Monday, 23 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Tulen (an excerpt from Secretkeeper)

Rahsia pushes the problem aside when she reaches the Iman’s apartment building. Iman lives—lived—in a small one-room flat on the second floor. It’s poorly maintained, the once-white paint now a dirty, peeling grey. There are weird greenish fungus patches in various corners. There’s rubbish strewn along the hallway and up the stairs. She has to pick her way through the dirt. It’s not as if this is the first time Rahsia has seen it—she comes over often to take care of the children during the weekends when Iman can’t tear herself away from the Memories—but it’s the first time she’s really noticed it. No, the children cannot stay here on their own.

She knocks on the door and smiles when she hears Tulen’s careful voice asking who it is.

“It’s Aunty Sia,” she says.

The chain rattles and the lock turns and the door opens with a squeak. The ten-year-old girl looks up at her with worried eyes. “Where’s Mak?” she asks.

Rahsia’s voice sticks in her throat. How does Tulen know to ask?

“She’s late again, isn’t she? Too busy to come home?”

When did Tulen start sounding so bitter against her mother? Rahsia shakes her head. “No, Tulen. I’m afraid…” She cannot continue the sentence. Looking down, she sees that she’s gripping her hands together, right over left, left over right, cracking her knuckles. She stills them. “Let me in,” she says quietly.

Tulen lets her in and closes the door behind them.

“Aunty Sia?” she asks, a quiver in her voice. She must suspect something now, because of Rahsia’s inability to act normally. How does one act in the face of death? She hadn’t had to think of that when Nek died because Nek was old, and her grandmother, and she’d known she was going to die months beforehand. Why hadn’t Iman told her that she was about to die? Didn’t the Secretkeeper know such things?

A Memory stirs in her.

‘There is no time,’ Iman says to Father Farouk. ‘It will happen today and I cannot say goodbye to my children.’ 
The priest protests, ‘Don’t go that way then. Take another route. We need you, Iman.’
‘You don’t need me, Father. You need the Secretkeeper. And I am not the one. I was meant to only hold this role to teach my daughter what she needs to know for the future and I have failed in that task. I have been so subsumed with the Secretkeeper role and the Memories and the need to know that I have missed out on my true task.’
‘Your daughter?’
‘Tulen will be the Helpmeet. How she comes to that role, I do not know. I have not been given to see. You priests should know. Don’t you?’

Rahsia skims through the rest of the Memory. “Your mother left you a letter,” she says to Tulen.

“What? Why? Where is it?”

“I must find it. I just learned of it. There is no easy way to say this, Tulen, but your mak is dead.”

Tulen is silent for so long that Rahsia is afraid she doesn’t understand. “Do you understand what I just said?”

“Mak is dead,” Tulen repeats hollowly.

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I was going to give you a snippet from Absolution, but I figured I'd give you a current one from Secretkeeper instead.
Here, Tulen is ten.

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