After the blood moon had rained blistering storms onto the earth, only masses of soil remained. With mud cleaving on to shoe soles, debris was sure to settle on door steps. Wet clothes dangled weighty on tired lines as waters gathered into the nearby sewers. The tropical draft festered on heavy hearts and hopelessness met with men. As Tutu looks God in the eye, she murmurs,

“there are no happy endings unless You make it so.”

War gave nothing back to men unless in its conclusion, then fragmented peace reigned tenuously where war had ardently prospered.

The preacher is howling into the megaphone. Such vigour for a slight crowd. There are only three other women in the congregation. One with a slobbering child in her hands. Nobody is looking for God in buildings when they need Him to find their sons and bring back their daughters from evil forests. Tutu stands up from where she is sat at the back of the church. She makes one seamless turn and she walks out of the tent. If Ayo returned today, it would be a glorious day.

Moni is doing Dola’s hair on the porch. Grandma is sat on the first stair. She unties a section of her wrapper and counts her money. Moni appreciated the finer things of life. She once lived in a really big house in the capital. She wears her nails so long that grandma doesn’t know how she wipes after a toilet break. Moni doesn’t eat dinner with the girls. Except for Thursdays. She tires out after her weekly night classes and comes right back to grandma’s house. Otherwise, she would be with whichever boyfriend she embraced that week. Dola lived in admiration and envy for Moni lived in the life she coveted. They would have been the same person, rather they were one spirit living in two bodies and only one body wouldn’t have the luxury of beauty at her expense.

Grandma’s husband was assassinated before they could have any children. She remembers him by what is said about him and not by the sons they share. A freedom fighter. All freedom fighters die. She knew it when they first cast minds at each other. She was lucky to have had all the years they venerated. She counted it not as loss. Something of a sour sentiment. An acquired taste. This country was worth dying for. Worth leaving a wife behind for. Worth losing a husband for. Worth being a mother to. All these daughters she gained, living in their home with her, calling her grandma with no blood-ties. She had spent her youth being the lover to a troublesome man. Now in her old age she was a mother to a hive of equally resilient girls.

“Tuberculosis”, Grandma spits, “it’s what they used to assassinate my husband. They infected them in prison and rolled them all in like tin food. It was an epidemic. Over 2,000 prisoners died that year.”

Moni swivels her gum in her mouth. The girls don’t respond. They never know how to when grandma spoke about her husband. They leave it mid-air. None of them had ever been in love before but there lingered an unspoken reverence for this kind of old love. They did know it wasn’t an assassination as such. Then again it was. Governments treat prisoners like they weren’t human at all. Their prisons were scoured with uncontrolled outbreaks. If one man got sick, they left him in there where he could infect the others. Who cared if criminals got sick? Criminals didn’t deserve any kindnesses. They go to jail to rot.

Tutu is trapped in so many worlds and there are men she wishes she could love. She wasn’t at the liberty to fall in love. But she admired the way it cloaked Moni- to be loved by so many men. She envied the way it sounded on Grandma- to have loved so wholly. If Ayo returned today, she’d never let her go.

Ayo’s absence was beginning to dawdle like the smell of a rotting dog. The Run Free, Girls were laying low under grandma’s instruction. Sometimes a few girls would sneak out in the afternoon to protest anything where they could. Free education, free sanitary towels, Free Ayo. Protests for electricity, water, roads and better health care. Protests against the current military regime, cutting senate salaries, gentrifying poorer communities and anti-homosexual bills. The other girls were out now marching against the cancelation of free antenatal care that the pregnant women received.

When Ayo was arrested 10 months ago, they were protesting the hike in tuition fees. Usually, when one of them was arrested they would be out within the week. The message was received.

Tutu was weighted up against the pillar on the front porch, looking into nothingness. Disregarding the conversation between grandma, Dola and Moni. How they all came to become sisters and live under grandma was a mystery in itself. Girls from all over the country, had led very vast lives and had come to need each other for this very life. This very thing. Girls that were plucked out of lust and lost and forgotteness. Girls that fled from death and men became strong posts themselves. It didn’t matter that the government had dubbed them, first, a brothel and then an insatiable gang. Grandma had given something to believe in, after God- each other.

A crowd emerges out of this same nothingness. There is screaming and shouting and dancing. Tutu pondered why they would bring the protest here. Nobody with any real power could see it here. Ayo transpires from the midst of the people. Now, a pledge to keep, to never let go.

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