The red light jolts me awake.
It's evil ambience spreads across my room. Illuminates my naked skin. I squirm as if i can feel it touching me. I hate it. I try to hide but there's nowhere to go. It's just me, my putrid mattress, the black door, and the red light.
Its so cold in here. Involuntarily, I shiver. I'm used to the quakes now. Kind of. Sometimes I try to picture warm things. It's just hard. It's always been cold and warm things haunt me. Like body heat. I gag from the thought. I think I'll appreciate the cold for now.
How old am I? I can't seem to remember. My last happy moment was my eighth birthday. I remember it well. I woke very early because of a storm. The roof was leaking. A steady drip beat my face awake. I didn't care. It was the only day of the year my mother and me were free of my father's wrath. Oh how we'd take full advantage. We'd run through our village, hand in hand, bare feet splashing through the puddles. During those days, my mother's smile was luminous. I remember hoping I'd grow to be that beautiful one day.
I don't want to beautiful anymore. I know better now. I know what it means. It means they want you, even when you don't want to be wanted. It means they have you, even when you don't want to be had.
It means you get the most red lights.
My back accidentally grazes the concrete wall. Its so cold that I jump. I look at it as if it slapped my face. I look around at the other three walls. At the door. At the red light above it. I will the light to extinguish. To grant respite. It does no such thing. It actually looks brighter now. A red spotlight shining down on me. My mattress, the stage. My body, the main attraction.
I turn my back to the light. It helps a little. Gives me a shadow I can pretend to hide in.
But the gloom of my eighth birthday engulfs me. It wasn't all smiles that day. My mother and I stayed out too late. I knew it, my mother knew it. My father's number one rule; be in before the sun touches the trees. The night was coffee black. A torrential rain had started a mile from home. Thunder began to rumble. I was scared, but it wasn't from the weather. My mother scooped me in her arms. I buried myself into her as she hurried home. Inside, it was too dark. Ominous. Lightning struck outside and revealed my father. He was sitting against a wall, waiting. Two bottles of orijin lay at his feet, flayed liked dead bodies. One was shattered, the neck still clenched in his hand. The light from the lightning didn't last long, but it only takes a split second to recognize evil. I saw the devil in my father's features that night. Witnessed it too.
I was sold in the morning.
I could only catch pieces of that argument. It was too loud. The yelling. The thunder. My mother's screams. My own. My father saying, I'm no good. I'm not wanted. It will be better without me. They'd live good off my womanhood. My mother pleaded but she was silenced. My father made sure I saw. His fury was like soldier's. I knew I better not speak, I better not interfere. He dragged my mother's limp body into their room.
It was the last time I saw her.
The door knob begins to turn. I jolt upright. Its hard to focus. I realize I'm crying and panic. Tears aren't good. Tears turn them into animals. The more tears, the more violence. I wipe them on anything I can. My bare shoulder, my bicep. I slide my face across the mattress. It smells like me, and them.
The door opens. A man steps in. I can't see his face. It's hidden in the shadow of his hoodie. He closes the door. I'm partially relieved. I only have to please one man. He stands and stares. I never know what to do. I lower my eyes. Squeeze my legs shut. Hide my chest.
"Temilayo? Is that you?"
My heart quickens. I recognize the voice. It's coarseness. As if he'd just risen from a coma. But I don't believe it. I raise my eyes just as the man removes his hood.
It's my father!
And I see it, if only for a second, his happiness. His relief. He's here to save me. I bolt across the room and hug him. Hug him so hard. I knew he had a conscience. I knew he wouldn't leave me here. I knew he loved me!
I look up at him, smiling. It feels so unfamiliar. It feels good too. "Oh father. I'm so sorry! I never meant to stay out so late with mother. Please forgive me. I just want to come home." His face softens and his hands touch my back. "Did you bring mother too! Are we going to be a family again?"
The atmosphere changes. The silence deepens. My father's hands suddenly feel rough against me. He grabs my head. Squeezes real hard. "Your mother is dead." What? "She died that day." I can't seem to comprehend. I refuse to hear what he's said!
But it gets worse.
"I miss her." He says with no feeling at all. It's then that I smell the alcohol. "I came to get a piece of her again." I feel him harden. "Now lay down."
When its over. I lay there in a new state of disbelief. I know now, there is no God. Either that, or I'm in hell already.
Before my father leaves, he stops and turns back. "Happy birthday by the way. You're eleven today." With that, he turns and leaves.
The red light cuts off and I'm left swimming in the darkness of myself.