Popcorn and milk
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Hot popcorn and warm milk on stormy nights. Kumbi’s mouth salivates at the memory, and if she concentrates hard, she can almost smell the buttery aroma of freshly popped corn. And the flowery fragrance of Mom’s perfume.
“How many times will I tell you not to hide behind chairs?” The question is directed at her, not at all in a friendly manner, and the voice that asks it is high-pitched and grating. The lovely scene she’s been reenacting underneath her shut eyelids disintegrates into a billion pieces. Kumbi opens her eyes and staggers to her feet.
Aunty Felicia towers above her, dressed as usual in a see-through spaghetti top and cut off jeans that show off her perfectly shaped thighs. As usual, her face is well made-up, the only thing marring it the huge smirk she wears.
“I’m sorry.” Kumbi mumbles and heads for her room, the room that was once hers and her sister’s.
“I’m not interested in your sorries. I just don’t want you crouching all over the place. You know your dad doesn’t like it, and that means I don’t like it. We don’t want him thinking I’m mistreating you, do we?”
At the doorway, Kumbi shakes her head quickly and blinks back the tears rapidly forming under her eyelashes. Aunty Felicia is actually her daddy’s fiancée, not her aunty. But she couldn’t call her Mom, couldn’t call her Felicia, didn’t know what to call her until Daddy told her it was okay to call her aunty.
There are still two beds, each on opposite sides of the room. But only her own bed is made up, the other almost creaking under the weight of half a dozen boxes. Aunty Felicia’s boxes, filled with clothes and shoes and towels and bags and everything under the sun.
Curling herself into the fetal position, she struggles to recapture the memory of popcorn nights, of Mom’s silvery laughter, of Yemisi’s rambunctiousness, of Daddy’s small sigh of satisfaction.
She struggles mightily but the images would not form. Instead she is besieged with memories of that day, that last day.
A hot afternoon. A doctor’s appointment that she had to miss because of an important recital in school. Waving off Mom and four-year-old Yemisi. Turning to go into her class. And. Then. That. Horrible. Screech. The visual horror of two tires flying through air, and the red ball of fire that exploded from the Honda’s engine.
She’d been six at that time. And now she is eight and about to get a new mommy. A new mommy she can’t conjure any iota of affection for, a mommy she cannot even call Mom.
And her daddy is no longer the warm open man he’d once been. He’d only begun to laugh again after Aunty Felicia became a permanent fixture in their home.
She’s started to change the décor of the house.
Mom’s pictures have been replaced with hers. The kitchen is now cluttered with every cooking equipment known to man, although Felicia can hardly cook. And Felicia now lives in the room that had been Mom’s and Dad’s.
Kumbi swallows back the tears clogged in her throat, sits up and reaches for her pillow. Inside the pillowcase is a well-worn picture of them all. Mom’s face is radiant. Yemisi’s smile is sticky with candy and so is Kumbi’s. Daddy’s eyes twinkle with merriment.
She kisses them all, folds the picture and slips it back into the pillowcase.