Monday, 29 August 2016

FICTION: A Very Important Meeting- Part 1

What is Helen up too?

A beautifully familiar peachy golden sky signals the beginning of a brief moment of calmness, before traffic descends upon Helen’s neighborhood.  Soon, Toyota Prados, Noahs, Ipsums and BMW’s with tinted windows will bull doze and squish their way through the narrow residential maruum roads, causing her forty year old inherited house to shudder. Young men will gather across the road at the entrance to her two box shaped shops and sit on the old wooden benches bought by her husband. Sara, her most recent hire, a tall skinny S6 vacist from Soroti, will serve the young males some local brew, as they settle into their evening side hustle.  The betting machines have brought in a good deal of revenue for Helen. Her sons advised her well.  She’s finally saved enough money to mend the water damaged brick wall and install some drainage. 

At this particular moment, Helen is not interested in the wall.  Her chest is stiff. She is standing at the window in her tie and dye purple kaftan, watching a young woman in her early twenties, called Anna. She is watching this culturally confused millennial walk away from her home, down the crooked  maruum road. Helen continues to eagerly peer through the 60’s style circular bars on the windows, her eyes are squinted, as Anna gets further and further away. 

A  Suzuki pick-up truck with poor suspension bounces down the dusty road. The orange red dirt rising up in protest behind it, leaving the few pedestrians choking and rubbing their eyes. Anna doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t move to the side to give way to the vehicle. She barely seems to notice the truck narrowly missing her. She continues, unshaken, with her red handbag fashionable resting on her elbow. Dressed in a bright pink jumpsuit and black ‘Jackie O’ sunglasses, no one in the neighborhood could guess the trauma Anna has witnessed in the last year.

Oh dear... poor Anna
“How many times have I told that girl it’s not Oxford street! She’s so carefree, bottoms swaying, locked in her little world. Sometimes,  I wish the potholes would swallow her up, and give her a good taste of Ugandan reality” Helen mutters under her shallow breath, each word fighting to come out.
Helen’s  stubborn ribs refuse to aid all attempts of her body to breath easily. She is having a full blown anxiety attack, brought on by the events of the day. She slaps her thighs, forces her head to shake from side to side.
The worst of Helen’s distress episode is upon her. Her motherly instincts continue to pester her about Anna. They seep through her body, whinging and winning in her veins, hoping to grind away her resistance.  She wants to tear through the front door, run down the road and bring Anna back to the house. This is an emotional battle she’s been fighting for twenty three years. It began the day she handed over a swaddled up baby called Anna to her, recently married best friend, Margaret. For nine months she carried the shame of abandonment by her boyfriend.  Barely out of her teen years, she couldn’t feed or cloth her child, but her best friend could.

As if she knew she would be given away, Anna was born tiny and pink; Pear shaped Margaret with her pot belly from Andrew’s birth, was able to pass Anna off as a surprise premature baby, and her unfaithful husband, who barely stayed in their marital home remained clueless. Nobody questioned Margaret. Her husband was prone to violent outbursts, so people believed it possible that the baby could quite literally have been beaten out of her. After all, Margaret's first born son, Andrew, had not made it to full term either.

Margaret managed everything quickly, a brief exchange of crisp colored notes ensured that the parents’ names on the birth certificate were altered. Both friends, quietly stored the secret safely away for twenty three years.  But now Margaret is dead. 

Six months ago, Margaret’s body was removed from Helen’s house at midnight. The body of a dutiful wife, mother and friend, carrying the shame of being unable to die in her own marital home, a lavish mansion built in a prestigious suburban neighbourhood in Kampala. 

The shock of her passing still lingers in the walls of Helen’s home, like grey matter etched into the cracks. The ‘Oh nos’ still echo through the corridors from the many mourners who paid  a visit. She had no words to clear their confusion because she was never given permission to tell the truth. She did what she was instructed to do. Six months to the day of Margaret's passing, she called a meeting at her home for the relatives, lawyers and Anna to discuss Margaret’s estate. 

To prepare Helen for this meeting, Margaret had often referred to specific members of her family as ‘The Relatives”. A pack of relatives inherited through her marriage, and those from her own birth family, they feasted on everyone else’s sweat and success. Only certain measures of intimidation could keep them at bay. Margaret had provided specific instructions,  Helen had been warned not to underestimate them.

Petit, lady-like Helen covered all her bases. After frying three dozen samosas and a tall tower of chapattis, she laid out her best polished mugs and saucers neatly on the table. Margaret’s trusted lawyers were paid before the meeting, so she could focus on the most peculiar of the final touches. Yesterday evening before her husband returned home, she visited the old metal hut police post. With some polite talk and an exchange of a bundle of notes, she borrowed an confiscated AK 47. 

Upon reaching the house, her hands still shaking, she took the rifle from the bag and placed it neatly under the sofa which she would sit on in the meeting. She placed it in a way that those who sat across and around her would get a partial glimpse of the item. She had a reputation of being meek among her acquaintances, but Margaret’s idea would hopefully shock The Relatives into obedience.
“Play with their minds, use intimidation.” She nervously reminded herself as she went to open the gate, when the doorbell rang signaling the first arrival for the meeting.  

During the meeting she surprised herself. Helen with her chest bulging out like a cow hide covered shield dominated the room. For many nights, she had forfeit her knitting projects, to practice lowering her voice, making it sound less feminine, more logical, more concise. After supper, while her beloved husband watched the 9.00’o clock news, Helen , with her toffee coloured reading glasses resting on her round button nose and sharp cheekbones,  sat at their oval dining table, meticulously studying Margaret’s will. Every now and then Helen’s husband would curiously stare at his wife hunched on the dining table. He was quietly surprised that she had changed her evening rituals, but he wasn’t one to pry; he didn’t like to over question his wife’s actions.

Practice made good. Helen verbally fought of all resistance from The Relatives during the meeting. She insisted that Anna’s brother, Andrew would get legal responsibility for the deceased propriety upon his return from his studies aboard. For now, Anna would take control under the lawyers’ guardianship, as outlined in the deceased’s will. She strategically placed Anna directly in her eyes view throughout the meeting, but the poor girl seemed completely aloof from start to finish. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t let The Relatives notice it. 

As the meeting drew to close, she took several breaths of relief.  The Relatives conceded defeat and departed empty handed. 
The house is now drenched in silence. The only evidence of meeting are the little crumbs scattered across the maroon floor, and the dirty mugs and saucers from the afternoon tea. 
“God must do the rest.” She whispers to no one as her anxiety attack finally subsides. 

After a deep breath, she lets the curtain gracefully fall to block her view. Her fingers touch her throat as if to rub out a throbbing emotional lump of tears. 
“ I’m going to take care of Anna and Andrew now.”  she says.
 She removes her wig and casually chucks it across the room, it lands on the big brown couch. She scratches her freed sweaty scalp under her own limp thinning grey black hair. She slowly makes her way to the kitchen, as though she has returned back from a physically exhausting expedition. 
“I will return my intimidating friend to the police station tomorrow, so many guns amongst them they won’t miss this one. ” She laughs
The noisy evening traffic finally descends upon the neighborhood.

Click here to read part 1 

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