, I don’t know what came over me.” she finally managed to speak, though her words were frail.
“Do you know the insults your mother and I had to take because for a long time we only had you for a child, and you were not even a boy? Do you? I made it my mission to face those naysayers and remind them that we were proud to have you and, look, this is how you turn out? A lesbian?” He shook his head vigorously as if by doing so, he would realise this was a nightmare and would snap out of it. “When you started seeing that useless boy, I thought there was no stupid mistake you could make that would top that, and you went out of your way to prove me wrong!”
From his tone, Amara got the sense that her father was finally buying into the idea that having a girl for firstborn was unfortunate. She sensed that if her mother hadn’t given him a boy yet, he would now have an excuse for marrying a second wife like his people had wanted him to. It irritated her, this notion that she had to live her life in the manner that the society would approve off, even though the society did not seek or care for her approval in the manner in which they lived theirs. She no longer felt sorry for making love to Achika, or for grabbing Abigail by the throat like she did. She would do even more if only to prove that she wasn’t about to be swayed by the villagers’ unschooled opinions.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she whispered.
“What did you say?”
“It wasn’t my fault that it took you forever to get a boy.”
“Oh, so now you are talking back to me?”
“Don’t blame me for things I had no contr—”
She had expected it, yet when the slap landed on her cheek she was surprised. But she did not try to stop the one that followed or the one after that. She stood like a log in defiance and let her father rain slaps on her cheeks. It was her mother who sprung from the kitchen and pulled her father away, begging him to leave Amara alone. She watched them wrestle like she wasn’t a part of what was happening. Like she wasn’t the reason her father was flinging her hopeless mother against the wall, threatening to beat her up too if she didn’t let him teach Amara a lesson.
When it seemed like her determined mother was finally succeeding in cooling her father off, Amara walked into her room and locked the door. She climbed on the bed and sat with her back against the wall and her knees drawn up. The tears she had managed to stop from rolling finally got the better of her and rolled down her cheeks like rain water running down an iron sheet. The rage in her parents’ raised voices filled the air. They were arguing on whose fault it was that Amara was turning out to be a worthless girl. Her father argued it was her mother’s fault. She, after all, was the one quick to defend her when she went astray. Her mother chose to blame the devil.
“This is devil’s work,” she said, “Those people who did not think Amara would amount to anything are surprised with how good she is doing and now they are doing all they can to ruin her. I will talk to our pastor about this, we must pray to break the spell she is under!”
“Amara is not under any spell, woman! This is nothing but foolishness on her side, and which I will make sure it departs from her head. Nonsense!”
“Calm down. I will still talk to the pastor. I know Amara, in her right state of mind, she can’t do such absurdity!”
“I don’t care whether you talk to your pastor or not, but if Amara is not ready to live by the rules set by me, she should pack and leave. Let her go and get married to that useless broadcaster. This is why she wanted to be a journalist, to do the useless things other journalists like that Achika are good at!”
I will leave, Amara muttered. She called Achika and told her what happened. After a long pause, Achika said, “I am sorry, Amara. It’s my fault you are in this problem,” another long pause, “Should I come for you? You can stay with me for as long as you want, it’s the least I can do.”
Amara had hoped Achika would offer to accommodate her as she found her footing, so she agreed. Never before had she felt this yearning for freedom. Freedom to live her life as she pleased without worrying about the judgy eyes patched on the faces of Ola villagers.
“What about Masai, have you talked to him yet?”
“Aren’t you going to?”
There was probably nothing to talk about as Amara was convinced Masai would want nothing to do with her, but she promised Achika she would talk to him. Her father had stepped out and her mother was in her room when she snuck out and went to see Masai in the afternoon. She could have called him instead, but she wanted him to look her in the eye when telling her it was over. She found him at home, seated on a stool behind his house. When he saw her, surprisingly, he hugged her and led her inside the house. She concluded he was behind news otherwise he wouldn’t have been this gracious with her. She sat on the couch across from him and wasted no time in narrating all that had happened. She maintained eye contact as she spoke, eager to see his eyebrows rise in surprise and face wrinkle in disgust. But he sat still, arms folded, never breaking eye contact. After exhausting all details, she lay her head back on the couch and crossed her legs. He still said nothing. She peered into his eyes, willing him to speak, but nothing.
“I will understand if you feel let down and want me out of your life, I expected this. I came over because I knew I owed it to you and myself the truth. Achika is coming over and I will go with her. I will stay with her till things cool down.”
“Not happening.” His response was swift.
“You are not going anywhere.”
“I have nowhere else to stay. Sharing the same roof with my father isn’t an option anymore.”
“Move in with me.”
“Weren’t you paying attention? Didn’t you hear me say that I had an affair with Achika?
“I know I am supposed to be angry. I am supposed to be lecturing you on trust, betrayal and morals but quite honestly, I am neither angry nor in the mood to pass judgement.” He stood and walked to her, sitting on her chair’s arm. He placed his arm over her shoulder and she reached up and fiddled with his fingers. “I wasn’t sure, but I could have sworn something happened between you and Achika. I saw the way she looked at you like you were her favourite meal and I told myself something was up.”
“If it was that obvious, why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I wasn’t sure.”
“And now that you are, why are you not angry?”
“I don’t know. when people say for better for worse, this is what they mean, I believe. My gut tells me you did this because of the obsession you had with Achika and nothing else. But now it’s you to decide where you stand. Do you want to be with me or with her?”
She thought she was hearing things. It was not possible that Masai was willing to forgive her. He went extremely cold on her when she met Hassan behind his back and now he wasn’t bothered that she had sex with Achika? Was it because Achika was a woman? She stared at him to see if he was pulling her legs but he wasn’t. He pulled her up and hugged her, his hand holding her behind the neck. Not once, in the midst of this madness, did her feelings for Masai change, and now she knew why. When they pulled away from the hug and they sat side by side, her head rested on his chest, she said, “I don’t think I can stay here with you. My father will not let us be.”
“I respect your father but since he doesn’t want you in his house, I don’t think he can tell you where to live. I will handle him, trust me.”
“What do I tell Achika? I am sure she is on her way as we speak.”
“Let her come. I also need to tell her to steer away from you.”
“But promise you won’t cause any trouble.”
“I promise,” he leaned in and kissed her. She smiled.
Later that evening, they idled in Southern Lounge Hotel and waited for Achika to arrive. Masai was drinking coffee while Amara, having lost her appetite after the incident with her father, read a magazine. She was admiring the gorgeous women skimpily dressed and with long legs that stretched outside the pages of the magazine when she heard Achika scream her name, “Amara!” she placed down the magazine and jumped to her feet, hugging Achika and holding on to her for a little longer. Achika was casually but elegantly dressed in a pair of jeans, a loose white top with a small pocket on her left breast side and a pair of sandals. Masai, who looked on in silence, also stood and hugged Achika.
After almost an hour of chatting, Amara asked to speak with Achika outside. As they left, Achika’s eyes met Masai’s and she flashed him a quick smile. He replied with a smile. Outside, standing under a lamppost, hands folded as the cold air whipped through their skin, Amara told Achika how happy she was that she came.
“But I can’t go with you,” she said, “Masai asked me to move in with him and I said yes.”
“He is a gentleman.”
“He is. I m sorry I made you come all the way here for nothing.”
“Don’t say that. Seeing you isn’t ‘nothing’. Also, I have something to tell you. I would have waited till we were back in the city but since you aren’t coming along, I might as well tell you now.”
“What is it?” Amara was excited.
“I am leaving Truevoice Radio.”
“What? I mean, why?”
“I will tell you the whys on a different day. Anyway, before driving to this place, I talked to my producer, Fred, about you and your passion for radio and guess what? He would love to interview you for my position. You remember him, right? The same Fred on whose birthday party we met?”
“Of course I know him!”Amara felt her knees grow weak. It was hard to believe that this was happening. She wanted to ask Achika to stop playing games with her if indeed she was playing, but no word came out. She covered her mouth with her hands and Achika walked to her, pulling her in for an embrace. “You will do a better job, I am sure,” Achika said. Tears of joy rolled down Amara’s cheeks.