Twenty-two minutes. That’s how long I had been seated at the table—alone. “Eight more minutes,” I whispered to myself. Eight more minutes and I was going to start eating. Do not cry, do not cry, I chanted in my head as I watched the seconds tick by on the clock. For as long as I could remember dinner was always at 8 p.m., give or take a few minutes. When I was twelve and had malaria, Mama forced a tablet of chloroquine down my throat and dragged me to the dining table. My body was weakened by fever, I could barely keep my eyes open, and I had no appetite. Still, Mama made sure everything on my plate went down my throat. It all came back up an hour later. When I was fifteen, Mama pushed me and I ended up with a sprained wrist when I landed awkwardly on the floor. I couldn’t lift a fork with my right hand so Mama insisted I eat with my left. All I wanted to do was swallow a tablet of Panadol and sleep off the pain but, of course, Mama did not allow that.
I hated the dining table. Sometimes I imagined taking an axe to it and chopping it to little pieces. Other times, I dreamt of setting it on fire and watching it burn to a pile of ash. Yet every night, I had to sit at the table with Mama, Papa, and Zam and pretend I wasn’t dying inside. Until tonight.
Zam had not been gone up to a day and already things had changed. Mama had never been late to dinner. It was her favorite time of the day. The time where she could gather her family in one place and make all our lives miserable. She never missed it.
The door opened and Papa walked in. He nodded at me before shuffling to his place at the head of the table. Instead of taking a seat, he grabbed his plate and walked back outside.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, I continued chanting. My breath hitched in my chest. I hated that I was upset. I hated that I had thought myself immune to Mama and Papa’s actions and they had somehow found a way to hurt me. Again.
Dinner time is family time, Mama always said. Now Zam was gone and she was nowhere to be found.
Papa walked back in, grabbed his glass of water, and walked back out.
I picked up my fork and started eating. I took my time as I ate, chewing slowly and thoroughly and hating myself as I did so, because I was giving Mama time to walk through the front door.
I finished eating, washed my plate, and went to bed. Mama did not show up.
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Excerpt from HOW YOU GROW WINGS published by Algonquin Young Readers. Copyright © 2022 by Rimma Onoseta.