Life and General Fiction StoriesNaija Stories

Veronica

My name is not Veronica. I do not have cancer in my lungs. I am not fat and I do not have oversized breasts. But my father would not understand.

Everything began last year after my mother’s death; after we carried her body into the earth and placed flowers on the same spot where her headscarf once fitted properly. After we forgot about chemotherapy and cancer and canopies and grieving friends. It has been one full year. But my mother has refused to completely die.

The first time she came to us was a day before Christmas. It had occurred very quickly. Although I did not see her, I am very certain Papa did. I know this because I had seen it in his face. I had seen the darkness drowning inside his eyes. It made him wince and wince until his hands shook and his voice broke apart like rotted metal rods. It was that day that he called me “Veronica.”

But my name is not Veronica. That is my mother’s name—the name everybody called her, although she did not always answer and no body cared whether or not she did. And so the day my father saw Veronica, he called and waited for her to reply. But nothing came; nothing except a whimper and the sudden rush of damp air. I cannot not quite remember.

You see, that day it happened that my father was seated in his room. I do not know what he was doing. I do not know so many things, but it had occurred briskly, suspending the whole room in mid air: it was the moment I opened the door and walked in, that very moment, that Veronica entered too. Sometimes my father thinks we both moved simultaneously, in perfect symmetry. Sometimes he thinks I am Veronica.

But I’m not Veronica. Forget that I am adding too much weight these days. Forget that last week a boy in my class tugged at my breast and said they were extra-large, like two pillows sown together. Forget everything. But I’m beginning to feel as though there is someone else living in my body. I am beginning to feel so many things.

Everybody laughs and says we’re just grieving. They say when you lose someone, you lose a part of your sanity with them. At times my father laughs back and answers with a nod. He barely says anything, except when he tastes my food and mumbles something about my being the same good cook he married years ago. Or when he asks if there is a lump growing on my left breasts. Or when he says he loves me.

Today, I’ll forget about all of these. I’ll live as if I am dead—blocking out memories. By nightfall, I will sit upstairs by the corridor and watch the street become blur, as if swallowed by a settling darkness. I will stare blankly into the clouds, reminding myself of neither stars nor birds. Today, I will shield my mind from everything that occupies space. Because I am not Veronica. Because I want to find a way back into myself.

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