Previously on THE RETURN…
3 Months Ago
James was rocking with about on his seat with hysterical laughter. Sandra had just regaled him with tales of her hilarious and dramatic encounters with her neighbors.
“Can you imagine?” she said with a mock sneer. “That wretched crone, Mrs. Amaliri, seriously offered to introduce me to her equally wretched brother, whoever he is. Apparently, I need a steady man in my life. Such nonsense!” She gave a dismissive wave of the hand, as if to further emphasize the ridiculousness of her neighbor’s action.
“And what did you say?” James said with a chuckle.
“I told her I’d consider it in eighty years, when I’m old and senile.”
Her brother guffawed even louder. Hearing him laugh brought back nostalgic memories to Sandra. It was the same way he laughed as a kid whenever he was tickled. A laughter that goes into your ears and stays in your head, so that long after he had stopped laughing, you could hear the laughter still, loudly and clearly.
“You’ve always been extremely mean,” he hiccupped in between giggles.
“My neighbors are utter morons,” she rejoined. “They deserve whatever treatment they get from me.”
“Look, if any of these guys is giving you trouble, just let me know. I’ll deal with them myself.”
She tilted her head slightly to the side and arched her brows. “I’m not a damsel in distress, James. I don’t need your help.”
“I’m your big brother. You don’t have to need my help for me to offer it.”
She scoffed. “That makes no sense. I can take care of myself, big brother.” She said the last two words with an emphatic sneer.
James shook his head at her with another chuckle, before reaching into his pocket. He brought out a pack of cigarette, from which he took one and lit up. He blew smoke up toward and ceiling and studied its gray swirls. “I’m trying to quit, you know,” he said. “But I think I’ll have better luck trying to uproot –”
“A tree with your bare hands – yes, yes, heard that before.” Sandra executed an eye-roll.
James pursed his lips. “Someday soon, I promise to cut off that wicked tongue of yours.”
She grinned at him. Then she got to her feet and walked to the mini bar, which was at a corner of the living room. James watched her as she walked away. The last time he saw her, she was a tomboy who had a slight bounce to her gait and favoured denim trousers over skirts. However, it would seem that in the nine years he’d been away, she’d transformed, become more feminine. Not entirely so though. She was very female in the lemon-coloured dress that stretched mid-thigh, but when she walked, her hips did not sway. Her gait was brisk and sharp, like her every movement had a purpose she had to get to.
Once years ago, convinced they were both in love with each other, he had attempted to kiss her, but the look of disgust and bewilderment on her face as she recoiled from him was enough to prevent any future attempts. He smiled wryly to himself at the memory.
Sandra returned with a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels and an extra glass, both of which she placed on the table before she fell back into the comfort of her couch.
“So, dear brother, what have you been up to lately? You left Nigeria, you saw the world, and now you’re back. Done anything productive with your life?” She’d picked a cigarette from his pack and the stick in her mouth slightly muffled her speech.
“That depends. How productive do you consider anger management classes and community service?”
She turned arched brows to him. Curiosity swirled in the depths of her eyes. “Whatever for?”
“It was either that or jail.”
“What did you do?”
“I assaulted a woman in a club at Peckham –”
Sandra bolted upright in her seat. The curiosity had fled from her countenance to be replaced by a flash of anger. “So that’s what you’ve been up to?” she snapped as she pulled the cigarette from her mouth with a jerky motion. “Attacking women? Why, you misogynistic sonofabitch!”
“Whoa! Calm down, Sandy –”
“I am calm,” she flashed.
“Except I don’t quite feel safe all of a sudden,” he rejoined. He waved his hands at her, gesturing for her to sit back again. “You look like you could spring at me any moment with something sharp and dangerous. There is nothing sharp and dangerous over there with you, is there?” He made a comic production of glancing about her.
Sandra stared intensely at him for a few seconds as though contemplating what to do to him. But when he grimaced at her in a mock plea, she shook her head and reclined again. And he gave an overdone sigh of relief.
“To be fair,” he began, “she was being a bit of a bitch.”
“Watch it, James,” Sandra ground out.
“Right. Anyway, I’m trying to put all that behind me now and turn a new leaf; to solve my anger issues and stuff. The last thing I need is my feminist sister judging me.’
“Your feminist sister?” she reiterated, looking unimpressed.
“Well, it’s rather obvious.”
“Is it now?”
“Let’s see. You don’t need a man. You think I’m a pig for hitting a woman, one who had it coming by the way. Jeez, look how quickly you were up and looking to attack just now. Then there’s the fact that you got mad when I offered to help you with your neighbor problems, as though I’d violated some female independence code.”
“I wasn’t mad.”
“Yes, you were,” he countered. “I think it’s safe to say you’re passive-aggressive in the same way that most of you feminists are.” He winked at her, a grin on his face.
“It’s rather sad, isn’t it?”
“The fact that your ignorance doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Sandra said, her lip curling with nascent disdain. “You always were the dullest.”
“And you’re a close second,” he retorted, his grin showing how unaffected he was by her affront.
“Someone must have been lying to you about how funny you actually are.”
James threw his head back and laughed another one of his healthy laughs. It was such an infectious sound, that Sandra felt her lips grudgingly stretching into a thin smile.
“That would be my therapist,” he said. “You can thank her for my newly-found sense of humor. She thinks sarcasm helps. In fact, we practice witty conversations. For example –”
“Oh the agony, James,” Sandra groaned, looking skyward. “Let me give you this one for free. You’re boring and your therapist sucks at her job. Fire her.”
James chuckled, and then sobered up. “Now, on a more serious note, I came back to help myself, to be a part of this family again.” His tone was suddenly grave, the grin gone from his face. “I believe now – or at least that’s what my therapist said – that a lot of my anger stems from my upbringing, from the way my own father treated me.”
“Oh, it’s got nothing to do with you being a self-involved, short- tempered bigot?” Sandra teased.
“Maybe a bit of that too,” he conceded, and then paused. When he continued, his voice was still somber. “I’ve come to the realization that I have a lot of pent-up anger. And most of it is directed at our family – every single one of you. Wait, no – excluding you. Basically, I lash out because I was abused. Just another clichéd story.”
“So,” Sandra drawled, sounding somewhat uninterested, “you just hate all of us?”
“Did. And for good reasons too. Michael was a bit of a wanker. It was really easy to dislike him. Joe – well, Joe always had his way and it pissed me off. Dad, yeah, no explanation needed.”
“And mum? Or is she excluded too?”
For a moment, James seemed lost in his contemplation. The room was silent, save for the sounds of the compound filtering in through the crimson drapes hanging over Sandra’s windows. She sat there, blowing out smoke through her pursed lips and waiting for his response.
James expelled a heavy sight. “Mum, oh mum. I just have a lot of questions I want to ask her, you know?” He reached out his hand to distractedly drum the fingers on the stool close to him. “I need to know why…” He paused again.
Sandra stared quizzically at him. “Why what?” she urged.
He shook his head, as though bemused by the direction of the conversation. He ran his palm over his face, as though clearing the wool and sighed again, before looking at her and saying, “That’s part of the reasons I’m back anyway.”
“You didn’t answer me, James –”
“By the way,” he interrupted blithely, “where the hell are our brothers?”
After they’d cleaned up the body, they lifted it from the bathroom floor and lugged it back downstairs. It was an arduous journey, and they paused a few times for her to catch her breath. When they stopped a third time, she stood hunched forward, letting her mind wander back. She thought of how it’d all begun and if she could have avoided it. Just how inevitable were the current events? There were no forthcoming answers. She had to focus on the task at hand.
Still, it wasn’t supposed to be this easy. She was supposed to feel a little torn at least. It was supposed to be a dilemma even. But it wasn’t. She’d loved him. She’d spent all her life with and for him, done things for him, unspeakable things. Yet here she was, hefting his body around, planning to cover up his murder without giving it as much as a second thought. And it surprised her – her apparent indifference, her willingness – eagerness even – to put all this to rest.
She looked up and gave a mild start when she saw the man before her looking at her. His expression was that of a lost person.
“What do we do now?” he asked anxiously.
She reached for the dead man’s head, bracing herself to bear the weight of his body once again. “We get back down and then lock the doors. Switch off the lights. No one must know we’re in here. We have to clean up the mess. Later tonight, we bury this body.”
Written by Tobby