Curse of the Rose (Episode 5)

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“He that would enjoy the scent of the rose must risk the prick of its thorn”
– Kanayo Anigboka (Kani)

Nkoli sat uneasy at the dining table as her parents fell over each other in a bid to make her comfortable. She had become a ‘big man’ the moment her first book hit the market and she sent a cheque home. The greeting at the door was no longer a warm hug but a dramatic cry that announced her presence. Chairs were pushed around, ‘normal’ meals were cancelled and ‘special’ ones made. The china her dad bought on his trip to London in 1987 was polished and used to serve her. Her mother wanted to know if the food tasted good on Nkoli’s tongue, her father quickly rose and passed her the salt if she stretched her hand a bit too far for the shake. Her sister, however, was the different one. She would usually sit silently and would only lift a thing when their mother asked her to. After years of being the pretty one, the one that got all the love letters from secret admirers and open admirers alike, of being the unanimous prettiest girl in their secondary school, Nkoli knew that Ginika found it uneasy for her, the one with the sleepy eyes, to be the one in the spotlight now. They had grown apart, one excuse more flimsy that the last, until Nkoli stopped asking her to visit altogether. Now they sat in awkward silence and watched their parents’ race for who pleased Nkoli the most.

There were many reasons Nkoli didn’t like to visit Enugu, she loved to visit with her family no doubt, but she hated the exasperation that hopped on the plane with her back to Lagos. She watched her father’s mouth as it grinded the raw cabbage within, tiny pieces flying across the table as he told the story, one she had heard many versions of, of his colleagues’ admiration of her books. He would tell of how the faculty meeting had halted when the argument of who was a better writer, Nkoli or Chimamanda, arose. Nkoli would cringe at the audacity of old lecturers comparing her to the great writer. She continued to smile even though her cheeks hurt from the plastic smile she had had to plaster on her face since walking through the front door earlier that afternoon. Her mother, a housewife, who had never seen a faculty meeting but through the eyes of her husband, offered details of the story where her husband forgot. Nkoli glanced at her sister seated across from her but her face was buried in her plate of salad, she peered at the strands of vegetable as though she was looking for a reason not to eat them. Nkoli would ask her if she was alright, but she knew her sister would simply shrug and tell her that she was. She missed their days out in the yard, splashing water from the pump at each other until they heard father’s car come down the road and they would run into the house, their muddy feet soiling the floor their mother had spent hours on her knees scrubbing. She missed 1992, the sand under her feet, the trees whistling in the wind as they played oga with the children from the neighbouring houses. Now it was 2014 and it was all gone, modernisation spread out in the yard, in slabs of concrete over the red sand and high fences, preventing neighbours from crossing into the compound. There was no longer the sound of clapping hands and stamping feet of oga heard anywhere. Children now, glared at each other from the back seats of their parent’s car and sometimes, when their parents looked away, the tiny space between the gate and the fence.

  • Are you alright? Her mother asked, peering at her like a doctor would his patient and Nkoli nodded

Their maid that smelt like galic and onions opened the connecting door from the kitchen, carrying a tray of ice-cream bowls

  • Ah ah Mummy! Nkoli exclaimed
  • I haven’t forgotten how much you love ice-cream. Her mother replied proud of her efforts
  • But you would have saved some for tomorrow. I’m here for a week. Remember?

Ginika rose from the table and marched off without a word. Nkoli watched her as she retreated, a hollow growing in her chest.

  • Don’t feel bad about your sister’s behaviour. You know their bank has been laying off people. She’s been worried about losing her job. Her mother said rising up to take the tray from the girl.
  • So? At least she should be polite to her sister. How often does she visit us? Her father snapped angrily

Nkoli felt a pang of guilt. Salam had told her about Intergrity Bank’s troubles and she had made a mental note to call Ginika and ask her about it, only the metal note didn’t stick.

  •           Let me talk to her. Nkoli said and pushed back the chair
  •           What about your ice-cream? Her mother panicked
  •           Put it in the freezer mum.

As Nkoli left the room, she heard snatches of her father’s voice

  •          Why is Ginika ruining Ada’s visit…

Nkoli knew that there was no way she would stay an entire week at this rate. One of the reasons she had left Lagos was because she needed a break from Kayode’s intense attention. He started showing up at her front door without forewarning and wanted to know everything she was doing. She appreciated his care no doubt but there was only so much of her personal space she was willing share. Now, she wasn’t sure escaping to Enugu had been the right solution. She knocked on Ginika’s door and cracked the door open.

  •           Can I come in? She asked
  •           Sure. Gininka replied coldly from the bed

Nkoli entered and looked around the room. Ginika’s magazine cut outs of Michael Jackson on the wall were long gone of course, replaced by frames and quotes from the Bible. She had almost forgotten, their mother had recently mentioned, over one of their phone conversations, that Ginika had started going to one of those new dramatic churches that were springing up everywhere and that Ginika now kept them awake every night stamping her feet and crying out to the God of someone, what was the name her mother had said? Opeyemi? The God of Opeyemi. Their mother had called it blasphemy. Nkoli, considering herself a non-religious, had found it funny and laughed into the phone, even more when their mother kept saying ‘odirokwa funny’ over and over. Nkoli slowly lowered herself into the chair by the reading table like a nine months pregnant lady. She glanced at the table, motivational books that promised you instant transformation were stacked on top of each other. None of her books were on the table.

  •           You’ve changed a lot in your room. Nkoli said

Ginika shrugged and Nkoli watched her tenderly. She looked down at her clasped hands and then at Ginika wondering if she saw the tremor, but Ginika was now facing the wall, shaking her left leg.

  • What happened to us? How did we get here? Nkoli asked and Ginika’s leg stopped moving. I stuffed our sour relationship into a jar and always told myself that one day I’ll open the jar and draw out a new relationship. Just like magic. But there won’t be any magic, would there?
  • Great! You come to have a soul talk with your long lost sister and all the words you can find are poetic. You stuffed it into a jar indeed. Ginika sniggered still facing the wall.
  • Why do you hate me? What did I do?
  • Now I’m the one with the hate. Ginika chuckled. Saint writer, we worship at thy feet.

Nkoli stood up, walked to the window and looked out. The only life in the yard, was the spirogyra that now covered the lower parts of the fence and some of the concrete slabs. She missed the guava tree, its strong fragrance would have been refreshing. She took a deep breath but all she got was sadness. She looked at her sister’s form.

  • All I want is for us to share. Like we used to. Nkoli spoke softly.

Ginika turned around sharply and raised her head slightly to look at Nkoli.
  • You want us to share? Really?
  • Yes! You don’t tell me anything anymore.
  • And you do?
  • You stopped. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to reach you.
  • I stopped? I. Stopped? Ginika chuckled. When your book was going to be published did you share? When you won your first award did you share? When Stanley proposed to marry you, did you? When you cancelled the wedding, did you share?
  • Ginika! That was different.
  • How so? Did you not share with your dear Salam?
  • You wouldn’t understand. Salam is… Salam
  • And I am who? Your dumb sister who wouldn’t understand any of those things.
  • No! I didn’t know how to share these things. I felt like I would be rubbing my success in your face and it didn’t feel right.
  • You felt that way because everything between us has always been a competition to you. I saw it in your eyes, I even played you a couple of times, but you’re a fool. You had everything all along, you were always the better one.
  • You had all the boys! You were the beautiful one.
  • I had the boys? You had everyone! Mum and Dad, teachers, Uncles, You are the one they were proud of. Ginika spat and started sobbing. You are the one we have a feast for, mum and dad would practically kiss your feet and I am only but the banker with a small cheque at the end of the month, still living with her parents and always whining about her job.

Nkoli watched, shocked as Ginika cried. There was a pounding on the door. It was their mother.
  • I am your baby sister, you were supposed to look out for me. Not compete with me. Ginika cried out

More knocking on the door.
  •    Is everything alright?
  •    Mum go away. Ginika shouted angrily amidst tears.

Nkoli sat down next to her sister and wiped the lone tear that travelled down her cheek.

  •  It’s ironic isn’t it? Here I am thinking I’m a fake. Everyone cheers at how good a writer I am and all I think is, it’s all wrong, I haven’t earned it. You say I had everyone? It never felt like it. All I had wanted was the boys to look at me and whistle and send me love notes on Valentine’s day like they did you. I always felt unloved and unwanted. I felt like the ugly duckling walking beside the golden goose. Till today, I still feel that inferiority complex that won’t even allow me enjoy the benefits of my work. In fact I’m here now because I can’t handle the fact that a boy likes me.
  • You are crazy! Ginika said widening her eyes five times its size.
  • Maybe. But I don’t see what you see. I hate me.

They both sit and stare into space.

  • Shit. What do we do? Ginika asked. Swap brains?
  • No. swap bodies. Nkoli said and they both smiled sadly.

There’s a knock on the door again.

  • I said is everything alright? Their mum yelled through the door
  • Go away mum. Nkoli and Ginika screamed at the same time. They looked at each other and burst into laughter.

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The world we live in is not as important as the world that lives within us. We define the world we live in, but the world within us defines us.
  – Kanayo Anigboka (Kani)  

Story written by +Nnedinma Jane Kalu 
Nnedinma studied Biology but works as a freelance scriptwriter. She lives in Enugu from where she sees the world in the pages of books. She is a co-writer at the Radio drama series Purple produced by Flint Productions. She participated in the Writivism writing program 2014 and is an Alumini of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop.

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a Nigerian born and based minister, public speaker, entrepreneur and life coach. His keen and unique perspective to life issues makes him a refreshing voice to listen to. He currently serves as the Executive Coordinator of House on the Rock - Word House and sits on the board of a number of companies.

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