The Traveller’s Bag

Janet returned from her trip of three days to Abakiliki, with her face smudged with red mud and her limbs sore with bruises and cuts. A portion of her face had razor marks and a piece of dirty cloth loosely held her box braids together.

Since our childhood, she hardly fought with anyone and always sought for peace, when in a dispute. Mother calls her ‘the quiet child’ because she didn’t cry on her first day of life, even after the nurses pinched her skin with calipers and hit her buttocks with a pan.

I took her bags from her and led her in to wash off the blood, mud and dried tears on her face. She did not look sad or angry or anxious. Her face was relaxed but I wasn’t. Our parents and siblings travelled to our hometown for a family function a week ago, leaving the two of us behind to take care of the big house.

She dipped a small towel into a bowl of warm water and mopped her skin clean. The light from the red bulb in the bathroom was dim but I could see her face tighten each time the water touched her open wound. She took one of Mother’s wrappers which was hanging on the line in the bathroom and tied it around her chest. Premature wrinkles sprang up on her face and her eyes drooped.

“Franca, please turn off the lights,” she said and laid on the bed we shared. I nodded and turned off the switch while watching her from the corner of my eyes and opened the bathroom door to allow some light filter in. I wanted to ask what had happened to her but the words struggled to come out. The weather was very cold but my insides felt hot. An intense anger to crush to death the person making my elder sister look like a street beggar, was rising like a furnace from my bowels.

I walked to the bed and sat down as she writhed in pain, unable to touch her for fear of worsening her pain. I would have applied some soothing balm but it finished the night before when I smeared a large quantity on my skin to drive away the cold. Now, I had to painfully watch her scream from the cuts and bruises on her body.

“Franca, bring me daddy’s pillow,” she said, almost in a whisper. I bolted into my parents’ room and returned with three pillows, although she requested for one. I gently placed two under her legs and supported her waist with the third one. I could see her face relaxing as she took deep breaths and eventually dozed off. Soon, she was snoring like an infant while I thought about what next to do.

I tiptoed from where I had been sitting to the corner of our bedroom where she dropped her travel bag. It was unlike Janet not to buy me goodies from her visit to Nnaemeka. Maybe because of whatever happened on the way she had forgotten to give me the biscuits she bought. She never forgot to buy me cream crackers. I love how crunchy they are.

“Don’t do it,” I heard her say. Wasn’t she asleep? How then did she hear her bag zipper open? I crawled out of there and pretended to be searching for an imaginary coin under the bed while her hand swept the air. Could she be searching for me?

For the next thirty seconds, I stationed myself underneath the bed but her agitation did not last long. She was starting to snore again. The temptation to switch on the lights pressed on my neck but I knew it would not only come off as insensitive but that would wake her up if she had actually been sleeping.

The wooden bed creaked as she turned this way and that, muffling groans and begging a ghost not to do it. Aah! I jumped out of my hideout and peered into the darkness, with a shoe in hand to hit the person sitting on my sister’s chest. The figure of a dark man with shiny claws and a wicked smile flashed before me and I screamed.

“Franca. Franca. Turn on the lights! Please don’t take her away!” she begged. I kicked the monster with all my energy and our standing fan crashed to the ground. I had forgotten that we had turned our fan into a hanger for airing the clothes we had worn but weren’t dirty enough to be thrown into the laundry bag.

‘Are you okay?’ I asked shamefully, in the looming darkness. I used to brag to everyone that cared to listen about my bravery and I knew that Janet would tell my siblings when they returned about my behavior but I was not to blame. If Janet didn’t sleep-talk, I might have just carried out with my FBI duties on her travel bag without startling her.

She started to snore again and I zoomed off to check her bag. This was my last chance to grab my gift. She hated anyone opening her bags without her permission but I had to eat my cream crackers. The red leather bag which she took to Abakiliki was Father’s first gift to her as an undergraduate and she cared for it like a doll.

I carefully zipped open the bag and with the aid of the dim lighting from the bathroom, I saw two phones and a tablet. Janet did not own a tablet. Neither did she own a phone. She only had a laptop. I was taken aback.

After Janet was cyber bullied into attempting suicide, Father made it a rule for no one to use smart phones or have a social media account in his house and here I was, looking at two phones. How did she get them? Was she involved in an armed robbery? Would that explain the cuts on her face? Maybe she dived into a swamp on her way out of her victim’s house. Poor human! 😢

“They took him,” she said with tears in her voice. “Who?” I asked, shaking with fear. Even though she caught me checking her bag, she now knew that I knew about the phones in her bag and I would also tell Father that she had gone to visit Nnaemeka in his absence. Her fiancé was like a big brother to us but Father insisted on taking her to his house whenever they scheduled to meet.

“No!” she shouted again. I hurriedly flipped the switch and Janet jumped up with a start. It was clear at that moment that she had been asleep and I took a deep breath. Her body was covered in sweat and she tightened the grip of mummy’s wrapper on her chest and limped into the bathroom.

“They killed him. They killed his Rottweiler,” she said slowly and vomited into the sink. When I heard her washing her face with water, I came and stood quietly behind her as she watched herself in the mirror. She began to cry again and I almost gave in to the urge to join her in crying but decided against it. I was afraid to speak either and just stood like a scared cat, watching her cry.

I might have joined in crying if she told me who Rottweiler was. I thought her only fiancé was Nnaemeka. Why was there another guy? Anyways, it was not mine to worry about. I would tell Father. “Sorry, Janet. You will find someone better,” I managed to say and turned to leave but a slap on my left cheek left me staggering.

“I wanted him.”

“How come you have two phones in your bag?” I asked. I was not bothered about this new guy and was not interested. Did she realize that she had just slapped her daddy’s little princess?

“Janet, I knew you were a mistake from the day you were born. You didn’t ask about my injuries. You did nothing. All you care for are the phones in my bag?”

“Erm..”

“When daddy comes back, better not say anything to him about those phones.” I quietly nodded and she then narrated what happened to me.

She had stolen the phones from Nnaemeka after she caught him texting another girl and he released his dog to attack her, which left her with the bruises. In attempt to please his master, the Rottweiler kept pursuing after her but was unfortunately run over by a car.

Although she hated Nnaemeka because he was Father’s choice and not hers, she loved his dog and hoped to take it with her some day. I felt happy because my sister would finally get to pick a man of her choice but the sight of those phones will definitely drive Father crazy.

Oh well,  I wonder how she will wriggle herself out of this mess.