Sapphire still shook with rage as she walked alongside Jane, holding her hand as she carried both their bags. She didn’t need to ask any more questions. Jane walked with her head down, her hand clammy with sweat. Sapphire thanked God her sister had at least managed to stop crying. “Smile and say hello, Jane.”
” I can’t. ”
When they came in sight of the house, Jane let go of Sapphire’s hand and ran as though pursued by demons. By the time Sapphire entered the house, Mama had Jane in her arms and Papa had come in from the workroom at back. He stood in the middle of the room, glowering at Sapphire. “What’s going on here? Why did you bring her home?”
“Because she write and begged me to come and get her.”
“It was none of your business!”
“You always blame me! But you’re right this time, Papa! This is your business! You put her there in that house with those wretched people!”
“Come, Jane.” Mama put her arms around Jane and helped her up. “We’ll go upstairs.”
” She can’t quit a job without notice, Mary!” Papa shouted after them. “She has to go back!”
Sapphire came all the way inside the house, threw the bags down, and closed the door firmly behind her. “You are not sending her back, Papa.”
He turned on her. “Who are you to say whether she comes or goes? I’m her father! She’ll do what I tell her!”
“She’s not going back!”
“Its time she grew up!”
“That may be so, Papa, but next time, check her employers’ references. Make sure they pay their servants! They didn’t give her a single dime! Worse, they ravished her.”
“Ravished her!” he sneered. Waving his hand, he dismissed the accusation. “Jane cries over spilt milk.”
Sapphire hated him in that moment. “Did you see the bruise on her cheek?” She came farther into the room, hands balling into fits. ” They called your daughter a slut because Mr Okeke can’t keep his hands off Jane! And the son did worse before going back to Abuja!”
“Nonsense! Its all nonsense! You ruined everything by taking Jane out of that house!”
“I have ruined nothing. You have helped them ruin her!”
“Mr Okeke told me Jane is exactly the kind of girl he wants for his son.”
Could her father be such a fool? “And you thought he meant marriage?” Sapphire cried out in fury. “A tailor’s daughter and a politician’s son?”
“Her beauty is worth something.”
Sickened, Sapphire swept by him and headed for the stairs.
“Don’t you turn your back on me!” Papa raged.
“God forgive you, Papa!” She flew upstairs. A moment later, she heard a door slam below. Mama sat on the bed Sapphire had shared with Jane. Her sister lay with her head in their mother’s lap. Mama stroked her like she would pet a dog. “You’re home now, my darling. Everything will be alright.”
Sapphire came into the room and closed the door quietly behind her. “No, it won’t, Mama. It’ll never be right.
Hush? Sapphire took the money from her pocket. “This money belongs to Jane.”
Jane rose up, eyes wild “I don’t want the money! I don’t want anything he touched.”
Mama looked shocked and frightened. “Who is she talking about?”
“Mr Okeke. And he wasn’t the only one.” When Sapphire told her what the cook had said, Mama’s face crumpled.
“Oh, God…..” Mama pit her arms around Jane.”Oh, God, oh, God. I’m so sorry.” She rocked Jane, sobbing into her hair. “Throw the money away, Sapphire. Its filthy lucre!”
“It’s not mine to dispose of.” Sapphire left the money on the bed. “Let Jane do it.” Maybe it would give her sister some small bit of satisfaction after what had been done to her. “At least, Papa won’t profit from his mistake.”
Mama raised her head. “Do it for her. She’s too distressed.”
“Oh Mama! Sapphire wept. “Papa is right about one thing. You’ve crippled her. She can’t even defend herself!”
Mama looked stricken.
Unable to bear more, Sapphire turned away.
“Where are you going? Mama spoke in a broken voice.
“Back to Delta. I have responsibilities.”
“There are no buses until morning.”
“There will be less trouble if I go. I seem to bring out the worst in Papa.” With her gone, he might think over what she had told him and regret the part he played in this tragedy. ” I’ll ask Precious’s dad if I can stay for a night.”
“I’m sorry, too. Mama. More sorry that I can express.”
Jane sat up. “Please don’t leave, Sapphire. Stay here with me.”
Jane looked at Mama. “Tell her to stay!”
Mama cupped Jane’s face. “You can’t ask for more than she’s done already. She brought you home, darling. But she doesn’t belong here anymore. God has other plans for your sister.” Mama gathered Jane close and looked at Sapphire. “She has to go.”
Precious’s family welcomed Sapphire and asked no questions. Perhaps they assumed she had fought with her father again. She couldn’t tell them what had happened to Jane, though rumors would spread soon enough. She told Precious when they went to bed, knowing Jane would have terrible days ahead.
“I can’t bear to stay. I can’t stand and watch Papa sulk and grumble about his ruins plans or see Mama coddle her. But Jane will need a friend.” She wept.
Precious put an arm around her. “You needn’t say more. I’ll offer my friendship, Sapphire. I’ll invite Jane to tea. I’ll invite her for walks in the hills. If she wants to talk, I’ll listen and never repeat a word. I swear on my life.”
“I’ll try not to be jealous.”
Moonlight came in through the window, making Precious’s face beautiful and angelic. I’m doing it for you.” Tears shone in her eyes, I’ll do my beat. You know I will. But Jane has to want a friend. ”
“I know. What I don’t know is what will happen to her now. It would’ve been better if Mama hadn’t protected her so much.” Sapphire rubbed tears away angrily. “If anyone tried to rape me, I’d scream and claw and kick!”
“Maybe she did.”
Sapphire doubted it. “I swear before God, Precious, if I’m ever fortunate enough to have a daughter, I’ll make sure she’s strong enough to stand up for herself!”
When Precious fell asleep, Sapphire lay awake staring at the beamed ceiling. What would become of Jane? How long before the cook told someone what happened in that house? Rumors spread like mold on the damp wall of Sapphire’s basement bedroom. What if Mr Okeke or his son bragged to friends about the beautiful little Angel they had used? Papa would not likely have the courage to confront Mr Okeke!
If only her little sister could walk to market, head up in the knowledge that she was not to blame for any of it. But that would never happen. More likely, a word from Papa, and Jane would take the shame on herself, absorbing it, plagued by it. And Mama, filled with pity would allow her to hide inside the house. If Jane didn’t show her face. People might even begin to wonder if she had been culpable, which would only distress Jane even further. Her sister would hide away and help Mama sew fine seams and hems. As time passed, Jane would become more withdrawn, more frightened of the outside world, more dependent. Walls would give Jane the illusion of safety, just as Mama’s arms had seemed to. Papa might allow it to happen just to make things easy on himself. After all, two women working day and night and neither asking nor expecting anything would be to his benefit!
Sapphire pressed fists against her eyes and prayed. Lord, You say blessed are the meek. Please bless my sister. You say blessed are those who at gentle and pure in heart. Please bless Mama, Lord. You say blessed the peacemakers. Please bless precious. I ask nothing for myself because I don’t know what I want right now. You know me more than I know myself. You knit me in my mother’s womb. You know how I burn. My head pounds. My hands sweat for vengeance. Oh God, had I strength and means, I would send Mr Okeke and his son to the depths of hell for what they did to my sister,and papa right after them for letting it happen! I just cannot do any of that!
Turning away from Precious. Sapphire covered her head with the blanket and wept silently.
She got up early the next morning and thanked the family for their hospitality. Precious walked her down the hill. ‘Are you going to see your family before you leave?”
“No. And I’m not coming back.”
Her mother had already given her permission to fly.