Fiction from Olabisi Bello
A Perfect Canvas
We didn’t want her.
No, we didn’t. We really didn’t.
She’s an accident. A leftover. A babe dropped on the outskirts of our town with nothing but a swaddle to her name.
Who would have wanted someone like that?
We wanted to return her,
But there was no one to do the returning to.
Katherine wouldn’t raise her,
Neither would Jon or Alice or Peter,
And there was no orphanage for miles.
Why should we be forced to drive that far?
So, we took her in and raised her.
Yes, unfortunately so.
She is an oddity, that girl. Truly a peculiar case.
It’s obvious she doesn’t belong with us.
She walks different,
We don’t even have the same type of hair.
It’s why we cut hers.
She laughs different,
And all our kids are scared to death of her.
Who could blame ‘em!
She didn’t even let my Charlie play on the swings.
Said she was there first.
Well, was she?
Then what’s the problem?
‘Cause that’s not the point. My son has every right to be there just as she does.
But it’s a public park. Emphasis on public.
Who asked you?
Calm down, Jonathan.
Wasn’t he the one that dragged her out of the cafe just last month?
Mama needed the booth.
And my son needed the swing!
– Enough, Jon. We agree with you.
– I don’t.
Shut up, Alice.
She taught Ronnie a bad word.
– How could she?
Now, our sweet little boy is running around town dropping f-bombs.
Not lil’ Ronnie.
We should never have taken her. Should’ve let the vultures—
And the eagles
And the itty-bitty rats
Take care of her instead.
We should have a talk with her.
Let her know her place in this community.
Anyone seen her these past couple of days?
– I haven’t.
– Neither have I.
Not in the park where she stays all day?
Or in the shed we raised her in?
Only let her in once a month.
Or by the community pool?
No one taught her to swim.
Is she missing?
Such a bother.
Did she run away?
She’s only six.
Should we look for her?
I have pottery class today.
Mama needs me to scrub her back tonight.
Are we all too busy?
Do we really want her back?
Then it’s settled.
Saw her body in the lake just last week.
You sure it was her?
Which other person here looks like that?
Why didn’t you tell us?
Forgot. Had to grill the fish Fred gave me.
How do you forget something like that?
– Dunno. Just happened.
– He’s hiding something.
– No, I’m not.
– Yes, you are, Jon. Out with it.
You know the rules, Jonathan. No secrets.
Charlie said he saw her sitting by the lake.
Oh no, did she fall in?
He pushed her in, you know, as payback for the park.
So he killed her?
– Poor thing drowned.
– But that’s murder! Mama said God hates murder.
– Then she shouldn’t have disrespected my boy.
– Doesn’t give you the right to take her life.
– I didn’t do it.
– Yeah, your son did.
– Was she not a problem? An ugly spot on our canvas?
– Yeah so?
– So, problem solved.
– Through murder?
– You would do the same if you had the chance.
He’s not wrong. Maybe now we can have some peace.
– There can’t be peace. His son’s a killer.
– Mind the way you talk about my boy!
Enough. We don’t need to fight over this.
But she was such a young girl.
Peter, what’s the law we follow around here?
– Ask Katherine. She’s the know-it-all.
Fine. We must protect—
WE MUST PROTECT OUR OWN
Before anyone else.
Simple. Fred will go and fish out the body before an outsider sees it.
We are not to speak of this ever again.
She never existed.
Didn’t belong to anyone, anyway.
We might be horrible people,
But we’re horrible together.
And we don’t want lil’ Charlie going to juvie for someone like her?
No, we don’t. We really don’t.
Do we all agree to this?
– We do.
– I don’t.
Shut up, Alice.
Olabisi Bello (she/her) is an aspiring biomedical engineer from Oyo State, Nigeria, currently studying chemical engineering. Despite her passion for science, she has always loved the fluidity and joy writing grants her, and she hopes to make an impact in society with this gift and her overall devotion to making the world a better place. Her works have appeared in the Kalahari Review, the Neurological Literary Magazine, and The Open Culture Collective.