It’s amazing how many times I see them. I see them on the bus. I see them at school. I see them at Mr. Toni’s lesson. I see them at church, especially during Tuesday Bible Study. I see them everywhere.
What makes all of it truly remarkable is that they’re invisible. Everybody walks past them, they don’t see them; but I can. Ok, Ellie sees them too but she doesn’t count, does she? Everyone knows Ellie is ‘that mad half-caste girl who lives with Dr. Durotoye’. It’s not surprising that she sees them too.
I told Feyi about them. My Feyi, sweet Feyi. She told me they didn’t ‘really’ exist; that I always had a wild imagination, a wild brainspace. I told her about Ellie, about how Ellie sees them too, about how Ellie knew what they looked like without me telling her. Feyi was doubtful. I mean, everybody knows Ellie’s crazy, right? Right?
It hurt me, what she said. I love her and she doesn’t believe me. She thinks I’m seeing things. We’re going to get married secretly when we’re fifteen. We agreed two years ago when we were eight. Feyi says fifteen is proper. Fifteen is mature. Her eldest sister Doyin had a boyfriend at fifteen.
Feyi, sweet Feyi. Feyi, the centre of my world. And yet she doesn’t see them. I wonder if that changes things. If that means we’re no longer two halves of the same soul.
I started seeing them at Mr. Toni’s lesson. Strangely, the first one appeared right above Feyi’s hair. I froze, my fingers splayed on the piano. Feyi smiled our secret smile. I melted. It disappeared.
Feyi asked me what they looked like and I realized I couldn’t tell her. It was hard to talk about them. Especially ‘cos she couldn’t see them. So I said butterflies. It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the truth either. They’re so much more. Ellie understands. Ellie who sees their golden silver smiles and austere gray frowns. But they hardly ever frown. They make us happy. They make us very happy.
They frown when I play the music. I think they hate it. Ellie says they like quiet things. Flowers and grass, breeze and harmony. I think she might be right. When it’s all quiet, those tiny shimmering moments after the maelstrom, but before I fall asleep, they smile so bright it’s like a million fireworks! I’m happy.
Feyi knows about the maelstrom; my whirlpools of despair. She says I am too gentle for this world. She says everyone’s parents’ fight sometimes. Even hers do once in a while. My lovely in-laws: Mr. and Mrs. Adegunwa. But they don’t fight like mine. No, Feyi, not like mine.
When my parents fight, the world stops. Atlas shrugs. The clouds split open and darkness descends. I hear loud words, loud voices, thunderous groaning, lightning flashing, my father’s punches, torrential downpours, my mother’s shrieking, windows rattling, and then the blackout, the maelstrom. It happens regularly. About twice every week; especially on Thursdays. I hate Thursdays. I have my doctor’s visits on Thursdays.
Mr. Toni’s lesson is on Fridays. I love Fridays. I love pianos. The music is my secret twin. It knows my pain, my desire, my anguish. They hate it when I play the music. Ellie says they like quiet things. Flowers and grass, breeze and harmony. I think she might be right. Wait. I’ve already said that, haven’t I? Sorry. Odd.
I was playing with Feyi. Tickling her. Laughing. She likes that. I do too. She said Ellie was leaving our street, going away. I didn’t believe her. I asked how she knew. She said Dr. Durotoye told her parents. Ellie needed special care. She was fourteen now, more difficult to control. Mrs. Adegunwa asked where the hospital was. So maybe they could visit sometime. Ellie was Feyi’s friend too. Dr. Durotoye said he was sending Ellie home. Back home to her parents in England. Ellie’s father’s his brother.
The news made me afraid. Really truly very afraid. Ellie was going so far away. I would be alone. I would be the only one on our street who saw them. I didn’t want to be alone with them. Now, I was scared of them. Now, I needed Ellie.
I ran off, leaving Feyi. I ran to Dr. Durotoye’s house. I didn’t know I was screaming. ELLIE! ELLIEEEEEEEEEE!
Ellie was gone. It was me now. I could see millions of them. Crowding. Creeping. Converging in my brain. It was me now. I was Ellie now.
I would be “Dokun Orija, the mad son of Mr. and Mrs. Orija, that couple down the street who fight all the time.”
I would be labelled. Like Ellie was. Because of them.
Labels. I see them everywhere.