“Go inside, Lará,” Mom said.
Lará looked at her mother’s wide eyes and shaking hands. Though young, she could sense the tension in the air and feel the strain in her mother’s smile. Fear lurked in her gaze – the same fear that Lará, seated at her mother’s feet, started to feel.
Mom’s hand stroked her half-finished hair fondly. “I’ll finish your plaits before you sleep.”
The sound of approaching footsteps made Lará’s heart race. She glanced at the entrance, then back at her mother.
“No, Mom. I want to stay with you.”
Startled, Lará ran to her room. She picked up her teddy, Pegasus, and held him for comfort. Pegasus had been her dad’s gift to her when she was four. She’d been having series of nightmares, and her parents had been worried. Her dad had given her the teddy when he’d come into her room one night to tuck her in.
“What will you name it?”
Lará smiled at her new friend. “Pegasus. Like Barbie’s friend.”
That was six years ago, and she still had her old teddy in her hands. She’d held it when she’d been scared of the monsters under her bed. She’d held it until the nightmares had stopped. And now, every night, she held it when another nightmare happened in her home, caused by the man she no longer recognized.
The sound of the front door opening and closing reached her ears, then the soft voice of Mom welcoming Dad. Lará winced when she heard her father’s shout of disapproval. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself. A few seconds later, she heard mom’s muffled cry.
Clutching Pegasus tightly, Lará sat in a corner of her room, Mom’s cries breaking her heart. Dad’s voice was loud and different like it always was whenever he got drunk. The first time it had happened, she’d run to welcome him from work. Instead of hugging her and asking about school, he’d stared at Lará like he’d never seen her before, then sauntered into the house like the bad guys on TV.
Days later, the beating had started.
Lará couldn’t understand what had happened to her dad. She held Pegasus every night before sleeping, afraid that she would have nightmares where Dad was hitting Mom. Mom’s cries and pleas resonated in Lará’s ears, and she clamped down on her lips to silence her tears.
This went on for two years: Lará and Pegasus in a corner of her bedroom, while her mother faced the brutality of her father’s fists outside. The years passed. Her heart aged, and so did her teddy. Tufts of fake fur dropped from Pegasus’s worn body. It lost an eye, then a huge chunk of its tail. Still, Lará held on to her only source of comfort.
It didn’t happen every day. Sometimes, her father came home sober. On those days, he acted normal. He asked about her day, complimented Mom on her cooking, and was almost like his former self. Lará had even seen him looking at Mom’s bruises in sadness, and she almost believed he wouldn’t hit her again. But his repentance never lasted. A few days – if they were lucky, weeks – later, he went back to the bottle. And her mom paid the price.
“I’m a coward,” Lará told herself as she cried one night when the cycle repeated itself. For years, she’d stayed hidden in her room while her mother suffered in her father’s hands. Her cowardice made her feel guilty, and soon, staying in the room became unbearable for her.
“Leave her alone!” she shouted one day, finally summoning the courage to confront him.
Dad stared at her, and for that brief moment, she felt a sense of relief. Then his hand hit her cheek and shook out the little courage she had in her.
That night, Mom tended to Lará’s bruises, and Lará tended to hers. They comforted each other, too drained to cry.
“Don’t confront him again, Lará. I can’t stand the sight of him hitting you. Jọ̀ọ́, ọmọ mi. Stay in the room.”
This time, Lará had had enough of her mom’s reticence.
“Will you keep suffering like this, Mom? Why don’t you do something?!” She cried. “Do you want him to kill you?”
“He’s a good man. He’ll stop hitting me, you’ll see.”
Lará stared at her mom’s bruised face and wept. Who would help them? She cried at her helplessness. Mom was an orphan and had no close relatives. Lará suggested telling the Pastor in their local church. Her mother refused – her dad was a deacon in the church.
That same night she had a dream. Dad was hitting mom, but this time, he didn’t just throw punches. She watched from a corner as the shadows morphed. Her dad became unrecognizable, fueled by rage and hate. His figure seemed larger as he stared down at her mom. He held out a hand. Something glittered in the light. A knife. Mom stepped back, slipped, and hit her head against the glass table.
The pool of blood was the last thing Lará saw before she woke up.
Lará hugged her knees to her chest, crying silently. Fear held her in its embrace. A thousand and one thoughts ran through her mind, each one more terrifying than the other. When she calmed somewhat, she stood on shaky legs. She stepped out of her room to get a glass of water in the kitchen, but what she saw made her pause. Her dad was in the living room, holding something that made her blood run cold.
Lará watched, wide-eyed, as he turned the gun this way and that, and mumbled something about touts in the club. She watched him place the gun in the topmost part of the shelf, then hurried into her room when he made a move to leave the sitting room.
Lará waited a few minutes before approaching the shelf. She shuddered at the sight. Details of her dream flooded her mind. She forced herself to breathe, to calm her rising panic. Her mom wouldn’t die. Dad would never…
Take the gun.
Hands quivering, she touched the metal. It felt cold in her hands, as cold as death. A door creaked open, prompting her into action. She bolted towards her room, the metal weighing heavily in her hand. Still shaking, Lará placed the gun inside the opening in Pegasus’ back. Her favourite teddy, so comforting, contained something so hideously brutal. The sight was unnerving: Pegasus and the pistol. Climbing onto her bed, she curled up and rocked herself to sleep.
Two nights later, her dad came home. Drunk. Lará waited in her room, heart racing as she deliberated what she would do. With every passing second, her tension intensified. She prayed he’d saunter into the room and fall asleep, hoped he’d put on the TV and doze off on his favourite show. She held her breath, waiting. Images of her nightmare flashed through her mind, and she tightened her hold on Pegasus.
Her prayers went unanswered. Mom’s sharp cry hit her like a stab to the heart, and tears prickled at her eyes. When she heard the next blow, she sucked in a breath, clenched her jaw, and stepped out of the room.
Her dad paused when he saw her, hand frozen in midair. She stared at him, holding her favourite teddy bear in one hand and his pistol in the other. She placed a finger on the trigger.