The Other Side of Truthby Beverley Naidoo
Smuggled out of Nigeria after their mother's murder, Sade and her younger brother are abandoned in London, when their uncle fails to meet them at the airport.
- Harpercollins Childrens Books
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 13 Years
Read an Excerpt
Sade is slipping her English book into her schoolbag when Mama screams. Two sharp cracks splinter the air. She hears her father's fierce cry, rising, falling.
The revving of a car and skidding of tires smother his voice.
Her bag topples from the bed, spilling books, pen and pencil onto the floor. She races to the verandah, pushing past Femi in the doorway. His body is wooden with fright.
�Mama mi?� she whispers.
Papa is kneeling in the driveway, Mama partly curled up against him. One bare leg stretches out in front of her. His strong hands grip her, trying to halt the growing scarlet monster. But it has already spread down her bright white nurse's uniform. It stains the earth around them.
A few seconds, that is all. Later, it will always seem much longer.
A small gathering began to swell the house, tense and hushed. Sade stared numbly out of the sitting-room window to where Joseph stood nervously on guard. At each new bang, rattle or hoot, he peered anxiously through the crack between the metal gates. His head moved painfully forward and backward like that of an old tortoise. His fingers floundered and fumbled each time he had to wrench back the bolt. He had been a witness. One second he had been casually pushing back one of the gates so his master could drive off to work. The next second, his madame lay slumped on the ground and a white car was screeching away through the wide avenue of palm trees.
Uncle Tunde, Papa's eldest brother, arrived with the doctor. Sade and Femi huddled close to their father as he steered the doctor to the sofawhere Mama now lay. Her face stared upward to the ceiling fan, with lips slightly parted and a tiny frown, as if there were only some small disturbance in a dream. But the flowers on the embroidered bedspread wrapped around her were drenched in crimson and told a different story. Sade clutched her brother's hand, waiting.
�I am very sorry, Mr. Solaja. Your wife had no chance. Straight into the heart.� The doctor pronounced the verdict in a low purr. �I shall inform the authorities and, if you wish, New Era Hospital? For the post-mortem.�Papa, usually brimming over with words, simply nodded. His arms drew the children in tightly as a high trembling voice quivered next to them. Mama Buki's cry wailed like a lonely seabird.
�Sista mi! Sista mi!�
Sade's own voice was lost somewhere deep inside her. She wanted to rush across, grab hold of Mama, squeeze breath back into her before it was too late but she could not move. Kneeling beside her sister, Mama Buki's tears swept over her broad cheeks as she covered Mama's face with the corner of the embroidered bedspread. Sade watched in horror, her own silent tears trapped within her, like in a stone.
Grief burst around them like a pierced boil. All about her, Sade heard people repeat fragments of the story. Mr. Falana, one of their neighbors and also Papa's editor-in-chief, had heard both the gunshots and the getaway car. In the deathly hush that followed, he had peeped out from his own gate on the other side of the road. Seeing the entrance to the Solaja house wide open, he feared the worst and rushed across, followed by his wife still in her dressing gown. It was he who had helped Papa carry Mama inside. Now he had to hurry away to warn his other staff. Papa was the most outspoken journalist on Speak, one of the weekly newspapers in English, but he might not be the only target. Even before any newspaper headlines, the news would be darting by word and mouth along the pavements, highways and cables of Lagos. When the news reached Mama's friends at the hospital where she worked, there would be no end of visitors. Suffocated by arms and voices and with the echo of the gunshots still in her head, Sade felt the urge to escape.
�Please . . .�
The effort was great and her voice was small. But it worked and Sade maneuvered her way out. Papa's study would be quiet.
As she entered the study, the telephone rang. Automatically she picked it up, covering one ear to hear more easily.
�Is that the home of Mr. Folarin Solaja who writes for Speak?�
The man's voice was soft but perfectly clear.
�Don't trouble him. Just give him a message. Tell him: if we get the family first, what does it matter?�
The voice wrung the breath out of her, like a snake secretly squeezing her throat. Frantically she signaled to Uncle Tunde who had come to the study door. He strode across to Papa's desk, but as he reached for the receiver, there was a click. Sade struggled to repeat the horrible words. Her uncle's thick graying eyebrows lurched up over his gold-rimmed spectacles. He looked very grave.
A little later, Joseph unlocked the gates for a sleek white ambulance. The small crowd of mourners stood aside to make a pathway for the two men with a stretcher. Mama Buki led the hymn singing. Barely two minutes later, pressed between Mama Buki's heaving, swaying body and her father who was silent and almost perfectly still, Sade watched them carry Mama away under a blinding-white sheet. The ambulance door clicked shut. The windows were darkened glass and Sade could no longer even see the sheet. Everyone fell quiet. The only sound was of the ambulance's motor and of Joseph grappling once again with the gates. His old body pulled to attention as the vehicle backed out, as if in a final salute. That was all. Mama was gone...
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