Star: Chapter 1- Forgive Me Father

Star woke up screaming.

That was how she woke up now. Screams and tears. Her father didn’t mind or care, and she didn’t tell him because he didn’t mind or care. He even had the nerve to cry at her funeral, like he had somehow loved her, like he would miss her.

She had never hated anyone in her life, not truly. But the more she let it sit and simmer, the more she knew it like she knew her own name: she hated him.

More than anything.

She got up from her bed, left with her towel and went to the bathroom. She loved hot showers, it felt like the water was washing away who she was, and she could just exist there, in that small space of living and unliving. When she got out, she saw the toothbrush there, her mother’s, in all its bright pink glory. She cried then; her tears as hot as the water that bathed her.

They had laid her mother down a week ago and she hadn’t spoken a word since. Family members, relatives, and friends of the family had come with their condolences, but she barely heard their empty words. They told her how it was a tragedy that someone as kind as her mother would die so soon.

They said how strange it was that the trailer came out of nowhere, didn’t she see it? But all would be well, they said, at least she had a kind warm father who would take care of her.

She said nothing in response.

“Do you want more?” He asked as they both sat down to eat breakfast.

Her mother’s omelettes had been the best, she always had the right amount of peppers and tomatoes; his was bland and looked like cat food — cat food that the cat itself had spat out in disgust at being fed such.

But she was hungry, and so, she ate.

She shook her head at his request, though. Because she had to eat didn’t mean she had to endure more of the torture than was necessary. And she didn’t want to talk to him. The only person she wanted to talk to was lying 6 feet deep in St Anthony’s Cathedral cemetery.

She absentmindedly picked at the plasters on her hand. The nurse had put them all on her hands and legs, places where the glass had cut her. They itched sometimes. They weren’t itching now, though, she just wanted her mind to wander.

Her father moved to say something, but he thought better of it and held it in, keeping the words inside him.

School started in two weeks when the Easter break ended, her mother always took her shopping around this time — she hated last minute. She always knew what to do and when. She doubted that he even knew when her birthday was. She ate, washed her plate and left to her room as he sat on the empty table, alone.

She sat in her room and waited, and waited.

And then, she fell asleep.

That was when the dreams came for her.

They were dark murky nightmares that waited at the corner for her, baring their sharp teeth and wicked claws.

She was woken up by the door slamming and she sat up and tried to remember what the nightmares had been about, but as soon as she tried to get hold of them, they fluttered in her grasp. She put on her black jeans and her pink top and left her room.

She paused to look at the hallway mirror, and staring back at her was a very angry, very sad, very lonely twelve-year-old girl. Her eyes were sunken and her cheeks were sullen but she didn’t care. She checked if her small phone was charged, picked up her mother’s house keys and was about to leave the house when she paused and looked at the guitar — it was the only thing apart from her that survived the crash. She took a breath and left, slamming the door behind her, the broken misshapen guitar shuddering.

She nodded at the gateman as she left the compound, he was about to ask her if her father knew she was going out when he froze and thought that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the best idea in the worst of times.

Outside felt different now.

It felt strange, it felt evil now.

This wasn’t the world anymore, but some twisted evil place that took her mother away from her. She thought about this as her feet were taking her to a place her mind hadn’t quite caught up to yet.

Her mother.

A car moved past and Star flinched and moved away, walking more inside the pavement.

She missed her.

On a day like this with both of them at home, her mother would tear her away from her phone and they’d both do something together. Maybe play Ludo or watch episodes of Suits (she had the biggest crush on Harvey). Or she’d complain that her mother watched too much of Zeeworld while her own eyes were glued to the TV.

As she walked, people stared at her. Surulere was a small place and word got around. She could almost imagine what they were saying.

What was her name again? Yes, it was one strange name like that.

Star, ehn?

Yes, Star.

She’s the girl whose mother died in that accident.

Kai, it’s sad sha.

Star just trotted on with her head down, her fingers playing with the hem of her shirt.

***

Our Lady of Saint Agnes was a strange church if one was ever asked.

Years ago, armed robbers stormed into the parish, taking three hostages and demanded that for the safe return of the parish priest and the two altar boys, they would want a few things.

The Lagos State Police Force, not known for their ability to procure thirty virgin prostitutes or two hundred pounds of marijuana, failed to meet their demands.

But just when things got bleak, the five-armed robbers suddenly dropped their guns and gave their lives to Jesus.

While they would have gone straight to prison, they instead went to the asylum: they kept screaming and clawing the walls, through gargled mouths and bulging eyes, shouting of a guardian in the church. A strange man with wispy clothes who showed them things, told them things, that broke the shells of their minds. And so, Our Lady of Saint Agnes Parish gained a new name that day — The Guardian Church.

Star and her mother went there every Sunday, and on Wednesdays for confession. Her father never came to church with them, though. She never saw him pray or even touch a bible. She asked her mother why he didn’t go once and she shrugged. She didn’t know either.

It was Wednesday now and Star walked through the gate, staring at the empty security guard posts. There used to be guards, but since the incident, the Parish decided there was no use for them. They were protected, they said. With an angel on their side, why would they need human beings to guard them?

She walked up the stairs, pushed the large doors open and stepped in. There was a line of people kneeling at the pews but as soon as the last person in the confession booth left, Star slid in, ignoring the angry stares and hisses of people that wanted to be angry, but decided that under the glare of Jesus, maybe fury wasn’t the way.

Star knelt at the confession booth; it was like a box with two sides, the only connection was a small square netted hole cut between them so that the priest and the person could speak freely.

Star made a sign of the cross. “I want to talk to God,” she said as she spoke with a voice that hadn’t been used in weeks.

The Priest cocked his head. This wasn’t how things normally went.

He coughed. “My dear,” he said, “don’t you mean… ‘Forgive me father for I have sinned’?”

“No,” Star shook her head. “I haven’t sinned. I just…I just want to ask God something,” said Star, her voice shaking.

The priest softened, there was fear in the girl’s voice, but also sadness.

“What’s wrong, child?” He asked.

“My mummy died,” Star said, and in that moment, as soon as the words left her lips, reality crashed on her.

Her mother was really gone.

“And you want to ask God why he took her?” The priest suggested, understanding. “See, child, sometimes, things happen but we just have to keep it in our hearts that they happen for a reason. God has a plan — ”

“No, no, no,” Star said, shaking her head again. “I don’t want to ask God why He took her. I want to ask Him how I can get her back.”

“I’m not sure I…” The priest trailed off. He was worried for the girl because, beneath the sadness and fear, he could also sense rage. And such anger in one so young rarely ended happily.

“I want to bring my mother back.” Star demanded as tears fell from her eyes. “I want to ask God to bring her back.”

“Child…”

“My name is Star.”

“Star,” said the priest, “you can’t ask God to bring your mother back.”

“Why not?”

“Because, Star, things are not that simple. There is life and there is death, and in the end, everyone has their time. I am deeply sorry for your loss, but she’s…she’s gone.”

“But God raised Lazarus, and even Jesus. Why can’t He bring my mother back?” She cried. “I just want her back. She didn’t have to go so early. She never saw me graduate… or learn how to drive or get married and have children. I just…I just want her back. Please.” She begged. “Please.”

“I’m sorry,” the priest said in a quiet voice. “I can’t help you.”

Star scowled and stormed out of the booth, and as she did, the priest wondered, deeply, who he feared for most: the young girl filled with the rage of loss, or the poor, unfortunate, souls who would stand in her way.

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Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.