The year was 1994 and Athena was home alone. Toke and Tireni had gone to Philadelphia to spend the Christmas break. Tireni was due back in two weeks. Toke, however was going to stay a bit a longer. She wasn’t sure if Tomide was going to come home this time with Toke or go back to the Maryland where he was studying. She had not seen him in a while and wondered about him. No one told her anything in this house. And she never asked. She had found out that asking too many questions led to too much trouble.
She had been with Auntie Labisi for 5 years now. She and Toke had completed secondary school last June and so far, nothing was said to her about what the future held for her. She had, upon Grandma Coker’s insistence written SAT with Toke. they had both passed. Only Toke had taken TOEFL though. And only Toke had submitted applications to a couple of American Universities. She guessed Toke might be waiting back in the US to attend some interviews. No one told her anything in this house. And she would never ask.
“Yes, Auntie…” she replied, dropping her novel on the floor and getting off the bed “I’m on my way down…”
She practically ran down the stairs. Since her cousins left, it had become more and more difficult to please her aunt. Every action of hers was a potential slight to Labisi and she tried extra hard to prevent incidents of malicious tongue lashing. Nowadays, she didn’t even appreciate her Uncle’s tries to ‘rescue’ her anymore. It was no longer looking good that her Aunt and Uncle would have a major quarrel over differences in opinion on how she should be treated. Much to her chagrin, her Uncle appeared un-relentless in getting her fair treatment. Though he tried to do it with tact, it was obvious to her aunt nonetheless.
The truth was, a reasonable human being would not have seen any thing wrong with Uncle Jay coming to Athena’s aid when her Aunt was upset with her. It was the sort of things fathers did for their daughters. Though he hardly needed to do the same for his kids, no one else, other than her aunt saw it as extra ordinary. And since their last major argument, no, fight, over the matter, Athena decided to be of pristine character, even if it meant bending over backwards to please her Auntie Labisi.
“I’m going to see your grandmother. Tireni is coming back next week and the laundry man has traveled. Between you and the cleaner, I want all his washed clothes ironed and folded in his room. I want his room cleaned too. You will clean it again this weekend. Just make sure the place is aired right. Meanwhile, the cleaner is also supposed to clean up all the other rooms upstairs and clear the store at the back. I want it all done before I come back, okay?”
“By the way, next week, on Independence Day, I’m having a small get together, so you will go shopping with the driver tomorrow, ok?”
“And then, you will also go to Tireni’s school before they close for the day to pick up the study plan for the two weeks he’s missing. I will scan and send it to him when I get back so he can start reading there.”
“Infact, come with me now. You will come back with a taxi or bus or something” Labisi said dismissively walking out of the house.
Athena had on only a pair of shorts and a tank top. On her feet were rubber flip flops Toke gave her just before she traveled.
“Auntie, can please run back to the room and change into something else?”
“Come on follow me! You think I have the time to wait for you to change into party clothes for you boyfriends?” Labisi hissed and kept walking as she motioned for the driver to bring the car up front. Athena stood beside her aunt and prayed that she would not run into anyone she knew.
The journey back was almost hitch free. There was only one snag, Athena had never been in a public bus before. In her 4 years at her Aunt’s today was the first time was being sent out without the driver. She had no idea when to alight from the bus. She knew the junction that led to the estate where they lived, but she had no idea what the bus stop was called. Before she knew it, the rickety bus had zoomed past Rubble Junction and was on the way to the main park. Not being one to draw attention, she waited till the bus finally stopped before she got down and began the trek home. It was a long trek, the sun was at its hottest, poor Athena was tired, hungry and scared that she might not find her way. Then again, there was the chores she was to do before her aunt returned. She quickened her pace and prayed that the heat of the sun would not give her a fever. Twenty minutes later, she could see Rubble Junction afar off. She was glad at least that the long stretch was almost over. She walked faster and more assuredly this time. Suddenly a car pulled up behind her.
“She turned to see her Uncle’s driver parking beside her. The back door opened and her uncle stepped out angrily.
“What are you doing here? Where in the world are you coming from?”
She had tried to stammer an explanation, but it all came out wrong. He ordered her into the car while he dialed his wife’s number to demand an explanation. Athena was happy the walk was over. She didn’t realize how tired she was until the cold air in the car hit her now scorching skin. She shuddered at the sudden change in temperature and hugged herself tight. Her uncle looked at her, shook his head and they rode in silence till they got to the house. From his conversation with Auntie Labisi, it seemed he came to the house to pick up something he needed for work that day. When they got to the house, she thanked him and walked straight to Tireni’s room.
Half way through cleaning Tireni’s room, Athena noticed her temperature was on the rise.
“I should go down to my room to take a quick shower. But I have so much left to do…” she thought.
On second thoughts, she decided to wash Tireni’s bathroom and shower in there immediately afterwards. So, she went to her room to pick new clothes. On her way back up, she noticed that there was music coming from her Uncle’s study. He hadn’t gone back to work afterall. She put her cloths down and knocked on the door of the study.
“Who is it?’
“It’s Athena, Uncle. I just wanted to find out if you would like to have lunch”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
That settled it. Another potential offense averted. She went back to Tireni’s room to finish up and shower. She was stepping out of the shower when she heard the door open.
“Oh no! Auntie Labisi!” she thought
She heard foot steps heading towards the bathroom and struggled to get back into her clothes. The bathroom door opened and she was wondering what she would say. Athena almost passed out when the bathroom door opened.
“There will be trouble for this”, she thought. “Big trouble…”
She was still thinking when she looked up. It was not Auntie Labisi. It was her Uncle Jay standing there looking at her half naked wet body.
“I’m sorry, sir” she spluttered. I was washing the bathroom and I got dirty so I just thought I could take a quick shower before…”
“It’s fine, it’s ok.” he said. “I just came to check on you to see if you were fine. How are you feeling? Any temperature?”
Her shock was palpable. “No sir… not anymore. I had a mild temperature when I got back but it’s gone now”
“Really? Poor darling” he said coming closer to feel her temperature. “Yeah, you feel fine. You feel just fine.” he said, rubbing the back of her neck. “Are you feeling better?” he asked.
Athena now felt uncomfortable, standing only in her lace undies before her uncle, with his hands behind her neck, feeling for any change in her temperature. “Yes sir” she managed to croak. His right hand now touched her left arm and she shuddered in shock. He felt her response and looked intently at her again.
“Are you sure you are alright?”
“No… I don’t think you are. Come with me” he said as he led her back into Tireni’s room. “Lie down here for a while… let me get you some pain killers.”
Uncle Jay led her to the bed and laid her on it. He raised her bare legs and placed them under the clean duvet Athena just spread on Tireni’s bed. He pulled the duvet cover over her and stayed his hands on her chest a little longer than necessary. Then he rubbed her cheek and smiled.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. I’ll take care of you now”, he said.
He came back with the pain killers and a glass of water and gave it to her. She had laid there while he was gone like someone in a trance. She didn’t understand what was going on. She got up suddenly and quickly ran into the bathroom to get her clothes. She dressed hurriedly and went back to lie down. Uncle Jay came back and saw her dressed and sitting at the edge of the bed.
“Why did you get up? You should be lying down. After all you have been through today?”
“I am feeling better, Uncle. Thank you”
“No… you need to rest. Take off your clothes and get under the duvet. I’m putting on the AC just in case you develop a temperature again. Don’t worry, I’ll tell your aunt I told you to sleep in here.”
His words of assurance were like heat on her ice cold mound of fear and hurt. It had been a long time someone showed her this much affection. It felt so good to be cared for. She took off her tank top and slid under the covers again. She suddenly began to feel her temperature coming up again. Uncle Jay gave her the pain killers and the glass of water he brought and rubbed her temple while she downed it.
“That’s my girl!” he beamed at her. “You always make me proud! You know that don’t you?”
She nodded and shut her eyes to sleep. Let me lock the door so no one disturbs you. That was the last thing she heard before she drifted off to sleep.
Athena was awakened by movement around her. Someone was pulling at the covers and turning her body on the bed. Some hands were pulling at her jean shorts too. She was too weak to respond or open her eyes. She had never been this groggy with sleep before. Suddenly, rough hands were pressing and pulling at her chest. She was pushing for it to stop, as in a dream… but she wasn’t pushing hard enough. The hands were suddenly intruding into more sensitive parts of her body. Then a body was over hers. And then a very sharp pain that jolted her to consciousness. She found Uncle Jay on top of her, panting and heaving. Disoriented, she wondered what he was doing and then realised he was the intruder. She pushed him off her with all the strength she could muster but there was no budging him. He was too far gone to hear her cries and pleas to stop. She was biting and pinching him, clawing in pain and desperation to be free. It was then she heard the banging on the door. She screamed louder even as he tried to cover her mouth with his sticky hands. She was biting his fingers when he suddenly hit her head with something cold and hard as steel. Athena saw herself slipping away. She felt like she was floating away from the assault on her body. The intrusion suddenly felt surreal, like it was a dream. She gave in to the comfort and slipped into blissful unconsciousness.
When I woke, I was wondered where I was. I was surrounded by people dressed in white. I wished I was in heaven. The doctors said I had gone in and out of consciousness for days. I did not remember anything other than the nightmares. Someone was always with me every time I opened my eyes, a nurse, a doctor. Twice, I saw Auntie Labisi watching me, tears and hate on her face. I quickly gave in to the unconsciousness each time. Then one day, she came and told me that Grandma Coker was ill. That was the day she told me that I would be joining Toke in America.
I traveled the following week. It all happened in a blur. First the hospital, then Grandma Coker’s, then the airport and finally America.