“Hurry up! We are going to be late.” My father shouted.
My father is a war veteran and he hates slothfulness of any kind. As his daughter, he expects nothing less than perfection from me.
My lips curl in a lopsided grin as I view the mess of makeup and lotions that’s the top of my dressing table. The oval-shaped mirror in its antique frame shows the rest of my bedroom which looks like a beast did a thorough job ransacking most of it. I mean look at my bed, my wardrobe – what’s left of it is everywhere. I spy a shoe hanging off the lamp.
“How did that happen?” I wonder.
My books are resting on every available surface, and my walls are papered with pictures, post-it notes, and album arts. The only space untouched by this madness is my desk which I like to leave uncluttered.
I’m petrified at the thought of cleaning up the place for fear of what I’ll find in my graveyard of festering laundry. It’s funny that I draw a line at littering trash; I cannot stand it. My friends think I’m weird.
My father will pop a vein if he comes into my room, although I find it unlikely. I stopped everyone from entering without permission after my sixteenth birthday, even the cleaners. When you have things to hide it’s better to take measures to not get caught. I’ll get to cleaning as soon as I’m back from this trip; if I come back.
I hear my parents talking.
“What is she still doing?
O bu gini? What is it?
My dad yells, “Young lady you better not make me come up there. The flight is for 8:00 am you know this.”
“Stop shouting my love, remember you have to watch your blood pressure!” I hear my mother say.
Their voices float up easily to my room at the top of the stairs.
“Obim! My heart! This your daughter will be the death of me. How much more time will she spend grooming herself when the entire town can bear witness that it makes no difference. She’s the most beautiful girl as far as the eyes can see, this makeup of a thing is all nonsense, and if she doesn’t get her act together…”
I can’t stop myself from snorting as I listen. The conversation reeks like moldy cheese. It’s the same thing over and over again, although not so far from the truth.
I do spend an inordinate amount of time dressing up; talking to myself once again to join the society and act the part of a young socialite that has everything going for her – the envy of her peers; trying to convince myself that my pain is the anchor from which I derive strength.
I’m beautiful – I say this with the conviction of one who has spent her entire life hearing it everywhere she goes. I know the bit about God creating us all beautiful and ‘in his own image’, but that ship doesn’t sail in my house. My parents believe that they played the most important part, concluding that there is a combination of their genes and a bit of oomph did the job.
You should see how they show me off in public, after which they pat their back for having the wisdom to make me a lovely little thing. A story for another day.
I quickly cram my essentials – phone, notepad, current book, powder, lipstick, keychain, and wallet into my purse, and peer into the mirror for the last time. Long, thick lashes adorn brown round eyes, hooded from years of trying to hide; if the eyes are the windows to the soul, I have a ‘no peeking’ policy. My nose reclines with an arrogant air like a peer of the realm, so I’ve heard. The lips are prone to frowns than smiles and I practice smiling for a few seconds; it is less like a sneer if I throw my head back. I run my fingers through my black hair but they get stuck in my tight kinky curls that contrast my clear fair skin. I look closer hoping to see what everybody else sees and more importantly what they fail to see.
My parents wanted a male child for a long time in their childless marriage; instead, my sweet behind popped out the first time my mother carried a child to term. Notwithstanding they named me Nkiruka – tomorrow is greater than today. Ha! How obvious can they be that I wasn’t enough? Unfortunately, I am the only child my mother was able to carry to term.
It’s a testament to my father’s love for my mother that he didn’t take another wife. I breathe deeply and leave the room, it will be a while before I come back here again. I take my time going down the stairs. There’s this song playing in my head; it’s Louis Armstrong’s/ When you are smiling. I focus on it, let it wash over me and that elusive smile finally emerges. My friend Dele sent it to me a while back; he shares my love for jazz. What would become of me without music?
“I’m here” I announce as I enter the sitting room. My mother shoots lasers out of her eyes and snaps at me. When she’s really upset but trying not to show it she gets formal like a flight attendant.
“You are advised to put an end to this childish behavior of yours. Must you always upset your father and me at every given opportunity? You were given a two weeks’ notice for a reason. This is a joint family vacation with your father’s business partners, do I have to remind you how important it is that you do not embarrass us in any way?” She says in her best air hostess voice.
“I’m your bloody daughter and not some vermin you have to tolerate, ” I yell in my head.
Outside I stare blankly at them; two peas in a pod, always to be found draped on each other’s arms. Well, whenever I’m found in the picture, it’s always as an afterthought or a strategic move to show off my family’s wealth and beauty. As I look at their drawn faces I acknowledge that they too are not without flaws, even as I admit that imperfections are not excuses to cling to.
When I do irrational things or refuse change even as it crosses my path, I like to think it’s on me. I may move past my flaws or they may never go away, so what? Where does it leave me? I observe the two people that gave me life until I hold their gazes.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been going through a lot lately” I apologize.
I see that they expect more but I wait for them to say something.
“If that is all let us get going,” my father’s irritation was obvious.
My hands shake, but I continue “I won’t be coming with you; I need to take time to figure things out on my own. I’m not sure for how long I’ll be gone; I’ll keep an eye in touch. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
I turn to leave. Mother moves to stop me and I let her.
“Nkiruka, don’t do anything stupid,” she says sharply.
I was ten when we went to a party in the neighboring town with quite a several people from our town coming along. Our town council arranged buses to convey us but my parents and I went along in our car. The party was choked full with kids high on sugar, teenagers mingling and getting into mischiefs, adults juggling trying to have a good time with trying to stop the kids from trampling everything in sight. The music was loud, the food was plenty and I spent the entire day with everyone but my parents which sucked.
After trying but failing to get their attention, I ran off to sulk in one of the rides set to entertain the kids. I was always doing things like that when I was little – attention deprived as I was – me as my only companion.
After playing for some time I found a secluded spot and fell asleep from exhaustion; by the time I woke up the party was over and the place was shut down for the day. My throat turned raw crying and screaming for my parents to come to take me back home, “I’ll be good, I promise.” I thought they had left me behind on purpose. I found out later that they only noticed my absence the next morning; they had assumed I hitched a ride back with the rest of the town folks and slept over at a friend’s place the previous night. Did I mention I was ten? When nobody brought me home by noon my mother started to panic.
After a futile search all over town, someone suggested that they head back to the place where the party was held. I was dehydrated and scared to an inch of my life when they finally came back to pick me up. Because the authorities and press were involved my parents were furious at me for a long time. Till today I’m deathly afraid of being alone in the dark.
Always I’ve struggled to be the perfect daughter, the poster child for the perfect family. It started with churning out good grades and conducting myself with grace and poise. I was quite popular. When that wasn’t enough I became the poster child for a dysfunctional home; burning down my car in a drunken fit is my worst yet. I’ve despised the imperfections that come naturally to me, written on the tapestry of my being. It has taken me years to get to where I am right now; a place of acceptance.
Maybe things do not need to have structure, maybe chaos is order and broken does not necessarily equal useless, maybe nothing makes sense, maybe deep down I’m still a little kid craving attention. I think she realizes something in the way I lean away from her touch and her eyes shines as she steps aside. I have so much I want to say, so much to ask. What was I expecting? An apology? Do they care if I go or stay? Is there a way for us to work things out? Do they love me? Do I love them? I don’t know if now is the right time to go over everything.
I watch as my father turns to tattoo her, how they both reach for each other at the same time and I’ve never felt more alone than as I did at this moment. If I find love like theirs will this cycle repeat itself? I force my legs to move. I’m outside. My bags are already in the car. I’m leaving. The sadness still stays but already I feel a rightness swirling and replacing the hurt. I know a few things about myself but I want to learn more; to grow; to become. The time has come to change my perspective of my name – Nkiruka, tomorrow is greater than today – no more will I let my past define me. I’ll chase this truth like the day chases the night until at last, I live it always and forever.
I’m okay with not being perfect
‘Cause that’s perfect to me
– Anne Marie
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