When I eat tomato stew I think of Arima, and how she scooped her miscarriage blood off the floor and into her mouth frantically, in an attempt to “put the baby back”. The baby that was never meant to happen in the first place, the baby Mama swore would be an ogbanje or something just as abominable. When I eat tomato stew, or at least attempt to, I end up pushing it away from me. The aroma sickens me and all I see is blood, blood and Arima’s crimson fingers scraping at the ground. Everyone thinks they know what happened, that Arima woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach ache that ended in a miscarriage. Everyone thinks they know what happened, but the truth is that Mama did it. Mama with her beautiful, talented hands, hands that had sewn the most stunning gowns, tied the most elaborate gele’s. Mama used those same hands, hands that had created beauty, to do the most unspeakable thing. Everyone thinks they know what happened, even you Nelly, but the truth is this.
When people tell Arima’s story, they usually leave out the fact that the baby was our step-fathers’. I don’t blame them, few people know this part. Even Mama, who took it upon herself to destroy my sister’s child, does not know this part of the story. If she knew, I think she would run mad. The only people that know what my stepfather did to Arima are me, him and Arima. This is the first time I have ever admitted that I know this; my shame would not permit me, those other times that I have told this story. I told no-one, not even you Nelly. How could I use my mouth to tell people that I knew my step-father was raping my sister every night and I said nothing? My shame would not permit me. I was determined never to speak that truth, not until Mama broke our glass dining table with Arima’s pregnant belly, not until we found her body two months later; crushed beneath the ceiling fan she had used to hang herself. That is another thing people leave out when they tell Arima’s story. Everyone thinks the ceiling fan fell on her out of nowhere, because that’s what Mama told them. The truth is that one Sunday afternoon, while the rest of us were in church, Arima put on an old white cotton dress, tied our old skipping rope to the rickety ceiling fan in the room we shared, and hung herself.
I was the one who found her. She looked so beautiful, Nelly. At peace, for the first time in months. For months she had looked so tormented, Nelly, like she had demons whispering in her ears. Nothing I did or said could smooth the worry lines from her face, no amount of sleep made her look less tired. After her miscarriage, I truly believed she had died and was just going through the motions, pretending to be alive. She didn’t eat, didn’t speak, didn’t move. Sometimes I had to watch her chest carefully to make sure she was still breathing. For the most part, Mama pretended like she wasn’t there, like two people had died the night of Arima’s miscarriage instead of one. My step-father, when he wasn’t so drunk he called me by my mother’s name, played the part of an indignant father disappointed in his wayward daughter. I wanted to smash his face to pieces. How could he sit there and pretend like he wasn’t the one responsible for every terrible thing that had happened to Arima? I wanted so badly to hurt them, him and Mama. When I entered our room that Sunday afternoon and found Arima’s body, dead and bloody and beautiful, crushed beneath the ceiling fan, I swore I would. Now Nelly, I have told you three truths, three omissions, three confessions. Do with this information what you will. I will also do what I need to. I will be the type of sister I wasn’t when she was alive, the type of sister she needed me to be. I have to go now, Nelly, my tomato stew is burning.
After she finishes writing her letter to Nelly, Jacintha folds it up, puts it in a plain white envelope and goes to Nelly’s house, which is four houses down. No-one is home so she leaves it under the potted plant by the door, beside the house key where they are sure to find it. Then she goes back to the house, back to the kitchen, where a pot of tomato stew is simmering on the stove. Today’s dinner will be white rice and tomato stew as usual. Arima had loved tomato stew. As Jacintha stirs a generous amount of bleach into the stew on the stove she thinks of Arima’s frantic crimson fingers, scraping blood off the floor.