They will not say many things about Destiny, but they will say she sleeps in her dead father’s house because her mother asks her to. They will say she’s a good girl for observing customs, for taking the pain away from her mother, for going there. The women of Osamudia family always sleep in their dead’s house immediately after they die in order to let them enter the afterlife properly, but Destiny’s mother can’t bear it. The neighbours say she’s too upset about the situation, still rolling from grief, but this is not true. Destiny’s mother isn’t upset. Not the way she should be. Not laughing, not crying, not showing any signs of emotions.
Destiny goes through every creaking step of her father’s house, right to the big bed in the family room upstairs, and lies there. Her father inherited this house after the separation, and his scent is in every room, but in this one the most. His bed feels like copper and salt, like dust, like memories. She remembers the first time her father hugged her, the first time he told her he was proud of her after she won an award at school, the last time he complained about her fashion choices. She shakes and cries herself to sleep, anxiety beyond control, and finally passes out from lost energy.
She sleeps with a frown, upset, restless. The only time she feels comfortable is when two large, warm hands hug her feet.
Destiny and her mother stand in the coldness of the funeral home, looking over piles of brochures. It’s been three days now since Daddy died, and Destiny’s mother has been wanting to get things done with quickly. She told everyone of the death immediately after it happened, cold and fast, like it was a measly disturbance and nothing at all. Like the man who had been in their lives all these years (at least before the divorce) hadn’t suddenly passed.
Destiny knows that all people grieve differently, and she doesn’t expect her mother to cry, same as her, but she does expect something other than this apathy. It was a gruesome death, truly horrible; the world will say this too. Armed robbers came into the house and strangled the man while he was asleep. Destiny’s mother was away on a business trip and took the next flight back from Abuja. Destiny was sitting at her office chair and laughing with one of her co-workers when her best friend called her to tell her that her father was dead.
“Why didn’t my mother call?” was all Destiny could say on the line, as she poked into her dodo and beans for lunch. Her voice was caught with tears. Her face was frozen in grief.
“It’s very hard for her to talk about these things directly,” Tara told her, trying to sound as sympathetic as possible. It was hard for her friend to sound so depressed over the line, as Tara is an optimistic person, a cheerful puppy, and is terrible at giving bad news. Destiny knew it made sense, deep down; she didn’t have any other relatives or family members that her mother spoke to, so her friend really was the only other person that could tell her this news. But Destiny wouldn’t even have preferred to hear it in person. Either way, it was devastating.
“Ok, thank you,” Destiny said then, voice about to break, and clicked off the call.
The funeral room smells like a rancid frozen meat locker. It has the tinge of somewhere slightly sterilized, but even that can’t remove the smell of death. Death is everywhere in the room, on her mother’s face, in the sight of these brochures. It is at this home that Destiny’s mother tells her that their enemies are coming.
“What enemies?” Destiny asks, breaking out of her mother’s grasp. The woman’s touch is cold.
“When you stay broken too long, that’s how they get you,” her mother warns.
Destiny wants to scream: that her mother is being too vague, as usual, that the woman is too superstitious. That this is why she can’t live up to her mother’s expectations; that warnings contribute to her anxiety; that grief is a hard rock to bear; and she can’t just break it down, ball it up, but she says nothing. Destiny only thinks back to the warmth of the night in her father’s house and feels a serene calm.
That night, the hands hug her knees. Somewhere inside her, her subconscious dreams of kicking.
Weeks later, after Destiny’s father has been buried, Destiny decides to stay in her dead father’s house a bit longer. She has settled there comfortably, and she likes her father’s warm bed, how it lulls her to sleep, how it makes her less anxious. That same day, Tara spills hot coffee down her legs. They are having their weekly Sunday brunch after church, chatting about politics and other light matters, when Tara mistakenly drops her cup. Her best friend mutters an apology, insulting herself for being so careless, but Destiny just laughs and laughs. Tara looks at her, incredulous.
“Ah Ah,” Tara says, trying to dry up the mess. “Didn’t you feel that?”
Destiny doesn’t even care. “Why would I? What does it matter?”
Tara’s mouth widens. “I’m a bit worried. It’s that house. Ever since you’ve been in there you’ve been . . . a bit different.”
Destiny’s eyes go steely. “It’s my father’s death.”
Tara tries to say something back, but Destiny doesn’t want to hear it. She shouldn’t have expected her friend to understand. Tara has always been peppy, cheery; she can never be the type to understand grief. She’s one of those people who go through the world naïve and oblivious—like a playful dog, except with less of the appeal. Tara doesn’t know true pain, no matter how hard she may try to, no matter how Destiny may explain it to her, because it’s not possible for happy people to get it. Destiny can’t be friends with people who don’t know the true heartache of loss.
Destiny leaves the brunch spot, where her and Tara were eating, and goes home. The house welcomes her, soft to touch, it is full of warmth. Destiny walks to the sink of the kitchen and pours all her anxiety pills down the drain, the ones her doctor prescribed long ago. She doesn’t need them anymore. Everyone in the world will say she’s better now.
She hangs a photo up on the wall—one of her and her father participating in a child-parent relay in secondary school, but she doesn’t remember it. The picture is cold and lifeless, like this house, like the world. She keeps it up because she likes how the picture makes the house look—stable, lived in. Like nobody ever left.
Like the place is hers to live in forever.
The hands are soft to touch the spaces around her waist when she sleeps, until they are not, and then she dreams of tight-fitting corsets, breaking her spines, cracking her ribs.
Her mother praises her when she comes to visit, complimenting Destiny for what she’s done to the place. She never intended to stay this long in her father’s house, but Destiny has clung to it and made it home. She likes the warmth, the softness of her father’s bed, but even when she does try to get up and go to her own apartment some days, her mother tells her it is for the best that she stays here. Someone needs to take care of their father’s house after his death, and she is the only family member that can easily do it.
Destiny does not even remember that man—her father—anymore, not properly. He is but a passing memory in her mind, grief faded over time. He is grey and lifeless, a blur and a shadow. She tries to recall one of her earliest memories of him—him saying “say papa” as she crawled into his lap, when she was warm and young and teething—but the vision is gone just as fast. It is red-ringed around the edges, and when she tries to access it her heart aches. Her hands tremble. The house rocks.
She tries to forget it and dines with her mother.
They both sit by the kitchen table, clinking glasses full of emptiness. The wine they drink is yellow and dull, like the colour of an aged school building, like creeping mortality. Her mother laughs and pushes Destiny’s hair away from her face—her braids are loose and covering her eyes. Destiny finds that weird, as her mother never does little gestures like that, loving touches, but she doesn’t mind. She doesn’t care. The woman looks so proud.
“You know . . . I don’t even know how to say it, I never want to be vulnerable, but—I was so scared,” her mother says, as Destiny opens another bottle of wine and pours herself a drink. Her mother doesn’t express herself too often, so Destiny’s intrigued. “I was scared that our enemies would come and get you, for being so weak, for being too emotional, oh Destiny, you’ve always been, and so anxious, as well, but you’ve shown them now who you are. You’ve shown them that we’re stronger than them. You’re an Osamudia woman. That’s why I sent you to this house.”
Destiny cocks her head to the side. Wait. She pauses, tries to feel something—anything. She laughs and lets the wine swell in her glass instead. She tries to understand. “Mummy, who are these enemies you’re always ranting about?”
Her mother pauses, looking straight into the window, like she’s anticipating an attacker. The woman pauses for a long time, taking small sips of the wine, before she finally sighs. “Oh Destiny, I think you know. It’s the world. It’s that your friend Tara. It’s everyone you’ve ever come across, telling you you’re better off when you’re not like this. Your father was so—well, much like you, darling, but he resisted the house, he didn’t allow it to work on him, and look what they did to him. Look what they did to him. And that’s what the world does: it takes and it takes and it takes, even when you don’t have much left to give. That’s how the world took my grandfather when I was much younger, newly married, and oh, I almost collapsed. I almost let my enemies take me. But this house helped me—I let it work on me. And now I can finally rest and be happy knowing it’s helped you too. You have to be strong, Destiny. Trust nobody.”
Destiny laughs and her mother sips more wine in this house of the dead, and Destiny feels a stirring within her.
The hands wrap around Destiny’s neck too tightly in bed that night, so much so that she can barely breathe, but even when she tries to fight them off, all she can dream of is guillotines.
The world will not say many things about Destiny, but they will say she is a fighter, a warrior. She is a reluctant woman, and even when she’s not feeling, her not feeling does work. She punches a hole into the wall of the house and the house is broken for a minute, but it patches itself up immediately after. She tries to swat away the hands that come for her in her sleep, as she now knows what they are, but they are far too warm, and far too hungry. She tries to leave the house, walk straight out its doors, but the next day she comes coming back. Deep down, she knows she’s become tied to the lack of pain like her mother—the house is how she copes, and she cannot leave it.
But that is not true—she cannot leave the house because she is bound to it. Her mother trapped her here, not physically, but subconsciously. She didn’t consent to this feeling, to have everything sucked out of her, to be emotionally gone. Pain is the breaking open of the heart, the memories, the feeling. She wants to feel that heartache, but it’s impossible now that she’s stuck here.
She lies in her father’s bed and tastes the copper and salt. She tries to cry, for the loss of memories, for not speaking to Tara since that day, for isolating her friend, for being alone. Nothing comes out of her eyes but a blank stare, one that consumes her entire face as she lies, restless.
The hands come all at once, and they feel like nothing at all.
Years later, Destiny’s mother gets sick. The doctor can’t explain the diagnosis, not properly, but they call Destiny out of the blue and summarize the illness by saying it’s unexpected lung cancer and the woman doesn’t have long. Destiny doesn’t expect anything from her mother, as they have not spoken in years, but her mother surprisingly asks her to come visit. It’s been forever, the woman says on the call, her voice warm and full of light and weak hope, and daughters should take care of their mothers, shouldn’t they, and won’t she see her one last time?
The hands come all at once from where they have been hidden all these years, threatening to spill out from under her bed. In the years that have passed, Destiny has learned to talk to them, to find family in the hands of the house, comfort. She has learnt to understand them, maybe the way her father must have learnt to, and they her, and find some power in that. They threaten to reach for the phone call, to interrupt, to shout, to fall back inside her, but Destiny pushes them away. They are far too excited, and she needs to be calm.
Destiny says she’s too busy right now, but she’ll be there for the funeral.