Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 20

Ugwu cleaned the bookshelves first. He had removed the papers from the center table and was bent over dusting it when Master's bedroom door opened. He glanced at the corridor, surprised that Master was up so early. But it was Amala who walked out of the room. The corridor was dim and her startled eyes met Ugwu's more startled eyes and she stopped for a moment before she hurried on to the guest room. Her wrapper was loose around her chest. She held on to it with one hand and bumped against the door of the guest room, pushing it as if she had forgotten how to open it, before she went in. Amala, common quiet ordinary Amala, had slept in Master's bedroom! Ugwu stood still and tried to get his whirling head to become steady so that he could think. Mama's medicine had done this, he was sure, but his worry was not what had happened between Master and Amala. His worry was what would happen if Olanna found out.


Olanna sat across from her mother in the living room upstairs. Her mother called it the ladies' parlor, because it was where she entertained her friends, where they laughed and hailed each other by their nicknames-Art! Gold! Ugodiya!-and talked about whose son was messing around with women in London while his mates built houses on their fathers' land, and who had bought local lace and tried to pass it off as the latest from Europe, and who was trying to snatch so-and-so's husband, and who had imported superior furniture from Milan. Now, though, the room was muted. Her mother held a glass of tonic water in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. She was crying. She was telling Olanna about her father's mistress.

"He has bought her a house in Ikeja," her mother said. "My friend lives on the same street."

Olanna watched the delicate movement of her mother's hand as she dabbed at her eyes. It looked like satin, the handkerchief; it could not possibly be absorbent enough.

"Have you talked to him?" Olanna asked.

"What am I to say to him? Gwa ya gini?" Her mother placed the glass down. She had not sipped from it since one of the maids brought it in on a silver tray. "There is nothing I can say to him. I just wanted to let you know what is happening so that they will not say I did not tell somebody."

"I'll talk to him," Olanna said. It was what her mother wanted. She had been back from London a day, and already the glow of possibility that came after she saw the Kensington gynecologist was dulled. Already she could not remember the hope that spread through her when he said there was nothing wrong with her and she had only to-he had winked-work harder. Already she wished she were back in Nsukka.

"The worst part of it is that the woman is common riffraff," her mother said, twisting the handkerchief. "A Yoruba goat from the bush with two children from two different men. I hear she is old and ugly."

Olanna got up. As if it mattered what the woman looked like. As if "old and ugly" did not describe her father as well. What troubled her mother was not the mistress, she knew, but the significance of what her father had done: buying the mistress a house in a neighborhood where Lagos socialites lived.

"Maybe we should wait for Kainene to visit so she can talk to your father instead, nne?" her mother said, dabbing at her eyes again.

"I said I would talk to him, Mom," Olanna said.

But that evening, as she walked into her father's room, she realized that her mother was right. Kainene was the best person for this. Kainene would know exactly what to say and would not feel the awkward ineptness that she did now, Kainene with her sharp edges and her bitter tongue and her supreme confidence.

"Dad," she said, closing the door behind her. He was at his desk, sitting on the straight-backed chair made of dark wood. She couldn't ask him if it was true, because he had to know that her mother knew it to be true and so did she. She wondered, for a moment, about this other woman, what she looked like, what she and her father talked about.

"Dad," she said again. She would speak mostly in English. It was easy to be formal and cold in English. "I wish you had some respect for my mother." That was not what she had intended to say. My mother, instead of Mom, made it seem as if she had decided to exclude him, as if he had become a stranger who could not possibly be addressed on the same terms, could not be my father.

He leaned back in his chair.

"It's disrespectful that you have a relationship with this woman and that you have bought her a house where my mother's friends live," Olanna said. "You go there from work and your driver parks outside and you don't seem to care that people see you. It's a slap to my mother's face."

Her father's eyes were downcast now, the eyes of a man groping in his mind.

"I am not going to tell you what to do about it, but you have to do something. My mother isn't happy." Olanna stressed the have, placed an exaggerated emphasis on it. She had never talked to her father like this before; she rarely talked to him anyway. She stood there staring at him, and he at her, and the silence between them was empty.

"Anugo m, I have heard you," he said. His Igbo was low, conspiratorial, as if she had asked him to go ahead and cheat on her mother but to do it considerately. It angered her. Perhaps it was, in effect, what she had asked him to do but still she was annoyed. She looked around his room and thought how unfamiliar his large bed was; she had never seen that lustrous shade of gold on a blanket before or noticed how intricately convoluted the metal handles of his chest of drawers were. He even looked like a stranger, a fat man she didn't know.

"Is that all you have to say, that you've heard me?" Olanna asked, raising her voice.

"What do you want me to say?"

Olanna felt a sudden pity for him, for her mother, for herself and Kainene. She wanted to ask him why they were all strangers who shared the same last name.

"I will do something about it," he added. He stood up and came toward her. "Thank you, ola m," he said.

She was not sure what to make of his thanking her, or of his calling her my gold, something he had not done since she was a child and which now had a contrived solemnity to it. She turned and left the room.

When Olanna heard her mother's raised voice the next morning- "Good-for-nothing! Stupid man!"-she hurried downstairs. She imagined them fighting, her mother grasping the front of her father's shirt in a tight knot as women often did to cheating husbands. The sounds came from the kitchen. Olanna stopped at the door. A man was kneeling in front of her mother with his hands raised high, palms upward in supplication.

"Madam, please; madam, please."

Her mother turned to the steward, Maxwell, who stood aside watching. "I fugo? Does he think we employed him to steal us blind, Maxwell?"

"No, mah," Maxwell said.

Her mother turned back to the man kneeling on the floor. "So this is what you have been doing since you came here, you useless man? You came here to steal from me?"

"Madam, please; madam, please. I am using God to beg you."

"Mom, what is it?" Olanna asked.

Her mother turned. "Oh, nne, I didn't know you were up."

"What is it?"

"It's this wild animal here. We employed him only last month, and he already wants to steal everything in my house." She turned back to the kneeling man. "This is how you repay people for giving you a job? Stupid man!"

"What did he do?" Olanna asked.

"Come and see." Her mother led her out to the backyard where a bicycle leaned against the mango tree. A woven bag had fallen from the backseat, spilling rice onto the ground.

"He stole my rice and was about to go home. It was only by God's grace that the bag fell. Who knows what else he has stolen from me in the past? No wonder I have been looking for some of my necklaces." Her mother was breathing quickly.

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