Our third place winner in the GKBC International Short Story Competition for 2013-14 goes to Mifa Adejumo for her haunting tale Tolulope. Guest judge Tim Weaver said of the story;
A powerful tale of violence, with lovely use of language. More drama than thriller, it is, nevertheless, impressively constructed and quietly affecting.
by Mifa Adejumo
Tolulope knew what she was to expect next; it had all just played out the way she had envisioned. The outcome was inevitable; the wind blew in just about the same tenacity; a hot quiet hiss. It was dark inside; she could hardly have noticed her own skin except for the fact that it was somehow physiologically glued to her skeletal frame, held firmly by some strange red-dull-dark fluid adhesive that always seemed to want to escape from her body whenever…
She wasn’t sure what illuminated the place immediately, but she was certain it wasn’t the stars that hovered around her head when a firm hand struck her heavily on her face. It wasn’t the stars she was seeing as she fell to the ground that illuminated the place; they had had to come and hover around her head so many times in her life that they had slowly begun to lose their shine. But just as her face was struck, the illumination died, giving her the certainty that maybe the stars hadn’t lost their shine anyway.
It took a couple of seconds for a shriek to come from her lips. And when it had finally arrived from the instinctive journey of navigating through reason, emotion and bitter pain, another weight of pain had arrived just in time. The very same firm hand struck again. She shouted painfully. And then it struck again. She shouted in pains and tears. And again, and again; until she screamed at the top of her voice as she instinctively tried to defend against the hand.
Almost immediately, the firm hand caught hers and grabbed a hold of her wrist tightly and in one instantaneous and powerful pull, it lifted her up from the floor where she was scrambling for defense and it tossed her away like a piece of empty canned trash.
As her fragile back struck the wooden edge of an old cushion chair, she could swear that she heard her spine twist and crack. She was probably right, because soon enough the painful scream that came out of her mouth caused her to instinctively feel for her back as hot steamy tears escaped her eyes. Then she heard the footstep coming towards her; Tolulope braced herself, swallowing hard as she dodged to her side just as she felt two arms stretching forth menacingly towards her fragile frame. One arm brushed her shoulders slightly as she dodged to the side. She tried to make a run for it, but slipped and fell to the floor hard as the sole of her foot brushed against a liquid substance that felt like water. As she managed to get up almost immediately, her foot again struck slightly against a plastic cup.
She wasn’t sure where the hand came from again, because although she thought she had somehow managed to escape it, it struck her hard once again. This time it wasn’t on her face. It landed so heavily on her back that it sent her crashing heavily into the table, knocking over a ceramic plate and another plastic cup filled with water. She heard the water spill to the floor and the plate scatter into broken pieces as she herself also struck the table and landed on the floor. She felt a painful sting as she hit the floor, and as she turned over to try to stand up she could feel a few broken pieces of ceramics sticking bloodily to her flesh.
But she couldn’t make it to her feet in time; the arms from the darkness didn’t let her. In painful succession, the two arms took turns dropping their full weight on her fragile frame in powerful punches. She screamed. She cried. She shouted. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Amidst the painful blows, she tried to wriggle free off the powerful grasp of one of the arm, but she couldn’t. She was no match for the strength of the arms. The pain was overwhelming, and for a moment, in the solace of her thoughts, she actually resolved to her fate.
“This is the end. It can’t get any worse”, she reconciled in her head as the punches kept on landing painfully on almost every part of her fragile bodily frame; her eyes, her jaw, her ribs, everywhere. Just as she was beginning to wholly accept the blows as her soon to be exit from the perils of a hard short life…they stopped. The arms rescinded almost immediately, and after a few seconds, she heard a sound that sprung her beaten and fragile figure to her feet in a painful and quick reflex.
It was her little brother, Oladapo’s screams.
From where the strength came from, she couldn’t fathom; and she didn’t care to know. All she knew was that the two firm arms had gotten to Ola, and she had to rescue her little brother from their grasp.
She headed towards the direction of his screams and as she made her way through the darkness, she could hear a swift and precise whip-lashing sound. Ola’s screams and the lashing sound seemed to form a battered simultaneous harmony; as the whip lashed, Ola screamed; as it lashed heavily, he screamed the more. It was dark, but as soon as Tolulope knew that she was close to the arms, she dove into the dark, hoping to collide with the figure that bore the arms.
The figure staggered to a fall, and struck something; it had lost its footing just as Tolulope’s body had hit it. There was a painful groan and a deathly gasp. Tolulope groped in the darkness for a few seconds and managed to drag her frightened and weeping brother from the floor and out of harm’s way. She pulled her brother to his feet and dragged him off as they made towards the door. She knew that if she could only just get out of there, she’ll at least have a chance of surviving another day. When her body collided with the door, she felt hopeful, and she quickly gained her balance and yanked at the door knob.
But there was nothing.
She yanked at it again…and again. But the door wouldn’t bulge to an open. And suddenly, all hope seemed lost. Painful tears rushed down her face as she slumped to the floor with her back on the door. It was over. Her fate and that of her brother’s was sealed. She couldn’t run from it anymore. Her whole body ached in pain. It was over; all they had to do now was to wait for the hangman to come finish the job.
A deathly dark silence suddenly fell over the whole place, and all they could hear was the sound of their labored and heavy breathing, mixed with tearful sniffs and coughs. They couldn’t hear the groans of the figure anymore. And in that silence, as she sat with her brother at the foot of the door, breathing heavily, she thought she heard Olu say something to her. He did. Holding firm to her arm and leaning against her shoulder, panting with fear, Olu asked his sister a question his little mind for so long, badly needed an answer to.
“Tolu…w-why…” he gulped heavily; he spoke in a quiet whisper, “w-why…does m-mummy hate us so much?”
Tolu shifted a little uncomfortably, she sniffed, shook her head and with tears resonating in her voice she replied her four year old little brothers question in the Yoruba language, with the painful honesty that her nine year old reasoning could salvage.
“Olu…mi o mo”. Olu…I don’t know.
And that was the truth. She had been born into a house that was engulfed with failed dreams, frustrated hope and a cold air of regret. And as she grew up, she had had to learn how to shield her thoughts from the scares that growing up in a home filled with abuse had imprinted on her little mind, albeit being a victim of the abuses as well. But the pains she felt, wasn’t really the beating; it was the growing up that was. She had become an adult at nine. And it had been a painful and heart rending transition.
She loved her mother deeply, but she was no fan of the gruesome beatings. It felt as though everything that she tried to do to the best of her ability always spooked an evil demon of frustration in her mother; a frustration that brought out a beast of a human being from the pits of hell.
Her fragile body was a tattoo of scars, deep cuts and bloody scratches. Her mother used anything on Tolulope; anything and everything, all in the name of discipline. It spanned from the head of a belt, to the hard sole of her shoes, and even to her dreadful thirty nine year old fists. And so many times, more than she could count, Tolulope had had to curse the day that she had been born to such a dreadful monster. But even with all the abuse; even with all the hatred that she sometimes felt, she still loved her mother deeply.
In the depths of her heart, the person who seemed to enjoy inflicting pains on her at the slightest of provocation was not her mother. To her, that person was a faceless monster and her subconscious had registered that protective layer of reasoning. It had become etched to the walls of her brain, so much so that anytime the evil monster had decided to prey on her and her brother Olu, Tolulope didn’t see the face of her mother; all she saw was a dark faceless monster with arms. For her it felt better to reconcile to a monster theory like in the cartoons she watched than to deal with the trauma of a frustrated and heartless mother.
She loved her mother deeply. But she loathed the monster that had eaten up her humanity. And although as she sat with her brother in the dark, on the floor with their backs to the door, Tolulope knew that even if she could survive this night, there were probably plenty more of such nights to come.
She was just nine years old, but she knew about death, and she knew that one day, if the beatings did not kill her, the thought of it will.
Tolu sighed heavily. Her breathing had begun to calm down already. Having been lost in her own deep thoughts for a while, Olu had fallen asleep on her shoulders. The place was quiet. There was no sign of her mother, the monster. She turned her head a little and stared into the darkness for a while hoping to get a slight glimpse of the furious figure coming towards them. But she didn’t. And after a while, a few seconds turned to very long minutes. And then, her eyes suddenly became heavy and without warning, she dozed off.
As she slept, she dreamt. The monster had come for her and her brother once again, but this time she had defended herself and her brother with a kitchen knife and had stabbed the monster to its death.
She woke up the next morning on her bed and walked to the sitting room. She saw two men and her father seated quietly in the living room. Her eyes met her father’s and they stared at each other for a little. But suddenly she broke the gaze, as her eyes fell on something on the floor in front of her father and the other men. It was covered in a white sheet. There was blood around the figure. And then a sudden realization dawned on her as she turned and stared into her father’s eyes once more in shock. He shook his head pitifully as he looked away and folded his arms across his chest.
The dream had come to pass. She had really killed the monster.
Her mother was dead.
Featured Image: Beshef