by Nneoma Mbalewe
Ayomide – Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)
Masha’s whining pulls me out of my thoughts. I rub my dog’s fur, trying to comfort him. It’s dusty under the bed where we are and I know he really wants to leave. He would have done so hours ago but the truth is that we are trapped here. Not unless someone rescues us.
I remember exactly forty-six hours ago. It was dusk and my sister was preparing Eba and Efo. The healthy meatless, fishless Efo, as she liked to call it. Honestly, we were too poor to put meat in the food. The rain started suddenly and poured without mercy. We were about to eat when we heard something huge and loud fell on the apartment roof, the face-me-I-face-you apartment where we lived. That when everything came crumbling down.
The building was already falling apart but whatever that fell hastened things up and in seconds, the ceiling and the walls began to collapse. We were far from the door so the best thing to do was to hide under something sturdy like they do during earthquakes.
“Under the bed,” I screamed to Aramide, my sister as I grabbed Masha. I crawled under the bed, my sister following close behind. She was halfway in when the ceiling crushed her.
Now, my sister is struggling to stay awake. Thank God she knows that there is no guarantee that when she closes her eyes, she will wake up again. I don’t have to tell her that.
“It was the transformer,” I say. “It’s the only thing high and strong enough to bring down this building.”
“Ayo,” she murmurs. “The periodic table.” She ignores my statement. There’s no use thinking about the past. The future is the most important thing now. Sadly, the past is all I can think of.
I’m smart. I know I am. I’m seven years old and I can recite the multiplication table from one to fifty-seven by heart. I know all the 118 elements of the periodic table and I know a lot more than my fifteen-year-old sister. I help her with her assignments when she can’t solve them and I topped my class last year at grammar school. My headteacher calls me a prodigy even though in Nigeria, no one knows what to do with prodigies.
“Hydrogen, helium, lithium,” I begin. It’s dark but I’m looking at my sister, hoping that when I’m done, she will still be awake. When I’m done, thankfully, she still is. I need to get her talking. That will ensure she stays awake. Although, I think talking will drain the little energy she has left.
“Do you think Daddy knows what has happened?” Even as I ask, I know he doesn’t. He stays away from the house days on end, drinking around with friends. He’d only come back, sometimes, to eat Aramide’s food when he didn’t have enough money to buy food outside.
Aramide doesn’t reply. Her shallow breathing informs me she is still alive. “Don’t sleep, Aramide,” I tell her.
“I’m tired,” she tells me.
“Don’t sleep,” I repeat. I begin my fifty-eight times table. I am almost finished when Aramide murmurs, “You should be a doctor.”
“Doctors are smart. Like you.”
I shake my head, even though she can’t see me. “Doctors are underpaid.” I think back to the doctors who treated mama at the general hospital, who worked grudgingly and couldn’t save mama from her sickness. They never even knew what caused her death, they just left us with debt and my mother’s corpse after injecting all kinds of drugs into her body.
“What do you want to be then?”
“I don’t know. I have to think about it.”
In any other situation, Aramide would have scoffed and said something like, “You have to think about it? You know the answer already.” Now, she doesn’t even make a sound.
My eyes tear up. It is times like this, I wish we were living in a good country like the United States. If something like this happened over there, they would be busy in less than an hour and we would have even forgotten about it by now. However, we are in Nigeria where an entire building of fifty-two apartments collapses and two days later, no one is doing anything about it.
I wonder if other people were still alive. The first thing anyone would have done when the building began to collapse was to run outside. Those on the third and second floors would have never made it down in time. Those on the first and ground floor would have survived if they had gotten as far away as possible from the building when they made it outside.
We live on the second floor. I know people are trapped underneath the rubble like we are and I know that some people are dead. I know my sister will soon join them if we aren’t rescued today. I know I will be next, if another twenty-four hours passes by and I’m still here.
“It’s been forty-six hours,” I say.
“How do you know,” Aramide asks, like she does when I say something smart.
“I just know,” is my reply. The truth is, I have been keeping track.
“Are you hungry?”
I smile ruefully. She’s doing her big sister business even though she’s the one bleeding to death.
“No,” I answer. I know hunger- we both do. Since both parents are out of the picture, Aramide has been the breadwinner. She doesn’t tell me much but I know she gets money from her boyfriends, one of whom, lives in the building, two floors down. She also hawks after school. I don’t do much apart from helping her with her assignments and reading the library books. I help her when I can with the hawking but she never allows me to stress myself. “You will make us rich,” she usually tells me.
“I will be helping you after school to hawk,” I announce. That is, if we both get out of here.
She doesn’t answer. I have to listen closely to hear her breaths because I am fainter than ever. When she first got trapped, she would scream in pain for hours. The screams turned to groans after hours passed and now, I don’t think she can even feel her legs.
Masha whines again. He doesn’t know hunger like us because he is always eating any leftover he finds around the building. He can barely move at this point.
“I love you,” Aramide tells me, out of the blue.
Fear grips my throat. It takes me a while but I say the words back.
“I want to sleep now.”
I don’t stop her.
I close my eyes and imagine us in a better place. A few days ago, Aramide washed clothes, and I read a senior secondary school textbook on physics. Masha ran around us, playing with the little puddles of water that formed around Aramide’s washing buckets. Sighing, she splashed soapy water on him and on a second thought splashed on me too. “Stand up and play with your dog. Can’t you see he’s distracting me?”
“I’m reading,” I told her.
She dragged the textbook from me and sat on it. “Abeg, go and play. You have your whole life to read.”
I open my eyes and I realize that I am crying. Not the small sobs like I usually do but noisy, heart-wrenching sobs. Neither my sister nor my dog move.
I rub Masha’s fur one last time. I remember two months ago when Aramide gave him to me. She had found him, a newborn puppy, abandoned on the side of the road. “I know how much you love dogs,” she said, as she handed him over to me.
I reach for my sister’s cold hands, the dried blood-forming hard flakes. “I want to be an engineer. I like physics and engineers are rich,” I say, in between sobs.
She doesn’t reply. She never does.