Chapter Two

                                                        ~Fola~

I was against the whole idea of this dinner.

My parent only insisted that we should invite the Afolabi's family over so that I'd get to know their daughter, Peju who had attended Lakeview all her life would and she'd be able to show me around when I finally resume school.

I kept my eyes on my plate throughout the dinner and the few times I had a cause to look up, Peju's eyes were on me and then when our eyes met, she would smile, a small smile that did not reach her eyes.

I instantly concluded that I did not like her.

"So, We'd like you to be Fola's friend, show her around your school on Monday and basically show her how things work."

Mom wasn't talking to me but her eyes were on me. She has that habit; she'd always look at me whenever she was talking about me and even if she wasn't referring to me.

"Of course, I'd very much love to do that. I actually don't mind showing her around."

Mom's shoulders visibly relaxed at Peju's words. I knew her worry, I knew they were trying to protect me but protection and caging are two different things

I felt caged, not protected.

"Oh, thank you. You're such a sweet girl."

The sweet girl in question beamed and I rolled my eyes. I don't know why but I really don't like her vibe.

Maybe you're just angry that your parents are asking a stranger to look after you.

Maybe that's why. I'm strong and independent so I really don't feel the need to have a family friend look after me in school.

But it's just an honest gesture. And you really need it,afterall, you've not been to a school in five years.

"So you've not been to school in five years?"

Peju asked, no, yelled and I practically jumped in my chair. That snapped me out of my reverie though and I looked around, only to discover that we were the only ones left in the dinning rooom. Our parents and one siblings each had left and it was only the maids clearing the plates.

"No,I've not."

Her eyes doubled its original size as if she was just hearing it for the first time when mom just spelt it out for her less than 5 minutes ago.

Point 2: I don't think I can like this girl.

"Oh wow. I can't imagine that. Oh my God! The experience must have been tired. You must have felt bad all the way."

Hmm. I did feel bad. I still feel bad and I'd probably always feel bad.

"I know what I feel. I really don't need anyone spelling it out for me."

Her mouth opened in a small surprised, something like disbelief clouding her face. I knew she wasn't expecting that. The few people that I've met and interacted with in the last five years always expected me to be held back by pain and scars; they don't expect me to be that vocal about my thoughts.

They've defined how survivors, victims like me should be.

"Wow, wasn't expecting that. I like you already."

Well, I don't exactly like you.

"So what was homeschooling like? Did you have different teachers for different subject?"

"Not exactly, I have a teacher for science related subjects, one for arts related subjects and so on."

"Wow. You must have felt really special. No unnecessary classmate's drama, no nonsense. I never knew people get homeschooled in Nigeria."

Point 3: I don't like this girl.

Put yourself in my shoes and see if it's really special. That was at the tip of my tongue to say but I swallowed it and smiled itself.

"Of course, people get homeschooled in Nigeria. It's just not common."

She started to say something but she was cut off by her mom calling her that it's time to go home. She stood up and I stood up with her.

"I guess we have to call it a night then. We'll see each other in two days time."

I smiled again and muttered yes. I slumped back on my seat as I watched her walk out of the dinning room. I closed my eyes.

"So do you like her? Oh what am I saying self? You must like her. She's charming."

I opened my eyes to see mom sitting opposite me. Her smile was wide and hopeful and the last thing I wanted was to quench that hope so I faked a huge smile again.

"Of course, she's such a sweetheart. I'm already looking forward to being friends with her."

Mom did not even try to hide her grin.

"That's it. I'm pretty sure you'll do just well in school."

There was a cut in her voice and I knew she was probably going to start crying again. Mom do that almost everytime, cry, cry and cry. I stood up from the chair.

"I should go to my room now. Goodnight mom."

I did not for her reply before I climbed the spiral staircase and entered my room. I locked the door immediately after me.

I can do this. I can definitely do this. I definitely have to do this.

I climbed unto my bed, laid down and dragged the duvet up to my chin. I was feeling cold even though the it was really hot and I couldn't stop the feeling that someone else was in the room with me.

I released sharp shaky breaths as I reached for my airpords and I resumed my music. It was Save me Slowly by Sodaq. I slowed my breaths as I tried to follow the lyrics.

And as I walked closer to the edge of the earth.

I need you to save me slowly.

Eventually, I drifted off to a deep but not sound sleep.

Because it was full of nightmares.

Of things I'd rather forget.

                             ***********

It was hot. Like really hot.

And I could feel the hotness on my skin.

I could smell something burning. Skin.

It was that same smell that filled the air on ileya day.

The smell of cow skin burning.

Except this time, I was feeling the pain instead of a cow.

I was feeling severe pain.

When you mistakenly scald your hand with a hot iron or when the heat from a boil in water lapped at a part of your skin. It was that same exact feeling except it was my whole body being scalded with a hot iron this time around.

I could feel someone trying to wake me up but I couldn't. I could hear someone shouting my name.

Taiwo. Taiwo. Taiwo.

Taiwo, wake up!

I woke up with a start. My body jerked up out of its own volition. I was sweating even though the AC was turned on and the air was chilly too. The sound of my uneven breathing filled the room and I could feel my chest contrist in my body. I tried to calm myself using the trick my therapist told me to always use but I couldn't.

My breaths grew more uneven and they were now coming out in rasps. Goosebumps broke out on my forehead.

Don't panic.

I tried to caution myself as I reached for the bottle of my pills beside my bed. I focused on breathing as I opened the bottle and I popped the pills into my mouth.

I leaned back on the head board and waited for my breaths to normalize. The pills always did the magic. I counted up to 20 when my breaths finally normalized. I took a deep breath and I closed my eyes.

It's been long I had a nightmare. It's been  over 15 months and that was exactly the last time I took my pills but dad always insisted that I keep them on my bedside just to be safe.

Now, I couldn't imagine what would have happened if the pills wasn't by my bedside. I don't understand exactly why I dreamt about a version of that night again. I thought I've successfully tucked it away but now, it looks like no matter how hard I run, this demon was always going to catch up with me.

I slide down to lie on the bed. It was 3am on the wallclock and I knew I wasn't even interested in going back to sleep. I did not want to have another nightmare. That was what led to my insomnia during the first two years after I was discharged from the hospital. I always see this night of the incident even if I should close my ears for even the tiniest of seconds. The best option was for me not to close my eyes and so I did not. When my parents realized I wasn't sleeping, they got my doctor to prescribe sleeping pills for me.

Even that did not work. Pills can't exactly work against the mind. It wasn't that I couldn't fall asleep, It was that I choose not to fall asleep. I picked the less painful one. It  took severe migraine, hasty visits to the hospital, injections, lot of other pills for me to finally come into term with that the fact that I had to sleep.

It wasn't easy changing that routine but gradually, I did, the first few months were still filled with nightmares but eventually they stopped all together but now, looks like they were back.

Just once isn't enough to jump into conclusion.

I know. I know but fear was like a weed I couldn't overcome, it was always there like a leech at the back of my mind. I tend to overthink things and most things, events ended up playing out just like I'd imagined.

I listened to the sound of dogs barking. Myths have it that dogs have the ability to see invisible creatures and that's the reason why they bark at nothing. I wonder what spirit those ones barking could see.

I wonder if my twin was an invisible creature now or if she was simply resting in the bosom of the lord.

                             **********

I was ready for school even before the 7am. I stared at the girl in my mirror. It's been long I wore school uniform. It was more than six years ago and I never thought something as simple as wearing a school uniform could be as intoxicating as this. I stared at the uniform, the white shirt and the blue patterned plated skirt that stopped inches above my knee. Wearing pop socks was optional but I had to wear it. Most of the burn scars were still visible on my legs. My parents were not focused on getting rid of the scars on the other part of my body except my face and they've done a pretty good job with that.

It's not even about the physical scars. It has never been about the visible scars. I've learnt to accept them as part of me a long time ago. It's about the invisible scars. About the ones biting me down there, about the scars that were always thigtening around my heart.

About the ones I'd never be free from.

I brought my eyes from my legs to focus on my face and it was like an instant punch to my gut. For a minute, I thought it was Kenny staring back at me. We looked so much alike that nobody could tell us apart, except our parents and David, our brother. I'd do something bad in school and Kenny would willingly get punished for it. She'd do something good in school and she'd allow me to take the accolade for it.

I'd never get around to seeing my face and not thinking about her, not seeing her.

The girl in the mirror stared back, gaze unwavering. The left side of my face was totally affected by the fire. It was a 3 degree burns though lots of surgeries over the years have reduced the scars greatly and now, it was a little over 1 degree burns. My left eye was badly affected though and I've had to wear contact lenses.

I subconsciously ran my hands over the lines marring my left face, they stretched further into my neck and chest and my tummy, then my legs. I lived through sheer luck.

Kenny should have been the one with the luck.

I instantly dismissed that thought.

I climbed the stairs to our too massive Iiving room. My parents were already sitted in the dining room and David came out of the kitchen immediately I walked into the room.

"Wow. The uniform looks so good on you."

He sat and he took his seat beside mom who was staring fixedly at me. I smiled at him.

"This feels good. My dear, I'm so proud of you."

I smiled tightly at mom too, feeling the beginning of tears in my eyes. I've always lowkey looked forward to this to. I've always thought about this and what I actually never knew was that I could do it. It was the first thing on the list of the things I wrote during one group session. Our counselor had told us to write out a list of things we wanted to do but actually felt we would never be able to do.

I did not think twice before I wrote; Attend a normal school.

That was over a year ago and now, I was actually doing it.

"Yes, my dear. We're so proud of you and I'm sure you'll definitely not disappoint us."

I smiled at dad too as I delved into my food. I could feel their eyes on me throughout the meal. I swallowed, not wanting the food to go down the wrong way. I know their worries. I know what exactly was going through their mind. When I first told them I wanted to stop getting homeschooled, I knew a part of them was happy but an even greater part of them was worried. I knew they were skeptical about that idea and it took my counselor to finally convince them to allow me to do this.

I looked up from my food and I wasn't disappointed. They were both looking at me.

"Fola, you know? We're not pushing you. We understand your decision but we still need you to understand that you don't have to force yourself. You still have time."

I paused. That's exactly the problem. I don't have time. I'm almost 17 and the last time I had a normal life was when I was 11. I don't have any time. I need to put myself out there. I need to live.

"Mom, I understand your worries but I thought we've already discussed this. I'll fine. And besides, I have a friend already. Peju, I won't be lonely there."

Mom exhaled loudly.

"Alright dear, we just want the best for you and please, you're free to tell us anything that happens. Bullies, anything."

I smiled. It seemed like my parents already forgot who I am. I could handle bullies on my own.

"Mom, don't worry about a thing. I'll be fine."

She started to say something else but dad grabbed my left hand that was laying on the dining table. She turned to look at him and he gave her hand a small squeeze. It was a small gesture but I know it meant the everything to mom.

David  picked plaintain from my plates and I glared at him. He shrugged and continued eating anyway. That one and food ehn.

He's just 12 years old but I was pretty sure he already ate food a normal 24 year old haven't eaten.

                            ************

My heart wasn't in my mouth as the driver into the compound of what would become my everyday for the next one year. It's been long since I stepped into the premises of a school.

Infact, it was exactly five years ago.

And it was my primary school. Our end of the year party. I closed my eyes.

I could see Kenny as she beckoned on me to walk faster. We were walking to the hall and because my shoes were a little tight for me, I couldn't walk fast like her. Her face was full of smile and excitement as she talked.

I opened my eyes and my next breath came out as a wheeze. I could feel my breaths start to get uneven from the way my chest was heaving. I put one of my fingers on my left wrist, looked for a pulse and when I found it, I started to count numbers per pulse. I was at 12 when my breathing normalized again.

I heaved a sigh. That was bad. The last time was 8 and I wondered how my therapist would react if I should tell her.

"Are you okay?"

I turned to look at my brother whose forehead was ceased in worry. I immediately faked a smile.

"Yeah. Just cold feet and all that. It's been five years."

He nodded slowly and I could tell that if he did not believe me but he let it go anyway.

"We have to get down now."

I was already looking out of the window, looking at students walk in twos and threes, the excitement of seeing each other again evident on the faces. I subconsciously smiled. I used to be like that too.

"Sister Fola, we have to get down now."

I turned back to look at him and it took a minute for his words to register.

"Oh yes. Yes. We have to get down now. Don't mind me."

I started to open the door and he grabbed my hand. I was forced to look at him.

"You're my sister. You'll be fine."

I smiled, grateful for his words and for the gift of my younger brother because he always know the  words to say at the right time.

"Of course."

I took a deep breath, opened the door and I stepped out of the car.

Now, here goes nothing.

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