ZOE

I hear the whisper the first time. I don’t think much of it. Jocelyn likes to play tricks on me, she likes to scare me about things hiding in the dark, but I am never moved. She never stops though.

I tread toward the toilets, humming “Amina the trader’s daughter” soundtrack. Thinking about it, it isn’t too much work for her. Our house isn’t modern, it is so old school that our washroom is an extension, built outside of the main living quarters, with grass and trees and hedges everywhere. Every evening I try to limit my bathroom time to twice a night, once before dinner and once after. It isn’t like I am afraid of the dark. I just don’t like the idea that I’m weak, that Jo can make fun of me, that I keep giving her an opportunity to. Then I hear my name again. This time louder. And urgent.

Whoever is calling me, is definitely in pain. Oh, of course, exploit my empathy, there is no way I won’t answer that call now. Whoever this is knows me really well, and they are out to make me the brunt of tonight’s joke at dinner. While in my reverie and amusement, I hear that name again, my name, but it somehow sounds foreign, there is a mix of pain in it, and something else. I move toward the hedges. Why do I even need to be afraid of Jo, I am in a fenced compound, no one can get in or out, and whatever trick it is tonight will give me the adrenaline I need to get out of my funk. Bren had taken my sweets earlier where I hid them perfectly, he was already halfway through before I caught him. Mummy and daddy didn’t feel the need to rule in my favour to get me new sweets because Bren was the favourite and the house wallet bows to the secondary need of me enjoying sweets. Pfft.

I go towards the hedges, braced and ready for the surprise, armed with my stank face, when I find something else. A girl, about my age, big eyes, hurt and hopeful, staring at me, wearing torn clothes.

“Zoe”. She says. I look at her breathlessly torn between excitement and fear. “Zoe isn’t exactly my name, but it’s what they’ve called me since I arrived here. I can’t really remember what my name is, and Zoe sounded kind of nice”.

I realise I am staring funny, jaw hanging open, and I am going to drop dead from embarrassment if I don’t say something.

“Efe. I’m the only one with a tribal name in my house, so I guess we both have names we don’t really understand”.

She giggles and I’m glad I can make her giggle. But in a second her beautiful dancing eyes are replaced with the terror I recognised earlier.

“Are you okay?” I ask Zoe.

“No. Not exactly, I mean, kind of. I have to leave now or my mum would see me lurking here, and then I’ll be in hot soup for sure.” She looks behind her to a pathway in the fence I haven’t noticed before. We’re both on all fours, faces very close to touching.

“Oh but we have many many many spare rooms in our house, you can ask your mum you want to have a sleepover?”

“I can’t”, Zoe replies, “she doesn’t like when I hang out with you guys”

“Oh, you know Bren and Jo?”

Her eyes betray her smile and she quickly bites her tongue, like she has said something she shouldn’t and her mum will do more than dip her in peppersoup. I notice she is gradually retracting into the woods!

“Don’t go!” I scream, “I’m not going to tell, my sister doesn’t like me sharing her toys so I’m guessing I can’t have you. It’ll be nice to have a friend for sure”

She smiles ear to ear. And again, it lights up something in my chest. I know I like Zoe for sure.

it hit us like a gust of wind, we both curl in terror as we hear a voice come out from behind her.

“Mother I’m so sorry, I just really wanted to talk to her”. Zoe is sobbing already!

I see her mother emerge from the path, wearing a long dress of fire, leaving our hedges in smoke and ashes as she lashes a long thick and braided whip at Zoe’s neck. I see specks of blood. I curl, and I start heaving and screaming. Zoe’s mother does not care for my theatrics. She stops the whipping for a second and looks at Zoe with sparks shooting from her eyes, and I felt it in my heart. It felt like I was looking through a mirror and I could see Zoe staring back at me. But I am looking at myself too. How is this possible? How is all these happening! I swoon and feel myself hit the ground. Now Zoe’s mother screams at me.

“You’ll pay for this! You insolent child”.

She says it with vile and bile as I am rooted to the floor unable to move, with the feeling of disappointment buried deeply inside me. It is so great that I start sobbing. I know I have let someone down but I’m sure who it is. But it is there, consuming my soul.

I try reaching to bury my face in my hands to hide the shame, and I hear Father screaming my name and shaking me. I hear Mother whispering biblical incantations, prayers, to her God to wake me up.

I have no idea why they are screaming, I was right here!

But I knew I wasn’t. I was lying on the ground, eyes wide open, cold, lifeless, just like my skin.

And the lingering scream “Zoe!!!”, this time not in terror but in apology. Why was Zoe apologizing to me? And calling me Zoe?

“You weren’t supposed to see me Zoe, you shouldn’t see yourself from the dead’s mirror. I killed you. I’m sorry, I killed me, I have killed both of us”.

I hear it over and over again.

Even in the psychiatric ward, 24 years later, where my parents put me, it’s all I still hear. Save for brief moments where I echo Zoe’s name, or my name?

I have so many questions but I’m staring into a fog.

I shouldn’t have seen me.

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