Previously on Down-Low

*

Ronke stared at her cousin Amina, her heart heavy with sympathy, her tongue weighed down with millions of comforting words to ease the pain Amina was undoubtedly feeling as she sat across from her in Ronke’s living room, sullenly glaring at a blank space on the wall..

“Amina, look at me. Please,” Ronke said softly.

Amina huffed impatiently but turned her gaze towards her, and Ronke caught the unmistakable sheen of unshed tears in her dark eyes.

“There’s no point holding it in, Amina. You can cry. It doesn’t make you less of anything,” Ronke said, closing the distance between them and patting her lightly on the shoulder.

“I am not going to cry,” Amina said through clenched teeth. “That’s what they want – to break me, to make me feel hopeless and small, but they won’t succeed!” Even as she spoke, the tears had began to roll down her cheeks.

Ronke slowly wrapped her arms around her cousin, and Amina’s defenses crumbled completely, her tears flowing freely, her wracking sobs rattling through her entire frame. Ronke cradled her in her comforting embrace, allowing her cousin to obtain emotional release in her arms.

After what seemed like hours, Amina finally came up for air, pushing her pink-and-black weave out of her face to display the completely muddy mess her tears had made of her full face of makeup.

“God, I’m a mess,” she whispered. “A literal and figurative mess.”

“Messes can be cleaned up, you know,” Ronke said. “And I will help to clean you and your mess.”

Amina stared at Ronke, and then made a face. “Ugh. You are so perfect, it’s disgusting. The perfect grades, the perfect house, the perfect career, the perfect hair, clothes, the perfect words always coming out of your mouth. Do you know how hard it is growing up and always being compared to you? It doesn’t even help knowing that you’re such a good person, because I can’t even be jealous and hate you.”

Ronke stared at her cousin, then threw back her head and laughed.

“Oh, Amina,” she said, hugging the other woman. “I am far from perfect. I am fighting my own demons trying to be a better person every day. You know nothing of my struggles.”

Amina’s expression was rueful. “Of course, a perfect response. What else was I expecting though?” She sighed and stood up, beginning to pace slowly across Ronke’s living room.

“Your parents still love you, you know,” Ronke said softly. “They are just angry and upset right now. They can’t disown their only child, I refuse to believe that.”

Amina glanced back at Ronke, a slightly annoyed look on her face. “Ronke, we both heard my parents when you called them. It hasn’t even been up to twenty minutes, you can’t have forgotten already. My parents want nothing to do with me again. What use is a druggie drop-out whore of a daughter who also happens to be pregnant?”

Ronke shot to her feet, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. “What? You’re pregnant?” Her head was spinning.

Amina bared her teeth at her cousin in what was supposed to be a smile. “Surprise, surprise, coz. The parents don’t even know. My father would probably have shot me himself and removed the embarrassment that is me from his life once and for all, if he knew.”

“Oh sweet heavens,” Ronke said, beginning her own pacing movements. Amina had always been problematic; a walking talking bundle of drama, complications and stress. It was this same Amina who, when she was eight, accidentally blew up the kitchen in her parents’ house, then ran away out of guilt, only to end up in the clutches of opportunist kidnappers who demanded a hefty ransom for her return. This same Amina had gotten herself expelled from a prestigious secondary school when she was fifteen for smoking marijuana. She had apparently been doing it unnoticed for months with a group of her friends, but it wasn’t until someone who had a bronchial infection had tried to smoke and almost died as a result, that Amina and her unruly crew were discovered and punished.

Now here Amina was again, twenty, a university drop-out after only a semester, an alcoholic and drug addict, disowned by her parents, homeless and knocked up. Ronke loved her cousin, but she knew from the moment she came back from work and saw her cousin banging on her front door, raining swear words and curses at the people on the other side, while an armada of luggage surrounded her, that her life was going to be disrupted big time.

Ronke spun to face her cousin. “At least tell me you know who the father is.”

Amina looked momentarily hurt, and then scowled heavily at Ronke. “Of course I do. I haven’t hit that low yet.”

“Thank heavens,” Ronke said drily. “Is he aware?”

“Yes,” Amina bit back, her expression stony.

“And? What’s he saying? Is he taking responsibility?”

Amina bit her lip and tears welled up in her eyes again.

“He threatened to kill me if I ever called him again,” she said in a shaky whisper.

Ronke went cold. She stared at her cousin and asked slowly, “Is he someone who can carry out that threat?”

“Oh, yes. He is. He could kill me and nobody would find a scrap of my remains to bury,” Amina responded, fear suddenly swelling in her eyes.

“My God, what sort of people are you involved with? Haba, Amina, this is too much.”

Amina buried her face in her palms and began to sob once again. Ronke sighed, strode over to her and wrapped her in a hug.

“Calm down. We’ll figure this out somehow. Together.”

“Thank you, coz,” Amina sniffed. “You are really a blessing right now.”

Ronke smiled. “You’re my cousin. This is nothing. Come.” Ronke rose to her feet and lifted Amina to hers as well. “It’s getting late and we need to get you settled in.”

Amina looked hopefully at Ronke. “Does this mean I can stay?”

“Yes. You can stay here as long as you need to.”

***

“I hope your cousin is aware that she has to pull her own weight here? This is not a hotel,” Timilehin muttered sourly as Ronke slid into her bed. Ronke had given up her room to Amina, and now she was rooming with Timilehin.

Ronke sighed. “Amina is really going through a lot right now. She needs our love and support. Please be nice.”

“Amina is a bitch. You should have been here to see how she was insulting me and Liliana today. I had to slap her.”

“Oh no, you didn’t!” Ronke exclaimed in dismay.

“I am not proud of it, but yes.” Timilehin sank down into the bed beside Ronke. Ronke was in her bed, just mere inches away. She could breathe in her heady scent, and would breathe that same smell all night. Timilehin’s nipples were already stiffening in anticipation, even though the rational part of her brain knew that nothing would happen, not again. That one time was so long ago, but Timilehin was still struggling to forget the taste of Ronke’s soft lips.

“Timi, are you even listening to me?” Ronke’s soft voice broke through Timilehin’s thoughts.

“What? Oh sorry. I must be more tired than I thought.” She stretched and feigned a yawn rather well.

“It’s ok. I need to get some rest too,” Ronke said, sinking deeper into the sheets.

Timilehin lay down, switched off the lights and snuggled under the covers. She could feel Ronke’s body heat radiating outwards, calling her like a moth to a warm flame. Sleep was going to be difficult tonight.

“Ronke,” she said.

“Yes, Timi?” Ronke replied.

“I love you. Always have, always will.”

Even in the dark, Timilehin could feel Ronke’s smile.

“I know, Timi. I love you too,” she replied, her fingers finding Timilehin’s and intertwining under covers.

Timilehin’s heart swelled, and she silently wished that she could end everyday like this; her fingers joined with the fingers of the only person she had ever loved.

Written by Santa Diaba

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