She was awoken because of a loud, shrilling noise from her sister. She wondered when or if it was going to ever stop; the constant nightmares and the trembling. Everything had become such a burden. She never thought things would ever get this difficult, she probably knew but just never thought about it. She sort of regretted ever accepting responsibility even though she had to. She didn't have much of a choice and certainly didn't want to abandon her sister. But this had become too much of a chore. She thought about quitting, but that would only make things worse. She turned her face to her right side to calm her now terrified sister.

Alice had been saddled with the responsibility of taking care of her sister. Actually, she made the choice herself. It was a hard thing to do, but it was also the responsible thing to do. Or at least, that was what she thought. She struggled to make ends meets by working two menial jobs. The pay from both jobs was enough to feed them and provide them a place to sleep. As far as she knew, her only family was her sister, who had now become her responsibility. In six days, she would be nineteen. It had been a rough nineteen years and a tumultuous one. It had been one she never would have wished her worst enemy. She had to drop out of secondary school, not like she was still interested in education anyway. At least, now she had an excuse; there was no way she could afford both her and her sister's education. Even though, there was free education in Lagos, there were no free books, or free lunch or free house. Either way, one person had to make the sacrifice. As far as she knew, education just wasn't for her and like every other aspect of her life, it had become too much difficulty. She was more than happy to quit. Somehow, she would get by. After all, some people did get by even with being half-educated.

These disturbingly rough nights started just about few days after they last saw their mother. Alice had assumed it was the absence of their mother that caused her sister's nightmares. She often wondered how a child can miss someone who was never there anyway. But the nightmares lingered on and may have come to stay permanently. Sometimes, Alice got tired of being jolted awake by unpleasant cries. Heck, she even got tired of life itself and the many things she had been through  and experienced as a child all because of her mother, or perhaps her father who she had never met. It also could be that fate just had a plan of its own. Other times, she consoled herself by reminding herself how much worse things could be. Worse? Could there really be anything worse that taking responsibility of yourself and your only sibling at age fifteen? Could there be anything worse than waking up one fine morning at the age of five to see your mother with one of her concubines passed out on the couch? Or when she first realized her mother's obsession with taking pills to subdue pains. She always found it puzzling that her mother had so much pains from sitting at home all day. She watched her mother consume so many things, it was hard to tell which was which. It didn't take long before she began to realize the deterioration in her mother's physical appearance. The unusual smells on her breath, body and clothing. It was no surprise to her when her mother became the street's fighter. At every fight in different corners of their neighborhood, her mother was definitely involved; she mostly left such fights with one bruise or the other. It took Alice quite a while to figure out the unusual hyperactivity she saw in her mother, the agitation or the sudden giddiness. Actually, she never figured out, not on her own.

Brother Ima, as she and their many other neighbors called him, always left home around the same time everyday, 5:30am in a shirt and tie with the same pair of trousers. Everybody respected him and assumed he had a fancy job he left home so early for. His room was two rooms away, on the right. He was one who called Alice and explained to her that her mother was sick. Sick? How could Brother Ima know about a sickness she didn't know of, when she was the one that lived with her own mother? Brother Ima must have just felt like opening his mouth. She pondered in her head. Brother Ima then went ahead to explain that her mother's sickness was beyond physical and was mental. He suggested she called an extended family member to get her mother the help she needed because this help had to come fast. Even though, she agreed that something could have been wrong with her mother in the head, she wondered about getting a family member. Because, frankly, she knew none. She had only known her mother and a little sister. She thanked Brother Ima for his help and went back to their apartment. She thought about talking to her mother about the sickness and she eventually did. Only, her mother certainly didn't take it likely. She got back from school one afternoon and saw her mother in front of Brother Ima's room, screaming on top of her voice and threatening to hit his head with the broken Fanta bottle she was holding. She accused him of wanting to sleep with Alice. Alice was confused. Some neighbors interfered, luckily and they were able to calm her mother down. Alice became even more convinced now that her mother was definitely sick in the head but she kept her thought to herself this time around.

After that incidence, Brother Ima hardly responded whenever Alice greeted him. Three months after she turned fifteen, her mother came home one afternoon looking tired and appeared lethargic, she had come home with another man. As usual, Alice grabbed her little sister and was heading towards the door to excuse her mother when she told her to wait. She murmured something about being too tired to work that afternoon and how it was time for Alice to work as well. Before Alice could understand what was really going on, her mother stepped out of the room with her sister and it was just Alice and this strange man. This same man who ended up depriving her of her innocence, at the permission of the woman who birthed her.

Whenever she thought very deeply about it, she realized it was definitely impossible for any human being to have a type of life worse than hers. To suddenly wake up one morning to realize your mother had walked away and you waited and waited and waited, but she never returned. There were times Alice  wanted to give up and abscond to wherever, but then she would think of her little sister. She then decided to be nothing like her mother. If that meant working to earn money, so be it. If it also meant, never giving up or never walking away from someone who depended on you, then so be it.

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