By Okam Augustine
Sister Uche loves church "a little too much," Mama always said, so the day she wasn't home by 9:00 pm, way past our dad-enforced curfew, Mama made it known she was way into church, a "deputy Jesus" she called her. But Sister Uche was not always like that, at least not before the two Jehovah's Witnesses showed up in front of our black gate and claimed Sister Uche had a special assignment from God, that she had an "abundance of spirit."
One of the two Jehovah's Witnesses, the one with the green and black umbrella that complimented the other's red umbrella - an unintentional parade of the Biafran flag - and a black leather bankish briefcase. She nodded her head slowly as the other one delivered the message from God with a charity smile as if she had discussed Sister Uche with God and was, only then, aware and pleased with God's final decision. Sister Uche laughed after they left that day, and so did Mama and De Nnachi and I, but the following Sunday, she left the house before Sunday rice was cooked and returned with her own umbrella and bankish briefcase.
With a pillow propping behind her head, Mama was lying on the mattress that was dragged from the storeroom into the sitting room for my uncle, De Nnachi, to sleep on. She kept shaking her right leg like she was warming it up for a race, an act I suspected was involuntary, ticking off all of the times Sister Uche had disobeyed her from a list inside her head.
"Where did you say she went to?" My father asked Mama for the hundredth time since he returned with her in the same car three hours ago. Mama stared admonishingly at him, and I wanted to tell him to shut up because that was usually the point where Mama would ask him if he expected her to lie to him or if he thought the information suddenly flew into her head at the last minute. My father would say something about how it was Mama's fault and how she was her daughter. Mama said nothing, and I felt proud of her, like I had raised her right. My father said nothing for a long time. Instead, the wrinkles on his forehead deepened. By 11:50 pm, the wrinkles spread across his entire face into Mama's face, and at that moment, I believed what Aunty Jane said about couples who have lived together for years resembling each other.
My father had exhausted the list of people to call, and Mama had exhausted the energy in her right leg, and the leg was now still. He has called everyone that might know Sister Uche's whereabouts, from Mama Ebuka, the mother of Adanne, Sister Uche's former best friend, who she said now reeked of sin because she wears trousers and refused to leave her "not-the-right gospel church," to Aunty Jane who we never visit.
Sister Uche marched in by 1:30 am when the Nightguards must have been on their third rotation. When she knocked on the gate, relief washed over Mama's face, but she remained still, defiant. "Nobody should stand up. She should go back to wherever it is she is coming from." The sitting room grew quiet apart from Sister Uche's consistent knocking. Finally, my father stood slowly, not saying a word, ignoring Mama's threatening stares, and opened the gate for Sister Uche.
Sister Uche entered the sitting room, saying nothing and looking everyone in the eyes, even Mama. She didn't look a teeny tiny bit scared.
"Good evening Mama. Good evening sir," she said like she was seeing them after waking up in the morning. I wanted to remind her that it was 1:00 am already and technically the next day, so it should be Good morning, not Good evening. Not like anything good will happen anytime soon. Nobody said anything to her. She stood there for what couldn't have been more than 20 seconds and then turned to leave.
"Gbọ, where are you coming from?" My father asked her, a mixture of anger and relief in his voice. Sister Uche did not move a muscle. "Where are you coming from ọsịsọ? Ị kpụrụ ịsị? Are you blind? Don't you know what time it is now? Are you stupid?" My father was shouting. My father never shouts.
Sister Uche said nothing. She really can take being questioned. She will make a good CIA secret agent. I would be crying by now.
"I am coming from Night vigil," she said finally, casually, as if that was a very good reason, the only reason needed to go out by 4:00 pm on a Tuesday and come back by 1:30 am the next day.
It happened fast. One second, Mama was watching something on the television, pressing her phone, not part of whatever was happening; then, in the same second, her phone bounced off Sister Uche's face to the tiled floor. Sister Uche crotched down immediately, a second too late. They don't teach good reflexes at Night vigils.
Mama was looking at Sister Uche, and I swear, if you weren't there, didn't see her throw her new Samsung phone at Sister Uche, you wouldn't believe she was the cause of her bloody broken lips. Sister Uche stood up heroically, not wiping the blood from her lips, allowing the blood to form a thin red line between her lips, and looked, without blinking or any other sign of fear, directly into Mama's eyes, and I knew we'd lost her.