Suffering and Happiness are Twins, Part Two
Suffering and Happiness are Twins
Thirtieth of December, 2011. Eleven twenty-eight
Months had passed since she had evicted her sons from the house. That night she barely slept. The coldness of the blade of the knife she had stashed under her pillow penetrated the polyester filling and kept her awake. She was afraid that the twins, in a fit of vengeful rage, would break into the house and attack her, as revenge for throwing them out on the street. She wasn’t sure that if they did burst into her room, she could bring herself to brandish the kitchen knife she used to chop onions and okra, but she kept one hand under her pillow anyway, clasped firmly on the knife’s wooden handle. Enough is enough, she had whispered to herself.
Loneliness clung to her like a shadow. After weeks of hearing nothing, the fear that one day she would return home to find her house had been ransacked, dissipated. She was actually alone. The twins never called her and she never tried to contact them. At first, she forgot her solitude and cooked huge pots of rice and stew and tray-loads of chicken. But as time passed, the large pots were replaced with the smallest ones, and ambitious meals were replaced with simple soups and pastas. Friends visited and praised her for finally doing what she ‘needed to do’, but none of them noticed the emptiness that swelled within her like a vacuum. She smiled and made tea until they left, preferring the silence of loneliness to the arrogant chattering of insensitivity.
Almost a year passed, and Hilda received a letter from Chiemelu. In the four years he had been incarcerated, she had not once had any communication with him. She heard through the grapevine that he had been in a few fights in prison, but had recently become born again. She was surprised that the news of his salvation did not interest nor impress her.
“Dear mum,” it read. “Sorry I haven’t been in contact with you all these years. How is everyone? Mary’s baby must be big now. Did she have a boy or girl? And Christopher and Christian must be big men now! I hope you are ok. I’ve been spending more time with the Chaplain, and he said I should forgive myself and write to you. I hope when I’m released I can come home. God bless you, Paul (Chiemelu).”
Hilda folded the paper back along its original creases, and slid the letter back into its envelope and then into her bag. She went to bed early that night, her face and pillow wet with tears.
The noise of a window being smashed downstairs awoke her. She had long since stopped sleeping with the knife under her pillow, and at that moment she wished she had been less naive and had more foresight. Unplugging the lamp from the wall socket, she armed herself with it as she stepped out into the hallway and crept down the stairs.
“Who is there!” she shouted. There was a startled shuffling as the intruder tried to hide. “I said, who is there!” she shrieked, louder and more panicked this time. She spotted the intruder huddled in the corner of the hallway, underneath the gaping hole in the window through which he had entered.
She leapt to the light switch and the intruder shielded himself from the light. As Hilda was about to take advantage of his apparent weakness, and begin beating him with the lamp in her hand, another figure emerged from the kitchen. She froze.
“Mum, it’s me,” the figure from the kitchen said in a gruff voice as it drew nearer to her. “It’s us, Christopher and Christian.”
The figure on the floor slowly lowered his arms that had risen to shield his head from her attack.
Hilda held her breath apprehensively, and fixed her arms at her sides as the tall figure from the kitchen engulfed her in his embrace, and the person in the corner unfolded his long body and stood before her. Christian took her hand. Christopher held Hilda tighter, his back arched and head nestled in her neck, inhaling the familiar scent of Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflower.
“Mum,” Christian said, his voice quivering. “We’re sorry. We’re so sorry.”
Tears dropped onto her neck and rolled down to her collarbone. She looked into the face of Christian, and as his eyes began to glaze with water, she unravelled the cord of the lamp still in her hand, and dropped it on the floor. She opened her arms and embraced her twins as they whimpered quietly on each of her shoulders.
Christopher and Christian began to tell Hilda of the trouble they had been in, but Hilda warned them that she did not want to know. “What my heart doesn’t know, my heart heart can’t bleed,” she told them. So they complied, and sitting in the kitchen where they had once shared many family breakfasts, Christopher led the narration of what brought them to realise the error of their ways, what brought them to repentance, what brought them home.
“It was crazy, like. Man dem were getting arrested, shot, stabbed – it was mad. And one of our guys, Joel – one day we were chilling at his yard, and some guys just surrounded his flat. Banging on the door asking for their money and me and Christian, we didn’t even know what was going on. Everything that we got – dough, food, girls, weed, everything – we shared with Joel.” Hilda winced, but continued to listen as Christopher retreated to another time and place outside of their small three-bedroom house in Sudbury. His eyes were vacant as he told their story. Hilda glanced at Christian. Even after all the hardship they had been through, Hilda marvelled at how they still looked indistinguishable to the unfamiliar eye. Christian stared out through the window, his eyes present, but cold and disengaged.
“We didn’t know that whilst me and Christian were out there hustling sharing our goods, Joel was thieving and shotting for some other guy and keeping it to himself. We were pissed. And the dudes outside his flat, Mum, I swear, they had knives and hammers and bats and everything, so we were shook -”
“I wasn’t scared,” Christian interrupted, suddenly alert. “I would have taken them man out one by one, even if it killed me. I wasn’t scared. You’re the pussy, not me.”
Hilda was shocked at Christian’s admission. Christopher brushed it off and continued.
“Anyway, it was mad. Joel went outside to speak to them, and swear down, we thought they would batter him there and then, but like, twenty minutes later, he came back in the flat just cool and everyone outside was gone. We had one big argument and Christian and I just left. A couple days later, Joel’s mum was ringing off our phones, telling us about how Joel’s been beat up and stabbed in the flat. He was dead.
“She was always nice to us, you know, Mum. Always cooking us food, letting us stay the night when we had nowhere to go. Always trying to speak to us about Jesus and that, but we weren’t trying to hear any of that, you know. But she was crying on the phone and she was telling us that she wanted to see us so we said cool. Well, Christian didn’t want to go, so I made him.
“And when we got there, she pulled us into her room, and she just started telling us about Joel’s baby mother and son. We didn’t even know Joel had a yout’. She was telling us that he was stupid, but he was trying to get more money for his family, he wanted to get out of the game, move to Milton Keynes or somewhere. And she told us about Joel’s dad, and how he had been stabbed to death too. We were just shocked. Then she started talking about you, Mum, started asking us about you. And then she started talking about Jesus again, but this time it was just like, maybe we should listen.
“And she brought us to her church. Everyone was nice, and she got her pastor to come pray with us. I gave my life to Christ straight away because for real, I don’t want to die yet. I want a family like Joel. I want to have my own place you know, Mum?”
“And you, Christian. What about you?” Hilda asked. Christian looked up at her slowly, and the disdainful glint in his eyes chilled her.
“That man was chatting shit.” Pushing out his seat, he stood up and flung open the door to leave the room. “It’s Christopher that’s into all that God stuff, not me. I just came back home with him because I wanted to make sure you were ok. Joel was a soldier. I don’t know why I got stuck with such a weak brother, man.”
Christian went upstairs to his room. Christopher’s hand reached out to meet Hilda’s, and he sat with her for what seemed like a lifetime, warding off tears and shaking his head in silence.
PART THREE up soon.
Je t’embrasse, x