Prisoner I am/ Behind this ribcage
Awaiting the dainty fingers of morn/ To give me wings
One night, Zizi went to her room and emerged the next morning completely transformed from her father’s daughter into a child of the ephemeral four winds. She had sat up in her room and read the old notebook, the one she chanced upon lying in a ray of sunlight atop the pile of silverfish-eaten books in the garage.
Her brother Sule wanted to start a music studio and thought the abandoned garage would be a good starting place, until he made enough money to move out. It was obvious from his sullen mien that he felt like an eagle in a canary’s cage. Zizi knew she, too, would feel that way if in the next four years when she turned twenty-five and, like Sule, was still living with her parents.
Sule had enlisted their younger brother Bala to help. Zizi was no good when it came to such things. Her wiry arms lacked the strength to move the broken furniture and boxes of old books and shoes and things. And the dust would trigger her asthma and have her mother Mma in a state of excitement.
Bala had just turned seventeen but his head was just inches from the chandelier in the dining room. He would wear tight-fitting T-shirts (shirts that would have hung loosely around Zizi’s shoulders) and flex his muscles, like Sule.
She stood by, watching them laugh at the scurrying rats and swatting the roaches with brooms; envying them this luxury of hefting things and laughing unhindered in the dust. She would have given her right thumb just to be like them, like a sunbird roving in the garden, darting from flower to flower, adding her iridescent blur to the landscape.
A shaft of sunlight streamed in from the window high up on the wall, catching in its glare dust particles moving randomly like a colony of scattered ants, illuminating the gold plated edges of the notebook that had been atop a pile of other old books. It was hard covered and burgundy, with the words: ‘Jos Steel Rolling Mill, 1990’ printed on the cover in gold. It must have been her father’s, he had worked there. But it hadn’t been his neat colonial handwriting that filled the pages. The scrawls had been uncertain. And because her geeky reading glasses were in her room, she took the diary away and stayed in her room past dinner time.
But Mma, who had attended a rather strict missionary school, would have none of it. Families must dine together.
‘That’s just a ploy to bring dad home early,’ Sule had said once. ‘No way am I going to let my wife tie me down like this. No way!’ Mma had slapped him then, right across the face, stoking the irate spirit that had since refused to be pacified.
So that night, Sule sat waiting at the table next to his father, cracking his knuckles and grinding his teeth.
When Mma noticed her husband’s brows furrowing into aqueducts that cast shadows over his glare, noticed how he was caressing his greying beard, she knew he would pick up his cutlery and dig in before Zizi was at the table. Then the evening would be ruined.