The Smell of Fish

The bell sounded four times signaling the end of school. You joined the other children as they screamed in joy and began to pack your bag to go home. Unfortunately, you had to remain seated in the class until a parent or guardian came to pick you. It had been different before, until two children had been carried by strangers. Their parents had been very worried, the mother of the children had been surrounded by teachers who were telling her to stop crying. You didn’t cry like the mother or like other children, or like Yvonne who had snot all over her face, you had wondered where they would take the children to, whether they would take them to a haunted house like they did in cartoons.

You wondered if they would touch the girl in her legs as your neighbour, Uncle Toby did to you every night. It had been painful the first time he did it, but you had started to like it, his hands inside there. You had also began to feel jealous when you saw him buy sweets for Gloria, your other neighbor’s daughter because it meant he was doing the same thing too, putting his fingers inside her as he put his mouth on her mouth, forcing his tongue into her mouth, sucking on her tongue as though it were lollipop. You did not like it when he put his mouth on yours; his mouth always smelt like onion and fish; and because of it, you had stopped eating fish.

You knew that you would wait until all the children had gone home, and your mother would still not come to pick you. Your teacher would take you home. You hated having to ride the okada, pressed between the driver and your teacher, because the driver always smelt like fish and you hated the smell of fish.

But today was different. You had begged your friend Lota, to tell the teacher that you were going to her house to celebrate her birthday. Today was Lota’s birthday but she was not celebrating it at home, because they had already sang the ‘Happy birthday’ song to her during class, and you had already eaten the cake which had been shared during break period. But the teacher believed Lota and let you follow her out of class when her driver came. You skip out of the school gates with happiness. You loved walking home, you hated going home in your mother’s car, the air conditioner turned to the highest, music about Jesus bursting through the the speakers. You hated the smell of lemon that always filled your mothers car. It was different from the smell of the lemons on the tree at home. It was too sweet that it reminded you of fried fish, that it made you want to vomit.

You stop at a shop along the road and bought chocolate biscuits with the money you had taken from your mother’s purse in the morning when she had been preparing breakfast. You munch on the biscuits as you walk home, looking at the streets in awed surprise, as if it was not the same streets that you saw everyday as you rode in your mothers car or in between the teacher and the okada driver.

And then he approached you, a small boy your age, dressed in clothes that had a lot of holes in it. He didn’t smell good, like the rubbish bin when it was filled up. He looked at you with strange mismatched eyes and asked you for money. You ignore him like your mother usually did. She had told her friend, the dark lady that turned white after she put a lot of make-up on her face, that it was not good to give to them, to put money in their plates, because they would use it to take away your wealth. You were determined not to give him part of the money that you had taken from the purse, so you increase your pace, but he also did the same. You wonder if he would follow you home, maybe he would tell your mother about the N500 you had taken even though you knew that he didn’t know. And so you decided to give him one of the N50 notes that was in your bag. You look into his bowl in curiosity to know how much was inside the green, rubber bowl; and then it happened.

You find yourself falling, falling into a deep dark hole, you close your eyes in fear. When you opened your eyes, you saw it. Uncle Toby was putting his fingers into your baby sister; he was singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ as he did it. She was crying, her red face in an ugly twist. You become angry, not the anger you felt when you saw him buying sweets for the neighbor’s daughter, but another type of anger, the sort of anger that made your heart burn and your breathing change, but the scene disappeared as fast as it appeared, and you were back in the middle of the streets, in front of the beggar.

“Tick Tock,” he said with a smile that resembled the smile of the vampires in cartoons, and he scurried away before you could even ask him what had just happened. You remove the picture of Uncle Toby and your sister from your mind, and continued home, walking fast as though the beggar was still chasing you. This time you wished you had followed your teacher home, you didn’t mind the smell of fish again.

Weeks later, when your mother would find you sitting on the floor, holding your baby-sister in your arms, Uncle Toby lying down in a pool of blood, you only tell her that a man in black had tried to take your sister away, and Uncle Toby had tried to stop him, so he had used a knife to silence Uncle Toby. You did not tell her that you had seen Uncle Toby lifting your sisters gown up as he always did to you, singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, and the anger had come again. You had put the rat poison in his water; you had convinced him to drink the water first, that you would allow him to put his stick into your legs, and that putting his fingers in your sister was not fun. He had been excited, he had taken the water eagerly from you. And when he started convulsing, his hands clawing at his neck, you had used the knife to stab him in between his legs, and as he cried in pain, you continued stabbing him at different parts of his body. You cut off his fingers and then you cut off his tongue that always smelled like fish. You did not tell her that Uncle Toby continued to visit you at night, even after they had put his body into the ground. You did not tell her that when he came, he would use your fingers and put them inside your legs because he didn’t have fingers again, because you had cut his fingers off. You did not tell her that he didn’t smell like fish again, because you had cut off his tongue.

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3 thoughts on “The Smell of Fish

  1. Since I started reading on ZenPens, I’d always focused on poetry because I’m more of the ‘graceful expressions for passion’ kind of person. But reading your story, I must confess, you got me. The style, the simple flow of words that thugs one the heart makes your narrative almost effortless.

    Dear Miss Cynthia,
    You’ve got a new fan.

  2. How do I say this? This story was delivered with just the right amount of finesse. The use of the second person added to the overall beauty of the whole storytelling package. Absolutely brilliant work.

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