Sour and dry throat, high temperature, high state of fatigue, pain at the back of the eyes, excruciating pain in the forehead and neck, clogged nose from thick mucus and difficulty in breathing. Anyone that has ever been caught with a fever before would definitely understand the condition I was in at the moment. But even in spite of that, aunty Caro and her husband still insisted that I do the usual Saturday chores, not minding my illness. They never cared about how I was doing. To them, I was just the village girl that helped with the house chores. Any other thing about me had nothing to do with them. I can't even remember the last time they asked me how I was faring in school.
This was the irony of my city life.
Once done with the chores, which I did quickly and tiredly, I had Eba and Okro soup for breakfast. No sooner had I finished eating than uncle Henry called me to his room.
"Sir?" I said the instant I got inside his room. He was sitting on the bed, while aunty Caro was lying down in a way that her head was resting on uncle Henry's thighs.
I sniffed and coughed.
"So why are you coughing in my room? You want to infect me with your cough or what?" Uncle Henry said and aunty Caro snorted.
I rolled my eyes in a way that wasn't so obvious that I did. It had been four days since uncle Henry's attempt to sleep with me and ever since that day, he had been acting prickly towards me. Everything that I did seemed to irritate him.
"Anyways, bring my wallet from that table." Uncle Henry gestured to a small table which was just beside his bed. I sniffed as I walked towards it to get his wallet. I picked up the wallet and handed it to him.
From the wallet, he took out one thousand naira note and handed it to me. "Take this. I'm expecting some visitors, so I want you to make Jollof rice. You know the ingredients to buy. I don't have to tell you."
After he said that, I took the money from him and shuffled my way out sluggishly.
"What's wrong with you? Why are you dragging your feet on the floor? Better be quick about what I sent you!" Uncle Henry said, irately. "And don't let me remind you of my change, unless—"
I stopped and turned to face him. "Um sir, can I use the change to buy drugs, maybe Procold? I'm having cough and catarrh." I said and sniffed.
Aunty Caro sat up straight to look at me. "You have what?"
"Cough and catarrh." I replied hesitantly.
"Ehhe, when I would warn you guys against putting water in the freezer, you'd not listen to me and now see, you have cough and catarrh. Anyways, what's my own business?" She shrugged her shoulders. "At least this would teach you a lesson never to put water in the freezer." Aunty Caro said, after which she returned to her lying position.
"I'm not the one that puts water in the freezer o." I muttered, walking out of their room.
"Err... Where are you going?" Uncle Henry voice made me stop.
"I'm going to buy what you sent me." I wanted to give him a duh look, but I knew better than that.
"Don't you want the Procold again?"
"I still do." I said and coughed. It was actually an exaggerated cough. I just wanted them to know that I wasn't faking the whole cough and catarrh thing.
"Hmm, pretender!" Aunty Caro spat out.
"How much is the Procold?" Uncle Henry asked.
"I have never bought it in the city before, so I don't know how much it's being sold here. But in the village, they sell it fifty naira." I said.
"I think it's now one hundred naira." Uncle Henry said, "Buy it and return my change to me, well that's if there's any at all. But I'm sure there'd be change left."
"Okay, thank you sir." I said and walked out of their room. Immediately I got out, another fit of coughing seized me. I coughed out the mucous, held it in my mouth and spat it into the toilet.
Afterwards, I went straight to the shop down the street where they sold food ingredients and bought everything that I needed for the jollof rice. Then I shuffled towards a chemist shop close-by and purchased the Procold a hundred naira like Uncle Henry had said, leaving me with fifty naira change. I put the fifty naira in my jean skirt pocket and made my way back home. I was so tired and weak when I got back that I had to relax in the kitchen stool for a while before going to give uncle Henry his fifty naira change. As I got back to the kitchen to start cooking, I bumped into Annabelle who was just walking out.
"Wait, wait, Annabelle. Please wait." I said immediately, stopping her. "Please I need you to assist me in the kitchen. I'm really sick and I need assistance in cooking the jollof rice."
"Oh, so they want to cook jollof rice?" She asked, walking back into the kitchen with me, which made me have a glimmer of hope that for the first time, one of the twins was going to be assisting me in cooking.
"Yes. Your dad says he's expecting some visitors, so he wants me to prepare jollof rice for them, I guess." I explained.
"Oh nice. Because jollof rice happens to be my favorite food, I'd assist you."
Oh really? I was going to say, but instead I said, "Thank you jare."
"So let's start cooking." She said, rubbing her palms together and I looked at her with amusement. She looked so excited to help me.
"Okay first of all, please help me to slice the onions. I don't want catarrh dropping from my nose when I slice it." I said, bringing out the onions from where it was usually kept and I handed it to her.
"I don't really know how to slice onions oh, but I'd try."
We went on like that preparing the jollof rice, with me basically sitting down on the kitchen stool and instructing her on what to do, when to add each ingredient and the quantity of each ingredient added. While cooking, we talked about certain things like school, her upcoming WAEC exam since she happened to be in ss3 and a lot more. She did more of the talking anyway.
After Annabelle had added all the ingredients to the jollof rice, I told her to cover the pot, which she did and just then, Amanda called her. She immediately answered, leaving me in the kitchen alone. I kept sitting on the kitchen stool, waiting for the food to done and in the process, I slept off unknowingly.
The smell of smoke jolted me up from my sleep and when I woke up, the whole kitchen was smoky. A fit of coughing seized me as I got up and my eyes began to water. Then suddenly, it hit me so hard that I was cooking before I fell asleep. Oh no! Immediately, I turned off the gas cooker, but from the look of things, I was too late. The pot was burnt already. I was still coughing when uncle Henry and aunty Caro rushed into the kitchen, followed by Annabelle.
"What happened here?" Aunty Caro asked, covering her nose with the hem of her wrapper tied around her chest.
I was at a loss for what to say. How could I explain it to them that while I was cooking, I fell asleep and woke up to the pungent smell of smoke? I was in trouble. I couldn't help but wonder what uncle Henry and aunt Caro would do to me now that I had burned the food. The thought of it made me petrified.
"Wait, hold on, you burnt the food?" Uncle Henry more of said than asked.
"I... I" I stuttered, words failing to escape from my mouth. The heat coupled with the intense tension in the kitchen made my whole body wet with sweat. I scratched my head, raising my eyebrows pleadingly.
Uncle Henry lunged at me, raising his hands to hit me, but he stopped for some reasons best known to him. He hissed and stormed out of the kitchen. The manner at which he left the kitchen made me twice as scared as I was. It looked like he was going to get something to flog me.
"How did the food burn?" Aunty Caro asked, one arm akimbo and the other lifting the hem of her wrapper to her nose.
"Daniella, I thought you were in the kitchen the whole time the food was cooking on fire. Why did you allow the food burn?" Annabelle asked, sounding a bit worried for me. I left their questions unanswered. The only thought on my mind was why uncle Henry stormed out of the kitchen the way he did.
"Can't you answer?" Aunt Caro shouted, raising her right hand to hit me, but I dodged. "How did the food get burnt? Weren't you in the kitchen? Answer me!"
"What happened?" Amanda asked, looking around with surprise as she stood in the kitchen doorway. "Why is the kitchen smoky?" She fanned her left hand in front of her nose.
"Out of my way!" Uncle Henry stormed in, pushing Amanda away from the doorway and making his way towards me. He was holding a barbed wire. The sight of the wire made me stagger backwards and my back hit the wall, hindering me from escaping. As he raised the wire up to hit me, I lifted my left arm up in front of my face to avoid it from hitting my head.
"Uncle—" Before I could beg, the wire came in contact with my skin and I cried out in pain. Thinking he was going to flog me just once, he kept on whipping me with all his might over and over again, while I kept exchanging my arms in front of my face to prevent it from hitting my eyes or my head.
"Aah! Please, Uncle please! I'm sorry!" I kept crying out, but he turned a deaf ear. The pain the barbed wire was impacting on my skin was unbearable that I dragged my back on the wall down to the floor. "Aah! Sir please!"
"Shut up! What were you doing that the food got burnt? Eh? Tell me!" He barked, "What I'd do to you today eh, you'd live to remember it."
"Uncle please, I'm sorry." I begged, crying profusely.
"Shut up!" He hit me with the wire where I had been protecting. My head! No one ever hits my head, because mama once told me that my head was my destiny and that I shouldn't allow any soul, regardless of who they were and what they represented, to hit or even touch my head. Ever since she told me that, I never allowed anyone mess with my head. So you can imagine how riled up I was when uncle Henry hit my head with the wire.
"My head!" I shouted and held unto the wire uncle Henry was about to hit me with again. "No! No! Enough is enough! Leave me alone! Nobody hits my head, nobody!" I shouted, my voice sounding so rough from screaming. "Why are you beating me like I'm an animal? Yes, I committed an offence, but that doesn't make me any less of a human. This is child abuse and I won't take it anymore! I'm sure you can't beat your children like this, so please stop beating me like this!" I spat out with a fit of rage. Wherever I got the boldness from, I didn't know. All I know was that I was surprised at myself.
"C'mon shut up there! How dare you!" Aunty Caro moved towards me and slapped me so hard across my cheeks that catarrh escaped from my nose and I started to cough.
"You have the gut to raise your voice at me?" Uncle Henry asked with venom in his voice and terror in his eyes. He tried to drag the wire from me but I dragged it with him. I wasn't willing to let go, no matter what he did to me. I was too outraged to be afraid.
"Daniella, leave the wire now!" Aunty Caro commanded, but I blatantly ignored her. I kept on dragging the wire with her husband.
Obviously tired of dragging the wire with me, uncle Henry let go and slapped me hard across my face, causing saliva to escape from my mouth.
"Animal!" He cussed, kicking my waist hard.
"Ow! My waist!" I cried out, holding my waist and lying on the floor. "ukwu mo!"
"Die!" Uncle Henry spat out and turned to aunt Caro. "Madam, warn this stupid girl you call a niece, unless it's me that would kill her in this house and there's nothing nobody would do." He fumed, after which he started to pant heavily. "Now she's burned the whole rice. Useless girl!" He marched my legs before walking out of the kitchen and I cried out in pain.
"Shut up!" Aunty Caro shouted, but I kept crying loudly. She scooped a little of the burnt rice and stuffed it in my mouth. "I said shut up! Shut up!"
I coughed and spat out the rice in my mouth.
"Mummy please." Amanda said, taking me by surprise.
"It's only you that is going to eat this rice." Aunty Caro hissed and walked out of the kitchen.
The sound of my cries became louder and Amanda and Annabelle crouched down to console me.