There’s a metallic taste in my mouth as I write.
Today has been the most horrible day of my life. I wish I could rewind it but in the end, it would still have played out in exactly the same way. Because Siena would still have appeared on my doorstep at a little past 3 in the morning, dripping wet from the rain, shivering, with welts on her back and arms and black bruises on her face. And I still would have let her in, still would have rinsed out the blood in her hair, still would have mixed her a cocoa laced with gin because she isn’t just anyone, she’s my best friend, my cousin and the closest thing to a sister I will ever have. Her light skin was of an unholy pallor under the naked incandescent bulb. Her eyes were dull, flat, lifeless as she spoke. It would have helped if she was angry, I would have felt better. Or if she was sad. Or high on one of those pills she was always popping. I couldn’t deal with this lifelessness, this indifference to whatever happened.
“I made a mistake.” Her voice was low and disinterested. As if she was reading the care labels on clothing. “Did you hear me? I made a mistake. I don’t love him.”
“Okay.” I helped her change out of her torn, blood-stained tunic into one of my old tee shirts. I had to steel myself from retching at the crisscrossing of purple-black welts on her back. “Shall I heat water for you to bathe?”
“No. I’m pregnant.” She looked round the room we had shared until six months ago as if she were just seeing it for the first time. She still spoke in a formal whisper. “Can I stay here with you? Until I get everything sorted out?”
“Of course. Yes.” I wondered if she was in shock. I wondered what my chances were of killing someone and getting away with it. We were seated on the bed, close enough for the citrus scent of her perfume to overwhelm the lavender air freshener hanging over the doorway and I wanted to hug her and cry but I was afraid that touching her would hurt her and not just physically. She seemed … disconnected.
“I wanted to have the baby but I don’t love him so I can’t keep it. I don’t want anything that has to do with him. I just want…” She paused, cocked her head in thought, shook it slightly. “I don’t know.”
“No. Tell me. What do you want?”
She looked at me and tried to smile a smile that didn’t reach her eyes but her cheeks were swollen asymmetrical-like. “Why do you want to know, Pewe?” Pewe was her nickname for me because I was short, it meant Little One in the old tongue.
“Maybe I could help you … get it.”
“I want an abortion.” She examined her fingernails and then looked at me, and for a second, there was a flash of the old Siena in her eyes; sadness, defiance, hope. Then it was gone, and her black eyes bored into mine expressionless.
“I have some money in the bank. We’ll get it out in the morning and find a doctor. You’re sure you’re pregnant?”
Four hours later and I was withdrawing half of my life savings. It wasn’t much; I’d only being in gainful employment for less than a year. Siena looked on, in bored fashion, in all her hurt glory. Her face and forearms were exposed for all the world to see, and shake their heads in pity. I resisted the urge to growl at a few people. Siena is taller than I am but I’m leaner and so beside her, I’m like her younger sister. But at that moment, like most of our adult lives, I was her defender, and I wanted to protect her from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. It would have helped if she had the same concerns. Her hair hung around her wan face in tangled locks and she’d refused the sunglasses I gave her with an ironic smile made grotesque by her swollen face. I wanted to kill him for what he’d done to her. I wanted to kill her for letting him do it.
It had rained all night, and it was still raining as we approached the euphemistically-named Reproductive Health Clinic. There were people standing in the rain with placards that read, “Babies Want to Be Born” and “Abortion is a Sin” and the like. Their eyes accused us as we entered the gates and I couldn’t resist glaring back. Who’d died and made them judge? Sinners casting first stones. Seated in the cool reception, thumbing through the catalogues and read-skimming the posters on the wall, Siena began to sing. Her voice wasn’t all it used to be when we were sixteen years old and fresh from secondary school and dreaming big dreams. It was wearied, her voice, and lonely and sad. It was appropriate; she sang of a beautiful girl who had believed lies, and succumbed to the vanities of her youth only to discover it was all a farce.
“That’s a stupid song.” I said to console her.
“I hate this.” She gestured at the pamphlet I held. “It’s going to bloody hurt.” And she sounded scared. I nodded. The procedure wasn’t pretty, even on paper. No doubt, the reality would be far worse. The receptionist had given us a seat in the waiting room and a nurse had gone to fetch a counselor. My eyes itched from lack of sleep and I had no doubt they looked as sore as they felt.
“Maybe I shouldn’t do it.” She rubbed her upper arms as if she was cold.
“We can’t afford to keep it.” I touched her arm. She bit her lower lip, looked away. “And besides, you said you didn’t want anything of his, right?”
“Maybe I could give it up for adoption.”
I snorted. I had been adopted. “If I were the kid, I’d curse you for it. Do you want to keep it?”
The counselor came in, a tall, plump woman in a magenta dress with a brisk manner. She asked questions rapid fire, scribbling untidily on a board. Siena answered in a steady voice, but with every glance at me I saw the mounting terror in her eyes. She didn’t want to do it.
“Can I be in the room with her?” I asked.
“No.” was the curt response.
And then all too soon, Siena had changed into a green hospital gown, and her hair was caught up in a shower cap. As they wheeled her on the gurney, I held her hand and smiled bravely. She shook her head in misery. I started crying. I knew when they started tearing into her. She screamed and screamed and then I was sitting on the bench, sobbing into my lap, stopping up my ears with my fingers. But I could still hear her and so I started to barge through into the theatre but the counselor came and restrained me. “You could cause an infection.”
“Make them give her something, I beg you! Make her sleep!”
She shrieked like her very insides were being hollowed out, in her native Urhobo, in Yoruba. She screamed and screamed and screamed. She was shouting my name. She was shouting his name. She was crying, over and over and over the same words. “Mea culpa! Mea culpa!” She lost her mind in the pain. They wouldn’t even let her sleep over. Two hours later, we were in a taxi, home-bound. Her head rested on my shoulder and she was crying without a sound. I hated myself that I was healthy and strong and pain free while she suffered in her agony. She wouldn’t say a word. She lay down on the mattress and closed her eyes, but she was still crying. Even when I was convinced she was asleep, tears still leaked from her eyes. She would never be the same, she would never be ok. And so tonight, I write it out. To try and make sense. To understand. To share. I don’t know why I feel this urge to bare my very soul like I do now. Maybe I do it as a penance, to feel as shame what she feels as pain. I am her friend, her confidante, her sister. And I have failed to protect her. I fear she will never forgive me.