The Cellar(10)

By: Minette Walters

Ebuka turned to his wife. ‘This is not for their ears,’ he said, nodding to Muna and Olubayo. ‘Take them to their rooms while I speak to Mr Broadstone.’

But Yetunde refused. I will not, she answered in Hausa. If you’ve been visiting whores again, I want to know about it. You’ll not keep secrets from me.

Will you shame me in front of this white?

You’ve brought shame on yourself through your own actions, she snapped. Don’t blame me for how this man perceives you. She turned to Muna. Look up, girl, and smile as a daughter should. You and Olubayo are to go to your rooms. If there are any policemen in the hall, Olubayo will tell them the solicitor has asked to speak with us privately. Show your parents affection by giving each of us a kiss before you leave.

Muna watched Olubayo touch his mouth to Yetunde’s cheek before rising to perform the task herself. It wasn’t something she understood or had ever done. There was no pleasure in the sensation – the smell of Yetunde’s skin repulsed her – but kissing Ebuka was worse. Perhaps he remembered how often he’d placed his hand across Muna’s mouth in the darkness of the cellar because he wouldn’t look at her when she lowered her face to his. The feel and smell of his rough beard was as unpleasant to her as always.

She felt a small relief as she closed the door behind her for it seemed the Songolis’ honesty didn’t stretch to admitting she wasn’t their daughter, and her relief grew when she heard the sound of voices in the kitchen. The words were inaudible but she could tell from the lightness of tone that one belonged to Inspector Jordan and the other to the liaison officer. She raised her eyes to Olubayo, who was watching her from the foot of the stairs.

They won’t be here for ever, Olubayo told her triumphantly. And then you’ll be back where you belong. He tapped the panels of the cellar door. A filthy bitch in a filthy kennel.

Muna eyed him warily.

It makes me sick having to say I’m your brother. You’re too stupid to be a Songoli. You don’t understand anything.

The Devil whispered rebellion in Muna’s ear. She took a step forward. ‘My name is Muna,’ she said in English. ‘Mr and Mrs Songoli stole me when I was eight years old. I would like to go home.’ She watched in satisfaction as Olubayo’s eyes widened. The words had sounded right. She tried some others she’d practised. ‘Mr Songoli beat Abiola with a rod. He fell to the floor and did not get up. I have not seen him since.’

Olubayo stared at her in shock, and Muna was thrilled at how easy it was to frighten him. She continued in Hausa.

If I say those words to the police, the Master will be taken away … and that will please me as much as it pleases me that Abiola is gone. He was a nasty boy and my life is better without him.

She watched tears ooze on to Olubayo’s cheeks and despised him for it. Each day he had kicked his fat brother’s legs and told him how much he hated him, and each evening he stamped his feet when Ebuka told him to do his homework. Another few steps brought her to the cellar door. Curiosity made her open it and touch the light switch. Once again she thought how benign it looked in the soft glow of the bulb. It had the appearance of a storage room. Boxes, trunks and cases were piled against the walls, and a table, covered in files from Ebuka’s office, stood where her mattress had been.

She wondered what Ebuka had done with her bedding. From watching the police search the house the second time, Muna had seen how carefully they examined everything, and she knew they would have found it if it had been in the house. She guessed he’d used his car to take it away while Yetunde was dressing her in the spare room, and the idea gave her a warm feeling. The Inspector would show him another photograph soon.

She switched off the light and listened to the darkness. But if it was whispering to her she couldn’t hear it above the murmur of voices coming from the kitchen. The Master will never send me back to the cellar, she told Olubayo, closing the door. He’s afraid the white will find out about the bad things he’s done. I see fear in his eyes each time he looks at her.

She turned with the same impassive face she always had, and watched the boy back away from her up the stairs. She enjoyed the power she felt when she saw how his hand trembled on the banister.

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