Crickets chirping as backing track for tooting horns of trucks exploiting the ease of the highway; grey clouds smearing the elegance of a new moon- Nabila’s falling victim to the symphony of midnight yet again.
Nabila’s laid on her bed, looking out her netted window. She’s imaging a wilted bellflower on the face of the moon and wondering if she, the moon, ever does get lonely. She wonders how much longer it would take gravity to betray all of humanity.
She has been twenty years of age for barely twenty minutes now, and although she’s yet to feel older, the wisdom to tame wild thoughts of how much longer it could take her to define purpose for herself evades her still. Looking out her window for the sky and its dealings formed a habit for a once dreamy Nabila since she grudgingly was gifted this room for herself fifteen years ago.
A whale of a cloud takes the moon hostage for a sullen moment when Nabila hears the door to her room creak open. She almost lunges to slam the door shut when a blur of what appears to be a head creeps in through the thin opening of her door, and then a silvery voice whispers, “Neela, happy birthday.”
Nabila smiles in earnest at whom she’s mostly certain is her younger sister and replies in feigned cheer “sweetheart, thanks a plenty. Mummy will soon be back though, you should go back to bed”. Even in the dim of her room, Nabila makes out her sister’s missing two front teeth when her sister smiles at her before dragging the door close, and the sight of that sustained the smile on Nabila’s face for a little longer than she had worn it for.
The moon’s beginning to peek through from behind the mammoth cloud that had earlier interrupted their deep conversation when Nabila hears a voice call out for her. The voice shrills a second time, “Neelaaaaa!”. Nabila has grown to know her mother’s drunk voice quite well and her reluctance to walk downstairs to open the door for her is a statement of her knowledge of that, amongst all else.
The electricity company officials that arrived in their exhausted pickup truck the night before last had, in the view of her neighbours, cut their electricity supply and even taken some wires connected to her house’s electricity pole with them despite Nabila’s pleas. So, Nabila navigates through the dark to the door downstairs with the help of the moon’s insufficient shine beaming through the windows.
“Ina key naki?” Nabila asserts to her mother on opening the door. Wearing what can best be described as a face of ridicule, her mother stares at her and slurs artlessly “since when do you speak hausa? And you don’t know how to greet again shaybi? And what’s the story with the light? And who are you squeezing your face like that for?”.
Nabila has yet to build an immunity against the irritability of her mother, so unlike her kid sister who would outlandishly forge excuses for her dearly beloved mummy, Nabila makes no effort whatsoever to suppress her disgust with her old lady this time. When Nabila’s mother staggers past her, Nabila’s senses are bludgeoned by a violent stench of waywardness and its frills.
Her mother drags herself to the three-seater positioned left to the door she was warmly cheered through a few seconds ago, gifting the seater the full might of her weight while humming and lazily nodding to the corniest of christian praise songs all the way. Nabila hasn’t seen her mother in two days, but she knows better than to bring that topic up with a woman known to choke her first daughter over issues related to wet bathroom slippers.
Nabila’s mother’s laid facing a coloring ceiling, with her both eyes closed. Her old lady continues to hum whilst leading an imaginary choir with uncoordinated hand gestures, then suddenly bursts into loud singing, “Comman join me sing alleluia, ubangiji yaff done me well!” Without lifting her head, she extends her arm towards the door were Nabila’s still stood and she gleefully beckons her daughter, “Nabila, comman join me oh!”
Wearing no headscarf, the forty two year old woman is wearing the same tight-fitting blouse sewn from hollandis cotton fabric that she had worn when she left home two days ago, and she has the matching wrapper loosely about her waist to go with it. Nabila bolts the door and cushions herself on a chair, across from the brighter area of the parlor where her mother sets stage.
It could be the vulnerability of her mother or the stench of rock bottom that fills the room, but either way, seeing her mother completely let go of sanity triggers sincere cheer in Nabila for the first time in a long while.
The familiar occurences surrounding Nabila’s mother’s late arrivals have always had scenes of aggressive screaming and threatenings, but today’s theatrics seem different. On other days, Nabila’s mother would come back home on two working feet, smelling like cheap beer and cigarettes. Today, she had to have been celebrating something huge because she had obviously thrown up into her cleavage and her hair’s still evidently wet.
Nabila giggles and spews aloud in a bid to trigger a comedic routine, “Mummy, ina takalman ki?” Her mother abruptly stops her humming and lays still. Nabila asks again in jest, “Mamman Neela, how did you get back home?” Nabila’s about to ask about her mother’s shoes again when her mother cuts her short, “Theresa. That’s my name!”
This is no news to Nabila. Her mother has always been known as miss Theresa Sunah. Theresa had told Nabila her father died before she was born, and although Nabila had her reservations about the truth as regards her father’s identity, Nabila diligently played her part in convincing her younger sister about her mother’s truth as regards their father alleged demise.
Nabila responds, “Yes! mummy, your name has always been Theresa. Or have you gone by any other name before?”. Her mother makes what seems to be an attempt at an audible statement but then falls short. Theresa makes a second attempt, and this time, Nabila picks up on only the word ‘stupid’ from her mother’s rambling. Nabila snickers then asks, “What is stupid?” Her mother weakly points in her direction and slurs, “You are!”
Her mother continues, “you useless thing, didn’t I give you money for the nepa bill on Friday? Why didn’t you pay it?” Nabila’s smile instantly wears off in reaction to her mother’s new found articulation and she calmly replies, “you left money for the nepa bill without leaving money for food or emergencies. What sense did that make to you?”
Theresa seems disgusted by her daughter’s tone, so in one fell swoop, she picks herself up from the three-seater and charges at Nabila. The suddenness with which Theresa charges at her daughter forces Nabila into a primal position, angling her feet and hands in defense against her mother. Nabila catches her mother in the chest with both her feet, causing her old lady to land heavily on the cold tiled floor, heavily enough to leave her silent for a couple of seconds.
Nabila hears subtle sobbing, then Theresa groans ” Neela, ki yi hankuri. I don’t know why I did that.” The silence is sustained, and then Theresa groans even louder, “I don’t know why I do anything anymore.”
Nabila condones her mother’s now exacerbating wailing for over two minutes- on one hand, Nabila feels somewhat guilty for successfully pulling a wrestling move on her mother, and on the other, Nabila’s disappointed in herself for not knocking the old lady out. With Nabila still sat a foot’s swing away from her mother’s face, Theresa’s crying goes on for a few more minutes, letting Nabila’s pride enough time to melt into pity.
Demanding a lot less will than she had thought it would, Nabila eventually picks Theresa up and guides her old lady up the stairs to her room. Nabila attempts and fails to pick all the grains of rice pressed to her mother’s chest after she lays the woman on her bed. Nabila tries to convince her mother to lay on her side so the zipper to her blouse can be undone, but the old lady snaps again, “so you wanted to kill me abi?! Shaybi you won’t be happy until you kill me?”
But Nabila’s underimpressed. She reaches for her old lady’s zipper once more and Theresa descends to her crying again, and this time, Theresa’s much more empathetic and in need of touch.
With her eyes still closed and her face to the ceiling, Theresa latches onto Nabila’s oversized shirt and pleads, “Neela ki yi hankuri. I’m so so sorry”. Nabila’s fuming now and she yells at her mother, “just stay in one place lemme remove the blouse already don Allah!”
Then Theresa tugs on Nabila’s shirt and softly adds, “Meela, Haruna has asked me to move to Kano with him.” Nabila pulls away from her mother in frustration and replies, “Who’s usman again? And why do I have to know anything about you and him?”
Theresa smirks a while and continues, “I will go. I won’t come back. I will go alone, and this time, I wont come back!” Nabila wants to think of her mother’s recent purge as mere drunk talk, but her old lady keeps mumbling the same words over and over again until she makes a poorly sung song of them- “I will go. I won’t come back. I will go alone, and this time, I swear I won’t come back”
Nabila gives up on putting her mother to bed in comfort altogether. She gets up from beside her mother on the bed to open the windows, and despite both windows in her mother’s room being open, the heat cooks the smell of vomit sourced from her mother such that every nook within the room open to access takes a spiff of stench for itself.
The door to Nabila’s younger sister’s room is ajar, as it should be, so Nabila eases her tone to put to her sister a question “Meena, goodnight.” And after a brief silence, Amina chirps in response, “Night Neela.”
Nabila drags herself to the bathroom to wash the vomit off of her, but the water’s running unreasonably cold. So she walks to the sink, rinses both her hands instead of a much needed shower, takes off the vomit-stained shirt, covers her bare chested self under a thin duvet, and then lets out a well deserved sigh.
Theresa’s and Amina’s Nabila is laid on her stomach with her head turned to face her window. She sees lighter clouds racing each other past a now distant moon. She and the moon aren’t to complete their conversation tonight, since both of them seem quite occupied. She has cometo understand her moon to not be hers alone; not hers at all even.
If only she could listen; if only she heard the moon call out for her when it did.