For a century neither Olivier nor her step mother said anything; no, they did speak, volumes they spoke but not with their mouths, volumes, their eyes spoke. The woman studied Olivier from head to toes, then toes to head, with reluctant urgency and degrading admiration. Olivier’s eyes were heavy and blank but unflinchingly locked on her ex-guardian’s face. The woman, not able to look steadily at Olivier’s pupils, suddenly became piqued and a potent anger rose from her bosom, travelled through her neck and gave her vocal cords strength.
‘So you are in Lagos?’ she asked, but it wasn’t really a question; it was an accusation.
Olivier’s gaze fell to the fellow’s amply applied lip gloss.
The step mother looked at her Olivier’s belly. ‘You removed it?’
Olivier noticed a small feather of happy twinkle in the edges of this question.
‘I have a small advice for you. Your father is very mad at you; you have brought shame into our family and smeared our name with mud. For your own good, stay away from us. You know your father’s temper. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
Olivier the sculpture didn’t as much as blink. She just stared on. Iyke came to stand by her side. The woman gave him a perfunctorily glare and stamped pass them.
‘Who is she?’ Iyke asked.
‘Let’s go home.’
Iyke presented her the handkerchief. She shook her head. ‘One handkerchief cannot fully wipe my tears. My tragedy has built a sorrowful fountain in my heart. My eyes are just the windows through which this sorrow finds expression. One thousand handkerchiefs cannot wipe this sorrow from my heart.’
They were standing on Lucy’s rug looking out of the window into grey Lagos landscape. The clouds were gathering, a heavy rain lurked at a corner of heaven.
Iyke lifted the handkerchief to her face but she beat him off. ‘No handkerchief can clean the hurt in my heart.’
‘Let me wipe the hurt in your eyes. Your heart I cannot see nor am I qualified to heal. Kindly surrender your eyes.’
Olivier shook her head. ‘My heart is the source of my tears. You can wipe my eyes from now till we grow old, it won’t make a difference. It is my heart that bleeds.’
‘I have heard your story, it is not a story that your young eyes should witness. Tears are good. Cry, do cry, but please let me wipe the tears. If I don’t wipe the tears they will flow into your mouth. Tears taste salty, tears carry salt; un-wiped tears will add more salt to your heart.’
He made the effort, again Olivier slapped his wrist.
‘Leave me alone.’
‘It is my duty.’
‘It is my eyes.’
‘It is my apartment.’
She beat him off. Iyke shrugged as he made for the kitchen area. ‘What do you want to eat?’
‘I want vengeance.’
Iyke didn’t hear this. ‘Will you eat spaghetti?’
‘I will have vengeance.’
Iyke placed a kind hand on her shoulder. ‘There are so many people involved in your hurt. You don’t have what it takes to hit them all. Not even the government can fully get them all. That is why you should bring God into the picture.’
‘God is too merciful for my liking,’ she said.
‘He is the only One who can reward them all. They are too much for you.’
‘I don’t care about all of them. I just want to lay my hands on Tony.’
Iyke let out a sad chuckle. ‘You don’t understand vengeance. I have lived more or less in the streets of Lagos for twelve years and I think I understand vengeance more than you. Vengeance is greedy and insatiable. Once you settle with Tony, you will see reasons why your step mother must equally be punished. If you settle with her, you will see that the touts too need not go free. By this time, Tony and his sister’s people are pursuing you for their own vengeance. Vengeance is a crazy circle, a puzzle your little head cannot fathom. I don’t go to church every Sunday but I understand the politics of vengeance so much that I believe only God can effectively dispense it. Petition Him.’
She shook her head with hateful energy. ‘It is my pains, I will carry my cross.’
‘It is okay. But at least you will eat before you go for your vengeance. What do you want to eat?’
She didn’t say anything.
‘You will eat whatever I cook o.’
She spoke, ‘My father will never forgive me. I let him down.’
‘I think he has already forgiven you.’
She shook her head. ‘She said my father is mad at me and I believe her.’
‘Your step mother?’
Iyke fished out Okoro’s newspaper and presented it to Olivier. For more than two minutes Olivier studied her photograph on the newspaper. She sighed finally.
‘Why didn’t you show me this newspaper earlier?’
‘I didn’t want to shock you.’
‘You lied to me.’
‘Yes.’ Iyke returned to the kitchen area. ‘Rice and beans,’ he announced like a professional chef and began to light the stove.
‘I miss my father, but I am not ready to see him. I will see him after I settle my score with Tony.’
They were silent for a long time. Olivier continued to study the newspaper as though it was a handbook on vengeance. Iyke was sweating on the stove, over his rice and beans preparation. Thunder rumbled in the sky. The room darkened rapidly. Iyke switched on the rechargeable lamp, saying something about Lucy’s absence.
‘When did Lucy say she was coming back?’ he asked.
Olivier ignored him.
He brought out his phone from his hip, pocketing the knife and onion he had in his hand. He dialled Lucy’s number. It didn’t connect; ‘evil network’; he threw the phone on the mattress where Oliver sat moping over the newspaper, and rushed back to his kitchen. He began to look for the knife, scattering utensils and lifting food sacks. Irritation cut his sweating brow into lines. He dipped his hand on his pocket to get his handkerchief and touched the knife. Angrily, he yanked it off and made for the pot, his tomato sauce was already burning.
The rain fell with great wrath, beating down on weary roofs and dirty earth in bucketful. The wind was powerful and drove the celestial water into mad waves, threatening to uproot every house under its furious jurisdiction. Thunder shot into the fray with a mad clap at intervals, lighting the earth for two seconds and sowing panic at hearts. The atmosphere was in a serious business.
Olivier was sure the house couldn’t stand this deluge. But she didn’t care. Let the earth be submerged, let the whole world die. Then resurrect after some time and start afresh. Every heart a clean slate. Unstained. Unbroken.
Iyke was at the kitchen area fussing over his pot of food. He looked at Olivier and winked for the twentieth time. ‘I am a great cook o.’ She didn’t say anything, he didn’t care. He dipped a spoon on the steaming pot, brought it out, hit it on his palm and tasted. ‘Haah,’ he cried as pepper cut his tongue. Too much pepper, no salt. He made for salt.
The rain took a sharp breath, as though to hear the petitions against it. It seemed satisfied with the silence that greeted it for it resumed its angry wail.
‘This rain na wah o,’ Iyke turned to Olivier but she was not seated on the mattress. Where could the girl be in this storm, he wondered. He opened the door and shifted back quickly as spittle of rain caressed his face. The water fell on the earth in small undisciplined whirlwinds. She could have gone to the bathroom to ease herself, he said unconvincingly to himself as he went back to his culinary job. One minute later, Olivier hadn’t returned. He brought down the half-cooked food, blew off the stove and went out to look for her.
The rain drenched him as he locked the door. He ran to the bathroom, Olivier wasn’t there; he knocked on the toilet door, silent, he opened it, empty. He ran out of the compound. The whole street was covered with brown stream of water. WHERE IS OLIVIER?
‘Olivier!’ he shouted but the rain seized his voice and twisted it in the wind, wasting it. Iyke made a small O with his mouth and blew it; he wiped off his face the water blinding his eyes. He sighed at the enormity of this duty and began to fold on the water to the road. He just had to find the girl. But where the hell was she? he kicked and broke into a run. Olivier was traumatic, the consequence of seeing her step mother, and in such case was dangerous to herself. Too dangerous. She could be hurting herself!
He increased his pace. The great water in his person had loosed the hold of his belt and his trousers were sneaking down. He grabbed his trousers with one hand, wiping his face with the other and shouting, ‘Olivier! Olivier! Olivier!!’
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