Ruby shot up from sleep and sat stiffly upright. Her eyes were frozen in a stare. They were glassy and for a moment, Monir thought she was going to cry. Ruby never cried. “I had covered the crack but it still whispered to me. It talked to me. I wish I could hear what the crack said.” She said slowly, not addressing him though. She was slipping into a trance again. This was the third night she was doing this. Monir was fatigued, his eyes heavily laden with sleep. He dragged his unwilling body to sit up on the bed so as to try figuring out whatever was going on with his wife. “What are you talking about?” Monir inquired. His voice shook with slumber and desperation. He was getting horrified by this new woman in his wife’s body. Monir had never seen her like this. He knew Ruby was weird sometimes, but not this way. She would be sunny in a minute and all cloudy before it elapsed. She would turn a joke into a nasty fiasco in a snap. A drinking party could turn into Nazi camp in a blink. One never knew exactly where Ruby stood, except him. He thought he had figured her out. He thought he knew all her indicators of crazy. Like the way she blinked severally before she started screaming at someone she was smiling at a few minutes ago. However, this Ruby that talked about cracks that whispered, was strange. “Sweetie come on, it is two in the morning, and can we talk about what is bothering you when we wake up?” Monir begged her. “I desperately need to sleep tonight.” “The crack was not that big. I mean, it was not a trench. And I had covered it…” she went on. She was not listening to him. For a moment, he thought she was not even addressing him. He looked around the room unconsciously just to ascertain that they were actually alone. “Baby I need this sleep. I have an early day at the office…” “There had to be something else. Something was inside that crack.” she went on. She was clearly not paying attention to him. “What was in the crack honey?” he pushed deeper into her mind with his lazy voice. 2 “I had covered the crack… we covered all the cracks, Mother, Lucy and I,” Ruby sounded like metal. “Mother covered all the cracks on the wall with charts and pictures.” Every word fell from her lips like hailstone. A storm was brewing. He could see it in her now dark, clouded eyes. They were stuck on the cream shiny walls of their bedroom. The large windows dripped egg-yolk-yellow drapers. Next to it ran a labyrinth-shaped black, well- polished, sparkly, mahogany bookshelf. Most of its shelves was filled with titles. Their box bed sat at the middle of the vast room, on a fluffy grey mat that ran from corner to corner. White throw-mats broke the monotony of the grey, hosting the couple’s mat shoes. There was no art on the walls. Ruby and art – day and night. She simply hated anything decorative. Their house was therefore exotically and intoxicatingly plain. Monir loved color before he met Ruby who insisted that color only covered grimness. To her, pictures on the wall hid things and she did not want anything hiding on her walls. Monir only managed the yellow window drapers after a wild flurry of tantrums from his wife. He loved her. It pained him to see her like that. He adored her toes and the ground that hosted them but this acrid new version of her, was not so lovable. What was it about cracks whispering things to her? “What crack, Ruby?” Monir was now fully awake. “You have to talk to me and let me know whatever is going on with you.” He was now fully awake. ### “This house will fall on us one day. Just look at that gaping thing. I am never bringing any of my friends in this house,” Lucy lamented. Ruby drifted between listening to her sister and staring into the darkness of the crack Lucy was referring to. “Did you hear that?” Ruby asked her bubbling sister. “No you freak. There is nothing in there,” Lucy dismissed Ruby. 3 “I just heard something whisper. Maybe it is the wind,” Ruby insisted. The crack ran across the sitting room disappearing under the old butterfly sofa sets that stood appallingly in their living room. The sofa sets were like temple statues in the house – old and unmoved. The thin gulley ran up the front wall like a snake, getting lost in the wall nets and verse-charts that struggled to hide it. It then popped up above the charts and lost its head in the rafters near the roof. There were other cracks on the wall too, but this particular one terrified Ruby. It seemed to be breathing every time she looked at it. She thought she heard whispers from it. She sometimes got scared at night just looking into it. There was a presence in it. Even though everyone else in the family treated it like an old wall portrait, Ruby shuddered every time she looked at it. “Mom, can we cover this crack? It is too ugly to be in the sitting room. Just buy a little cement and have it covered,” Ruby begged her mother sometimes. “This is my house Ruby. I have no problem with the crack…” her mother would answer back. “Besides, the cracks that bother me are already covered behind those beautiful scripture charts.” “But mom,” Ruby would interject, “don’t you ever feel ashamed when your friends come here? All your colleagues have better houses.” “There you go!. The crack fight. Let me get out of here,” Lucy, Ruby’s younger sister would throw in, walking out on the two. Lucy never understood why Ruby bothered so much about the crack. There were so many teachers like her mother, who lived in more deplorable conditions. Besides, their father had always said he will build a new house when he retired. “If only dad drunk less and came home often, we would have a better house,” Ruby would ramble on. “Ruby, my priority now is your tuition fees. Your sister will be joining secondary school next year…” “Mom I could win a scholarship if I didn’t have to be sacred of waking up at night to study. That crack has things inside,” Ruby would push her luck harder. 4 “There you go again. There is nothing. Just let the crack be dear. And you don’t have to win a scholarship. I already cleared your school fees,” Ruby’s mom enthused. Ruby knew her mother was hiding something. She covered her pain in the smiles just like she did the cracks on the walls and the floor. Ruby understood that no one would be comfortable living in a falling house when they could have a better one except her mother. She wondered how she even slept at night, with the wind howling through the broken panes on her bedroom windows. “If you cleared fees, why can’t dad take care of the house?” Ruby asked catching her mother off her smiley guard. “Your father has other commitments.” Her mother with an edge of finality in her voice. “What is more important to a man than his family? Alcohol?” Ruby sneered. “Ruby, you are now getting out of line…” “Mother you always defend him. We are adults now. We get it. We can see it…” “Who is we? Leave me out of it.” Lucy would shout from a distance. She kept herself busy with the chicken and goats. “You are part of this family Lucy,” Ruby would throw the words at her. “Just don’t say we. I don’t care if I have to live with the goats. I know I will someday grow up and move to my own bungalow,” Lucy said throwing her hands in the air. “Lucy, we are in this together…” Ruby would insist. “As soon as I finish school, I will get married to a rich man and leave the two of you here with this chicken shit,” Lucy hurled the words at her mother and sister. Ruby and her mother would laugh at that. “Lucy, you can’t even make tea. Which rich man will marry a lazy woman like you?” their mother would say amid stiches. Lucy would protest these accusations, hiding behind her beauty. “No man will make a pretty woman like me cook for him. I will have servants,” Lucy would say sashaying in her jeans shorts. She never participated in their arguments about their dad and the state of the house. 5 “Why can’t you be like your sister and just leave me alone Ruby?” mother complained, draining her mug of afternoon tea. “Just work hard for a better future if you hate your present.” “Where has your hard work gotten you mom? In a village primary school? In a falling house? With a drunkard absent husband?” Ruby said, on the verge of tears. “This is my life Ruby. You have a chance to make yours better. Maybe, one day you will build me a house. Now enough of the idle talk. Go pick a book and read. And your father is not a drunk.” Ruby knew there was nothing more to say once her mother said she should pick a book and read. It was her mother’s way of saying the talk was over. Mother never raised her voice to her daughters but somehow the two knew when to stop talking. The Saturday embedded in her memory was Ruby’s turn to smear the floor and the inner walls of their old house. Ruby had done a perfect job. The cracks were invisible with all the cow dung mixed with a little sand, for good friction and black clay soil for a smooth finish. One would think the house was cemented like she dreamt it would be someday. Their mother had told them their father was coming and they wanted everything to be perfect when he arrived. Even though he always arrived late in the night and left early the following morning, leaving behind a stench of alcohol and soiled clothes, Ruby always hoped she would wake up one morning and he would be home with them. She longed for his retirement. So this Saturday, she did a perfect job hoping he would come early and notice it. She did not care about her mother’s guests who were to visit earlier in the day. Whenever the madams visited them they talked in whispers behind her mother’s back. They pointed at the crack and the charts that hid more cracks. Ruby would see them giggle and laugh at the cracks in their house. She saw the hypocrisy in her mother’s colleagues’ smiles. Their eyes smoky with judgement, and words with false admiration. “Madam, tell us please,” the one with a long funny nose would pipe. “How do you keep your daughters in school?” Another with a heavy set of lips would jump on. Ruby’s mother just laughed. She said it was God. The Grace was sufficient. 6 “Can the same God bring home her husband,” another with a flat forehead would whisper pinching the chubby one on her side. “But we pray to the same God, Mama Ruby,” another would say surveying the cup for dirt before allowing Ruby to pour in some tea. This particular speaker would then jump on to saying the tea was enough before Ruby filled her cup. It was as if she was disgusted by the tea even before she took it. Ruby smiled ruefully whenever her mother’s colleagues treated their house and food like it was infested with germs and she would walk back to the kitchen downcast. However, the thought of their conversations would tickle her. The madams envied her mother because of Ruby’s and Lucy’s achievements. They wondered how she had managed to put them through good schools. Ruby was in a national secondary school almost sitting for her final examinations and Lucy was in one of the best boarding primary schools. Both girls performed exemplary and had no discipline issues both in school and the village. Ruby knew that these women had no right of profiling her mother’s house and whispering behind her back about her absentee dad. They had bigger issues to deal with. She enjoyed watching them smirk their lips in muffled awe every time Lucy and she were in the vicinity. All was not lost. She was glad her mother still had face and pride because of her sister and herself. “We should never let mother down,” Ruby told Lucy often when they went to bed. On such nights she would help her create mnemonics in Science and Social Studies. They would sing Mathematical formulae. They would formulate stories for their Essays. They swore to break records in their various schools and promised each other never to make their mother lose face. “I know Ruby. Mother depends on us to make her future better. You told me so many times already,” Lucy would say grumpily whenever her sister started this conversation “Can I sleep now. I need my beauty rest for me to find a rich husband you know.” “Lucy, you need to know how to fend for yourself. Rich husbands can abandon you. What will you do when that happens?” Ruby would ask throwing a pillow at her small sister. Lucy was a beauty. Ruby envied her sometimes. She had their mother’s flawless skin and long silky hair. She also had these dreamy eyes that bewitched anyone who looked inside them. She 7 naturally had a lovable face. Ruby on the other hand, had the hard looks of their father, with their mother’s curves. She slithered on the tiny paths of the village like a pet snake, compensating for what she lacked in looks and color, with slow seductive sways of her elaborately curvaceous hips. “Like father abandoned us?” Lucy’s voice pained Ruby. “Lulu, you know daddy never abandoned us,” Ruby will stifle a choke in her throat, “He is just too busy.” “With his new family?” Lucy would pressure on. “I hear the woman has two sons.” “No Lulu,” Ruby would try. Ruby called her Lulu when she needed some comforting. “If there was another family mother would be the first to know…” they would say it together, Lucy sarcastically finishing the common sentence for her sister while Ruby struggled to comfort her younger sister. “We are not kids anymore Big C. wake up. The whole village knows except you and mom,” Lucy would say exuding maturity. She called Ruby Big C meaning big sister. At this point, they would just heave and stay silent till sleep covered their cracked hearts. #### “I should never have covered that crack.” Ruby was now stiff. Monir could read anger in her voice. He saw pain and a deep sorrow. “They were warnings. The whispers were warnings from somewhere. I knew they spoke to me. He killed my mom,” Ruby breathed. It was more of a soliloquy. “What?” Monir was lost. He however hung in there with her. He needed to know whatever was with the whispering cracks and who killed who. Was she losing her mind? Was she falling ill? Had someone wronged her? Monir could not just figure it out. He loved her mysterious nature but this was getting out hand. He needed her to snap out of whatever was holding her mind captive. He pulled her in his arms and held her tight. Her body was solid against his. She did not move a muscle. Her eyes did not blink. They stared on. He felt warmth drain from her body and a cold rush roughened her silky lingerie. She started 8 shaking. It was a slight tremor, then her whole body was a rumbling like a mine field. she was choking on anger. She then convulsed and passed out in his arms. #### Their mother’s head was against the table and the rest of her body lay still in sticky pool of blood. Lucy found it that morning. It was unlike her waking up earlier than Ruby. Lucy had screamed so hard, it jolted Ruby out of bed. The neighbors ran into their compound breathless. “Help us sit her up,” Ruby tried not to panic. “She is dead, child,” One man said. “No!” Ruby was suddenly violent. “She is not dead. Mother. Mother wake up. Help me lift her,” the words rushed out of her mouth in a stampede. A hand held her. Another pulled her away from her mother’s body. A wail rented the morning frozen air, then another followed. Suddenly the whole village was screaming. “Ruby, he is gone?” Lucy said between sobs. Ruby refused to look at her. she knew what Lucy meant. She did not want to face it. “Ruby dad is gone. We have to turn him in,” Lucy went on. This time Ruby threw her arms around her sister and held her tightly. She sobbed in her shoulder. Lucy did not fight Ruby. “Lucy, father was not here. Mother slipped in the wet dung that I had used to cover the crack on the floor…” “You…” Lucy was shocked by what Ruby was saying. “He was not here. It is my fault. I should never have covered the crack.” “No!” Lucy muffled a scream. “Why are you doing this Ruby?” “Dad was never here. He will arrive today evening for the funeral,” Ruby spoke between her teeth. 9 “No. I heard him…” Lucy persisted. “Look at me.” Ruby grabbed Lucy by her shoulders, “You heard nothing. Daddy was not here. Am I clear?” Their father never showed up during the funeral. He never showed up after the funeral. He never showed up during the ceremony of planting flowers on their mother’s grave. He never showed up when the grave flowered and got lost in the bush. And when the cracked house finally fell, with the two girls barely escaping being buried under debris, their father remained a missing mystery. The look of horror on Lucy’s face would haunt Ruby forever. She would dream about it. That face, the one Lucy had that morning, when Ruby declared that their father had not come home, would torment her for so long. The pain on Lucy’s face resided in Ruby’s heart. #### Monir rarely talked to her sister-in-law. Lucy was warm and charming but he had sensed acid between her and Ruby the very first time he met Lucy. “Lucy is the only relative I have,” Ruby had declared when Monir proposed. “You will ask for her permission to marry me.” Monir had thought it a joke. It wasn’t. A few days after the proposal, Lucy showed up at his house. Ruby was at work. The talk was brief and to the point. “I love my sister more than anything in this world, living or dead. You hurt even a nail on her tiny finger…” Lucy was ice. “I love her too. I will never hurt her,” Monir cut her short. He never imagined that a catholic nun could be that cold and beautiful at the same time. “Fine.” Lucy said rising up. “Can I marry her?” Monir had asked hoping to elongate the conversation as he thought of what to offer the holy hasty woman in his living room. He was scared of a woman for the first time in his entire life. 10 “What else do you want to do with her?” Lucy was fire now. Monir was scalded to silence. “I must leave. Pass my love to Ruby. I will be at the wedding. It was nice finally meeting you.” That said, Lucy, like a desert dust storm, in her brown habit and veil, left the house leaving behind a bemused man. #### The wind howled outside. Ruby had not stopped staring. Now tears and mucus streamed her face. Tweets of birds started filling the air. The house help’s feet shuffled back and forth in the corridor. Monir’s eyes stung. He had never failed to figure out his wife, like he did this morning. “My love, talk to me,” Monir tried for the nth time. “He is dying too,” Ruby whispered. “who?” “My father is dying. He has cancer,” her voice was distance. “You never…” “He wants Lucy and I to forgive him.” She went on like Monir was not speaking to her. “For what?” “I should never have covered the crack. The voices had warned me before,” Ruby gasped. “What crack?” “He hit her. I heard them fight. It was about his other family. Mother called me for help. I just never woke up.” “I don’t understand.?” “He could have killed me too. Lucy would have no one. Mother was already dead when I finally got the courage to go and check. Father had sneaked away,” her voice was strange. “Your father killed your mother? And vanished? Is that what the crack…” 11 “Lucy knew too. She knew I lied to protect father. He could not go to jail. How could we witness against him? What about school? What about our lives in the village? Where could we have gone after he was jailed?” She went on. “She understands my love. I believe so…” “How can I ever forgive him?” a sob escaped her throat. She had never told Monir about her parents until now. The cracks in her heart. The cracks she had forced her sister to cover. And just like their mother with her charts, Lucy covered her cracks in a habit and Ruby in the plain walls of her exotic home.