The staff of Yaba Psychiatric Hospital is used to handling emergencies in the dead of the night. Sometimes, the inmates try to hurt themselves. Sometimes they succeed.
And sometimes they hurt other people.
Twenty minutes before Chisom Benson reached the hospital, her twin sister bit someone’s ear off.
The victim was a big strapping fellow called B.J. by his colleagues. He was the strongest orderly in the hospital’s employ, and one glare from his eyes- two doughy holes in the lump of fufu that was his face- was enough to strike fear in the heart of the most stubborn inmates. So when the staff on night duty heard screams and ran into the solitary ward where Amauche Benson was kept, they were surprised to find the 100kg of burly man rolling on the ground, squealing like a pre-pubescent girl as blood spurted from the place where his ear used to be.
Amauche was calmly seated on her bunk, legs primly together. She grinned when the horrified people jostled into her room, a red smile full of happy teeth. “Oops.”
Minutes later, when a grumpy Doctor Banji leads Chisom to his office, she finds her sister trussed up tightly in a corner of the room. Bandages are crudely and cruelly wound around her arms and feet, cutting into her flesh, but despite the pain Amauche must be feeling, she grins as her sister enters the office.
Chisom is horrified.
“For goodness sake, is she an animal? Why is she tied up like…like a Christmas goat?” she exclaims. The metaphor makes her wince, but it is the most accurate image the sight of her sister sitting on the floor evokes. She begins to move towards Amauche.
The doctor’s voice stops her in her tracks. “First, I wouldn’t advise you to go near her. And second, a lot of people would answer your first question with a yes.”
Chisom glares at the doctor. “Oh wow. Is that how you treat patients under your care? This is inhumane, Doctor! I insist…”
“You have no right to insist on anything or even question our methods, Miss Benson.” Dr Banji snaps. “First you barge in here at this ungodly hour and now you make demands.” he lowers his voice. “Your sister is a vicious killer…”
“Is she?” Chisom cuts in, looking at Amauche. Her sister stares back at her fixedly, something that looks like surprise flitting across her face. “I want to talk to her. Alone.”
Dr Banji makes a small sound of amusement. “That’s highly irregular, Miss Benson.”
“You can leave her tied, if that’s what it takes, but I need to speak with her alone.”
Amauche makes a hurt face. “Not very sisterly behaviour, that.”
The psychiatrist looks unconvinced, so Chisom plays her last card. “I pay for her upkeep, remember? Even though she’s a ward of the state, I still gave you money to take care of her when you asked. Doesn’t that count for something?”
The doctor’s jaw twitches as Amauche makes an oooooh sound.
“I’ll disregard that last statement, Miss Benson. I’ll also give you ten minutes with her.” the doctor stops at the door to run an assessing eye over his patient. Amauche grins and blows him a kiss. “Not a second more.”
When the door creaks shut behind the doctor, Chisom pulls a chair close to her sister and settles into it with a shiver. The office is cold and she wonders how her sister can stand the chill in the white cotton night-gown she has on.
“Animals don’t get cold.” Amauche quips, then smiles when Chisom shows no surprise. From childhood, they both had the uncanny ability to sense what the other twin was thinking. Being in a psych ward didn’t change that.
Amauche stretches out her legs and shifts into a more comfortable position, head resting against the wall. Chisom is struck by how much they look alike. It is like looking into a mirror to see a deranged doppelganger staring back. Unconsciously, she straightens her feet as well.
“I bit that guy’s ear because he’s an asshole.” Amauche said casually, as though she was picking up the thread of a conversation they had already started. “He likes to touch the women they bring here. And they let him because they’re crazy.” She grins. “While I may have a few loose screws rattling around, but I’m not that crazy. Who died?”
The unconnected question startles Chisom into an answer. “My friend, Bose.” Her mind dredges up the memory of the pool of blood on Bose’s table. She shudders.
Dancing queen, that’s right. Sweet, sweet, dancing Bose. Neck danced right into the edge of that sharp knife…
Chisom’s hands rise to her face but she stops them halfway and cradles them in her lap.
“Isn’t that interesting?” Amauche mumbles. Her eyes do not leave her sister’s face. “You stopped biting your nails.”
Chisom frowns. “I stopped years ago.”
“Months ago, actually, but I’ll let it pass for now.” Amauche says, and then cocks her head to the right, eyes gleaming. “Ask me what you came to ask, dear sister.”
“Did you do it, Amauche?” Chisom asks. She feels tightly strung, like a stretched band about to snap. “Why? Why would you do something that horrible… that evil? You were okay and then you were not and I don’t know why…”
Amauche hits her head on the wall and Chisom stops. They stare at each other and then Amauche does it again, her head meeting the wall with a dull clunk loud enough to set her sister’s teeth on edge.
“Stop it, Amauche.” She hisses.
“Don’t ask me why I am not okay. You know why.” Amauche looks away. “Victor is why.”
The name of the dead man hangs between them. Chisom recalls how heartbroken Amauche had become about a year ago, when he died just before they were to be married. Victor had been kind and brilliant, just like Amauche had been. All the ugliness since then made his memory seem even more bright and precious.
Sadness pulses in the space between them.
“The Ember Killer.” Amauche rolls her eyes. “What a ridiculous name! But even more important, do you know why you stopped biting your nails?”
Chisom struggles to follow her sister’s disjointed conversation. “Wait… I… why is this important?”
Amauche’s eyes widen “you really do not know. Wow. Hi there, parasitic twin. Triplet. Whatever.”
It is not the first time Chisom has heard Amauche use that term. It is a concept that has always fascinated her sister.
Amauche leans forward and Chisom recoils. Her twin looks like a cobra poised to strike, the tendons connecting her throat to her shoulders taut and spread, mouth pursed to spew poison.
“I didn’t swallow his ear, although they think I did. It’s somewhere under my bed. But i can still taste his blood.” Amauche whispers. “They made me rinse my mouth but I can still…”
“Why are you telling me this?!” Chisom raises her voice. It is shaky and her heart thumps unpleasantly in her chest. Suddenly she wants the conversation to end. “Stop it; I don’t want to hear this…”
“You don’t bite on your nails anymore because when you bite them off and chew and go back for more, they taste weird when you go all the way down. Right? Right?” Amauche Is tripping over her own words and Chisom watches, frozen, as a line of drool falls from her sister’s mouth. “You know why? Blood never really washes off, Chisom. It lines the very edges of your soul.” She raises her tied hands and points.
Chisom can feel her neck creaking as she looks where her sister is pointing, down at her own hands, folded on her lap. Beneath each nail is a small dark crescent. Ten bloody moons.
Our fingers are lined with our sins; the voice in her head titters again.
Amauche sucks on her lips, dragging the spit back in her mouth as she leans her head against the wall. “Of course, I’m not the Ember Killer. I’m mad, but I’m not that mad. Do you still hear that voice in your head, Chisom?”
Chisom stands up from her seat and nearly falls as she rushes towards the door. Amauche’s amused voice follows her.
“Next time, wash beneath your nails with bleach. Didn’t I teach you anything?”