YOU THOUGHT IT WAS WATER
“The woman over there.”
“Oh, that’s er…our maid.”
Motley, frazzled flesh, encircled the woman’s pair of retracted, horrific eyes. Since what remained of the facial skin was scanty, every time she ate, the chewing action tugged at the sparse skin surrounding her eyes, exposing and concealing the delicate pink flesh of her watery lower eyelid: A blemish that scoffed at makeup; yes, a blotch that could not be veiled. A fire incident it seemed, but not having asked and being too ashamed to attempt, the girl had grown used to the sight, although not to the emotional torture it evoked daily. For a coping mechanism, she had stuck to distancing–an unspoken disassociation from, and quiet denial of this sad reality that would not go away.
This went on for years, right into her teens, but not beyond the day a friend asked the usual question and the woman overheard her response. At the friend’s departure, she was summoned into the kitchen.
“You were two years, six months and eighteen days. I left you sleeping on the couch to tidy up the bedroom upstairs. I returned to see not only that you woke up earlier than I expected but that you had come upstairs and were whining for food. I dashed down to the kitchen to fix you something to eat–something I was too preoccupied with to pay attention to the hissing sound that enveloped the kitchen area. I struck the match at the same moment I realized the sound was a gas leak. Playful girl, you had pulled out the pipe. My unawareness was no atonement for the explosion that would occur. I fled a flame-engulfed kitchen, my head and face as a testament.
Unable to see my way past the base of the stairs to come save you, I began screaming your name alongside “water!” Scared but unruffled for your age, you reached for a chockfull storage jerry can close to you, collapsed it on its side and undid the cap. The fluid came pouring down on me! You can imagine the rest… fortunate intervention of neighbours saved the day. These dissimilar patches you see on my face were grafts from my thigh and other parts the fire did not char. Your dad was sleeping in the bedroom through it all; we lost him to the fire, alongside the house…”
She could not go on. Not that there was any need to.
“Oh my God! I’m a terrible person.”
Woman and girl dissolved into an embrace that would last a long time, punctuated by lengthier, louder wails.
One week later.
“Hey, who is that?” asked a schoolmate.
“Oh, that is my mom.”
Written By: Bunmi Oke