“What are you painting?”
“You’ll see it when I’m done,” he muttered quietly without looking at me.
This is the first time I’ll be coming back here in the last four years. It just no longer feels the same since she left without any prior hint of her departure. Deciding to come back home and spend the two weeks turned-three weeks break was quite hard for me. But I knew I had to be here as I knew Papa would be scared, and rightfully so if I’m anywhere else aside from home at this peculiar time. The election period has taken away from us what we can never forget no matter how hard we try. So far, time has proven itself incapable of taking away my pain, our pain. I think we’ll just learn to live with the pain, but I’ve not been able to learn how to. Maybe coming back here is a step forward at learning to embrace reality, the painful reality that she’s gone and we must live on without her.
“When did you learn to paint?” I have so many questions on my mind but I don’t think I want to bore him. I’m surprised I somehow never knew he had an interest in painting. I need to be more involved in his growth, I need to start coming home more often as I used to when she was still with us. We need to start creating memories again as a family. I wonder if it’ll ever feel like a family without her tho, but we must try. We are still a family and we can’t afford to lose one another to grief.
“Here! Have a look.” I grabbed the canvas he is holding out toward me. I can see myself staring back at me. “It’s so bold. It’s…so beautiful!” I’ve never seen anything like it. I look at the top-left corner and I can see him looking admiringly at me – at me staring at me in the frame. At the top-right corner is Papa, his hand on my shoulder. Wow! “This is so deep, I love it.”
“I’m glad you love it, I hoped you’ll do,” he said with a smile.
I wanted to ask why he didn’t add her to the frame, but I don’t want to ruin this beautiful moment. Instead, I ask if I can keep it and he answered in the affirmative. By the time I return to the balcony, he’s no longer there. I can hear him whistling from the roof terrace. I’ve never been there since she left, but he once sent me a picture of the new hill-like structures Papa got erected there. I guess they’re meant to serve as s covering to hide behind in case of gunfire. One thing I’ll never understand though is how “stray bullets” got up there. How could the bullets have been referred to as “stray” by the police? She must have been deliberately targeted and fired at by the gunman whom their investigations have failed to unveil despite the amount of money spent by Papa, and their endless fake sympathies and promises. Papa must have been worried when he developed a liking for the place.
“I have a request, Chidubem.” He seldom calls me my full name, she was the one who did that every single time she opened her mouth to call my name.
“Shoot, Chuks.” I close the oven and turn my back to it so I can look at him while he speaks.
“Can we eat dinner on the terrace, please? Together, as a family.”
I can sense the nervousness in his voice, he must be thinking I’ll decline his request. “Have you talked to Papa about this?”
“He said I should ask you.”
That means Papa has no problem with being there, for him. I guess it’s time I forgive the terrace and end my feud with it. I can’t keep avoiding it forever, anyway. “Alright, I’ll call you when dinner is ready. That’ll be in less than 30 minutes.”
“Thank you very much, Chidubem. Thank you!”
I heard my name in her voice.
- • •
I noticed the hill-like structures are covered with a sheet, all five of them. The three of us had our dinner in silence – as a rule, we don’t talk while eating – but the silence feels so different here. After the meal, Chuks told us to close our eyes while he walks to the hills. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I open them after his countdown to zero. I closed my eyes and opened them again. I walked towards the one at the center. I got down on both knees and there she is looking so much alive, with the baby strapped to her back with a wrapper, my cousin that she was rocking on the terrace when she was shot. For the first time in years, I allowed the tears to flow, freely.