It didn’t seem like dad was ever coming back. It had been five days, I was running out of money, and the excitement of having my boyfriend partially move in had already started fading. For one, he slept like an octopus and thrice in one night I’d wake up only to find his shoulder or back was the reason I was suffocating in my sleep. On the second occasion this happened, I’d been too tired to push his heavy self off and in my half conscious state I heard several sharp slaps connecting with skin. Shortly after I could breathe again. When I woke up that particular morning, I’d figured I must have slapped him myself but was too high to get my memory together; either way I complained about it on our way to the movies and he started sleeping in the living room afterwards. Another problem was, my antics weren’t getting to the old lady. At this point, I could swear she was deaf and dumb because she’d never said a word to me since. I never resisted the temptation to make derisive and insulting remarks about her when I was on the phone or just talking with Chris, yet I never got a reprove or anything. I’d never actually heard her speak – nobody ever even called her. All she did with her phone was set alarms as far as I was concerned. On the one occasion I slept with Chris while she was in the room, I made triple the noise than was warranted by what I was feeling but she stayed with her back to us and didn’t move a muscle. I wanted to try again but Chris was uncomfortable so we had to move to dad’s room.
I couldn’t get the woman.
She stayed locked up in my room all day everyday, as though that were the only place with oxygen she could breathe. She hardly watched Tv and didn’t go out of the house for anything – only stepping out when it was time to eat (Toju is the one who bothered to cook for her though) or do some cleaning. Her routine comprised mostly of burying her nose in what could be a Bible, Koran or dictionary for all I cared, kneeling silently for an hour thrice daily, doing some light chores, eating, scribbling in some pad, sleeping, and all round creeping me the hell out.
I was so frustrated.
I tried to ask Toju what the update was on dad’s trip but he was passively-aggressively dealing with me for having sex and getting Chris to move in by giving me the cold shoulder. After two days of twin-brother estrangement, I caved and told Chris to leave. He didn’t take it well but then, if Toju stopped being on my side I might as well just curl up somewhere and die. We were playing scrabble in my room the evening of the day Chris left and I asked about dad again.
Toju shrugged. “I haven’t really been able to reach him either. He mentioned something about lousy network on his second day there when we spoke.”
“Second day? That was what, ten days ago? What if he’s dead?”
Toju shook his head and recorded my score. “He’s not dead fam.”
He shrugged again. “Then we’re orphans and would have to deal with fanged strangers who’ll call themselves relatives and either try to sell you into sexual slavery and make me their salary-less worker for all time, or throw us both out on the street and get comfortable in this house. Who knows, mom might even show up to join in the fun.”
I nodded. That was a probable outcome. “Good thing we’re saving then.”
“Yeah. I’m skipping a turn. Play.”
Just then the old lady had a coughing fit that made us both jump. I sighed and Toju got up and excused himself. To get her some water, no doubt.
I stared at her for several moments after he’d left. It occurred to me that I’d never actually sat down to look at her – I was always avoiding her face. Her head was bent, she was breathing heavily and pressed a slim, gnarly hand against her chest as she slowly recovered from her coughing fit. I’d been staring at her too intently and didn’t look away quickly enough when she raised her head and our eyes locked.
I couldn’t move. I don’t remember actually trying to. Her eyes were so clear, so warm; and yet the longer I sat gazing into them, the sharper the feeling that there were worlds of unknowns locked within that I’d probably never discover. Something about her face struck me as oddly familiar but I couldn’t quite place it and then, for no reason, I thought of my mother and it dawned. They looked exactly alike. Only, this face had no paint behind which she hid a weak spirit and a vacant soul; the eyes by which I was unexplainably transfixed significantly lacked the depth of mocking callousness bellied in my mothers. All I saw was a gentle warmth that made me want to be a little girl again – if only for a few seconds. It made me uneasy and I cleared my throat, set to turn away, when…she smiled.
I blinked. And blinked again. No teeth peeked from behind her lips – in fact the smile was so soft anyone could miss it, but it blurred everything else in the room as far as my thoughts were concerned.
Why was she smiling at me? Why didn’t it have a disgusted or spiteful slant? Why was she smiling…at me…like…that?
In spite of my discomfort and internal confusion, my face acted of its own volition and I smiled back.
After that, it was like this weird weight was taken off me – apparently, my devil-spawn antics had been stressing only me out. There was no turning back now; I suddenly lost every inclination to be idiotically unkind to this person whose only offence was the resemblance she bore to the world’s most pathetic excuse for a mother. Chris grew increasingly distant in the days that followed his unromantic eviction from my father’s house so my weed supply was placed on temporary pause, which was just fine by me…for the time being. I stopped slamming doors and nodded politely whenever our eyes met (voiced greetings would have been rather pointless). I fell in love with my reading lamp once again, rediscovered the purpose of headphones, and generally comported myself like a sane human being.
It’s not like she ever did anything to me anyway. We could both politely endure each other’s company until she moved out and found another teenage girl to have an indefinite – albeit super awkward – sleepover with.
To be continued…