I knew Abiola had done it. It pained me to say this, even if not out loud, because she was my sister and I loved her dearly. But still, it would be wrongful to give in to such a childish innocence and turn a blind eye to her sins. She was an adult at the time of all this, and capable of making her own decisions, so I didn’t call her and tell her off. I simply thought of how wrongful she’d been instead. She was not my baby sister anymore. She was grown, she was smart and she was dangerous.
Amare called me later that night, panic in his voice. I could barely hear him, his whispers were so hoarse and his words so rushed.
“She’s here, Bahati! At my door, and I--” there's shuffling and scrambling on the other end of the line-- “Bahati, help. Abiola is here. She’s going to kill me--” The line went dead. My eyes widened, and I could feel every vein in my body pulsing like the beat of a drum, faster, hotter, more intensified. My heart had dropped to the floor with that uncomfortable feeling you get when you are on the downwards slope of a roller coaster or a swing.
Amare knew what Abiola had done, and now he was going to be killed for it.
Those words could have been his last, I realized with a start, grabbing my keys from the countertop suddenly. I bolted for the parking lot, barely pulling my coat on one sleeve before I had yanked open the heavy wooden door of my apartment. I raced down the stairs through the building and through the smudged glass doors. Running to the front seat of my car, I bashed my head against the roof. Cradling my head with my left hand, I jabbed the keys at the ignition, thrusting over and over until it finally fit in and the engine roared to life. I gunned backwards, and sped through the ten miles of Southern California to Amare’s house. My thoughts barely register as I drove, and I was the kind of over-thinker who couldn't even bear to hear my own thoughts without dwelling on them and thinking up every possible scenario and explanation.
I try to tune myself out, as hard as that is, and focus only on every turn, every shift of the steering wheel, every sight, smell, sound around me.
It's too late, I think as I arrive. Abiola’s car is parked in the driveway, the ignition still running but without Abiola inside it. My feet freeze to the pedals, and it’s all I can do to turn the key and stop the engine. I don’t know what she’s done, and it terrifies me that she’s in there all alone with Amare, and that he’s scared. Growing up, Amare was always Abiola and my role model. He was fearless. He could pick up venomous snakes by the throat without flinching. He could touch the hot stove without getting a burn. He could fight off dad when he came after Abiola and me with his fists, and Amare could win.
The door to Amare’s house is ajar and that only makes more disturbing thoughts race through my mind. My heart speeds up, sweat dripping from every pore.
The warm brown walls and exotic plants Amare took pride in tending to looked duller without his bright smile to lighten them up. I looked around, at the cluttered mess, and the books and decor that lined Amare’s walls. Something was off. It felt eerie in there, not at all homey and welcoming like it usually did. It was silent in the house except for the drip, drip of water from the tap. I walked over and turned the knob slowly to shut it off. Then there are footsteps in the hall, feminine, metallic sounding footsteps, like heeled-shoes. I hid myself behind the curtain, breathing heavily. My eyes squeezed shut, trying to stop the tears that wanted to slide out of my scared eyes. Her footsteps approached, and then stopped. My whole stomach plummeted.
“Bahati?” she asked, feigning innocence, sounding so much like the little sister I grew up with and loved. I waited a moment, unsure if I'd imagined my name, unsure if she really knew I was there. I threw back the curtain daringly.
“What did you do to Amare?” I demanded, grabbing her wrists and staring wildly into her dark, psychotic eyes.
She shook her head frantically, adopting a blank expression, seeming crazed that I would ever think to ask of Amare when we stood in his house. Her eyes remained as deranged as they always have, like she’s done something awful and taken pleasure in it.
“I don’t know,” she tells me flatly, in her deep husky voice. “He wasn’t here when I came in!” I am in awe of how she can remain this neutral, be this calm after what she's done.
Enraged, I screamed at her, nonsense that made sense in my head before I spat it out at her. “You killed him! Abiola, you killed him because he knew you cheated on Rashid!” I shrieked at her, leaning over her and using my height to intimidate her. She recoils in shock, shimmying her wrists out of my grasp.
“You--you think I killed him?” her voice is so hurt and fake it makes my anger heighten to a level that is almost equal to my fear.
I shake my head in frustration, wanting to slap her across her plasticky, shiny cheeks. What is wrong with this girl? She is not the Abiola that Amare and I grew up with.
“Why did you come here then, Abi?” I yell, taking another step closer. “Why did you come here if you didn’t want to kill him? Is he dead, Abi? Is he dead?” I break into sobs, the mere idea of losing my older brother breaking me. She looks like she considers putting her arm around me but decides against it.
“I came here for a visit. Rashid isn’t very good company.” She bows her head guiltily. Rashid had been Abiola’s husband for the last three months and it seemed like everyone but them could see that they weren't meant for each other. They met in April and were married in May. They said they were so overwhelmed by their love they couldn't stand to wait any longer. Only in July, Amare swore he caught Abiola with another man. He declares it was days after Rashid was declared ill and his life was threatened. Amare and I didn’t tell anyone of our suspicions, until, about a week ago, Amare told his new girlfriend. She was a distant friend of Abiola’s and was so disgusted by what she heard that she wrote Abiola a letter. The letter was passed around, and soon, everyone knew. Whether or not they believed it, I had no idea, but Amare and I did, and Abiola didn’t like that.
Although Amare hadn’t spoken to Abiola since he first caught her cheating, I was reluctant. I refused to believe it until I spoke to Abiola. When I talked to her, the pieces of the puzzle all snapped into place. Rashid is a great deal older than Abiola, so Amare and I were always suspicious that Abiola was only trying to take a chunk of his will and utilize the large sum of money that sat untouched in his bank account. Then there’s the way she spoke of Rashid, like he was a burden, a chore who was consuming too much of her precious, youthful life. I thought for a very long time about Abiola, and her faith and values. She was always the crazy, daring one, longing to be the center of attention. This is exactly something she would do.
Sometimes, I saw her as my baby sister who had made a mistake, and I pitied her. Other times, she made me sick.
“He’s ill, Abi,” I reminded her sharply. “He’s probably not in the mood to entertain.”
She gave me that whiny look I’d grown up with my whole life, and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know, Bahati.” Abiola’s accent thickened with her spitting words, as it always did when she got angry. Her anger, although I knew it should spark anger in me as well, only drove me to fear. Panic started creeping in, and I instantly regretted making this dangerous woman mad. “Preach me about how I’m a bad wife, and a bad daughter of God for wanting to talk to someone about anything but dying,” she continues, her volume and intensity increasing with each word. I took a step back from her, edging around sideways to get closer to the door. “Rashid will get off the brain drugs soon enough, and I’ll talk to him then. Right now, he doesn’t comprehend anything that I’m saying.”
A realization dawned on me, and now I feel true fear. “You’ve already killed Amare! You want to kill me too before he gets better so there will be no one with any evidence!” I screech, kicking her in the shins. Abiola doubles over, but it doesn’t take her long to regain herself. She looks at me with a mad look in her eyes, and all I can think is I’m going to die here, in my brother’s house where he was killed too, by the hand of my younger sister.
Perhaps my sister might’ve answered, only I wasn’t there to hear it. I’d run to my car so fast I’d barely caught the glimpse of a piece of sharp, shining metal under her expensive robe.
Three days later, Ma calls me, asking where Amare is.
“I don’t know,” I say, which is true. “I’ve gone out of town for a bit and haven’t spoken to him.” This is a lie. “Maybe…” I hesitate, unsure if I will give too much away. “Maybe you should call the police if he doesn’t turn up.”
“Police?” Ma is skeptical. Our family has never called the police. It isn’t that we don’t believe in them, because I’m sure they do a lot of great work. But Aunty Lehana once told us that the police won’t help us like they’ll help the other white Americans because of just that, we aren’t white Americans. I wasn’t sure if they’d straight up deny us service or just commit to Amare’s murder in a non-committal way, paying it no attention and not doing any real investigating. Nevertheless, I knew Amare would want us to call them, prove that Abiola had killed him without having the whole family turn their backs on me.
“Yes,” I said, more sure. “Call the police. That isn’t like Amare to just disappear--” my voice cracked, and I held my hand over the speaker on the phone as I choked back a sob.
“Bahati?” she asked after a moment of silence.
“I--I’m here, Ma. And no matter what, know that Amare and I love you.”
“Well, I know that. I’ve got to call the police now, I guess. Kwaheri.” Her voice had a hint of impatience to it that didn’t anger me--that’s simply who my Ma was.
“Kwaheri,” I replied quietly, but the phone beeps loudly, signifying that she’d already hung up. I hung my head in my hands and cried.
I was hiding in the basement of Amare’s house, I had been ever since my encounter with Abiola. I had enough food and water to last me weeks, even in the hot month of August. The humidity seeped in through the concrete walls, and made me sweat. The air was dusty and hot, which made it hard to breathe, but I still knew that if I left, I would be dead within the day. So I stayed. Even in all my discomfort, I was safe, and that was what mattered.
I doubted Abiola would come back to Amare’s house after killing him, so I figured it was safer to stay here than at my apartment where she’d come hunting after me.
After a while, I fell asleep. The ink from the note I was writing dripped onto my comfortable pants. I dreamed in vivid colours-- the bright oranges and greens from Abiola’s robe, the browns of Amare’s walls, the silver of Abiola’s knife, and the bright, metallic red of my blood. In my dream, Abiola found me, crouched over Amare’s newly-found body, clinging to the fabric of his shirt, sobs racking my body. In my dream, she didn't pause to grab her knife, to admire the face of her once-loved sister before she took the life from her body. In my dream, it was one swift movement, the knife went in and out without pain, without friction, without sound. Just in and out and then I fell in slow-motion, my vision blurring as Abiola turned on her heels and walked away from the family she’d turned her back on. She just left.
I awoke to the sound of banging. The sound came from above me, and I turned myself away, shielding my head instinctively. My heart sped, and I felt sweat dampen the clothing around my armpits. Amare’s voice followed, and I let myself relax, although only momentarily. “Bahati? Are you down here?” His voice seemed incredulous.
Am I dead? Have I been reunited with Amare in heaven? Why does heaven look so much like Amare’s basement?
I stood up and pulled open the latch to let him in. “Bahati,” he said breathlessly, holding me at arms length. “I thought you were dead,” he cries, pulling me into a hug. Our bodies converse together, racking with sobs.
“Did she find you?” I demanded, my chocolate brown eyes wide. He shook his head. “I’ve been hiding in Ma’s garden shed.”
“What about when you called me?” I asked.
“I freaked. She came to my door. I thought she was going to kill me.”
“So you ran?”
Amare nodded, bowing his head. “I felt bad. I thought you’d follow me, but I couldn’t risk calling. I… I’m sorry I panicked. I should have done better. I’m a bad broth--” I cut him off, because he’s not.
“Amare, you were scared and you reacted irrationally. Forgiven. Alright? Let’s move on. We need to call Ma.”
He nods and I pull out my phone. She picks up on the fourth ring.
“Didn’t I just talk to you a little while ago?” she asks me.
I roll my eyes, and Amare chuckles. She must really love talking to you, he mouths to me. I swat at him playfully.
“Yes, Ma. But I need to ask you something.”
There is silence on the other end of the line. “Alright. What is it?” she answered after a while.
“Have… have you seen Abiola recently?” I asked, my voice barely audible. I was so afraid that I might have made a mistake that I had clung to my brother’s hand tightly, squeezing so hard that veins in my brother's hand popped. He gave me a reassuring smile.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I saw her yesterday at the hospital with Rashid. The nurse told me she’s been there all week. She told me to tell you… she told me to tell you that she was sorry for something?” There’s fumbling on the other end of the line. “Oh, here it is. She wrote it down for me.” She clears her throat.
“Bahati. I love you. Maybe I’ve done wrongs in my life, and perhaps I haven’t been as devoted and faithful a wife as you would be. But the important thing is that I’m changing. You and Amare are my family. I would never hurt you. Not even Rashid is worth losing you. I regret what I’ve done in the past weeks, but none of it is worth losing you. You are my sister and my best friend. Bahati, we’ve been through everything together. Please don’t shut me out. I promise to be a faithful wife, a loving sister, a good daughter, and a better friend. I miss you, sister. I don’t know if you will hear this, or if you will choose to forgive me. But please do keep mother close to you. She is still unaware of my sins. Well, maybe not anymore. But she does know I love my family with everything I have. My only mistake was taking Rashid for granted, and for not seeing him as family.” My mother is quiet.
“Was Abiola with another man after her marriage?” my mother whispers in disgust.
“No,” I say confidently. “That was the old Abiola. This Abiola would never do anything to hurt her family. Amare, I need my keys. I have to go to the hospital.”
Maybe my assumptions have wounded too deep into my relationship with Abiola. Perhaps we will never be the same. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s more important to take a shot and believe in the good in people than to assume the worst. I made a mistake. Now I will fix it.
I hang up on my mother abruptly, and then I am gone.