"You were in here all this time?" Sarah Harrison asked, her lips pursed.
Jess sat up, trying to gauge the situation. She was getting good at this.
"Yeah," she said hesitantly.
"Then why didn't you answer?"
Her mother waited, and Jessamy's brow wrinkled as she scanned her face, perplexed. An explanation was somehow still required.
"I was thinking about something," she said, after another moment.
Her mum leaned on the cupboard door, trying to peer into the cupboard, trying, Jess realised, to see her face.
"Didn't you play out with the others today?" she asked.
"Yeah," Jessamy lied. She had just caught sight of the clock. It was nearly six now, and she had hidden herself in the landing cupboard after lunch.
She saw her mum's shoulders relax and wondered why she got so anxious about things like this. She'd heard her say lots of times, in lowered tones, that maybe it wasn't right for Jessamy to play by herself so much, that it wasn't right that she seemed to have nothing to say for herself. In Nigeria, her mother had said, children were always getting themselves into mischief, and surely that was better than sitting inside reading and staring into space all day. But her father, who was English and insisted that things were different here, said it was more or less normal behaviour and that she'd grow out of it. Jess didn't know who was right; she certainly didn't feel as if she was about to run off and get herself into mischief, and she wasn't sure whether she should hope to or not.
Her mother held out a hand and grasping it, Jess reluctantly left her towel pillows and stepped out on to the landing. They stood there for a second, looking at each other, then her mother crouched and took Jessamy's face in her hands, examining her. Jess held still, tried to assume an expression that would satisfy whatever her mother was looking for, although she could not know what this was.
Then her mum said quietly. "I didn't hear the back door all day."
Jessamy started a little.
Her mum let go of her, shook her head, laughed. Then she said, "How would you like for us to go to Nigeria?"
Jess, still distracted, found herself asking, "Who?"
"Us! You, me and Daddy!"
Jess felt stupid.
"Ohhhhh," she said. "In an aeroplane?"
Her mum, who was convinced that this was the thing to bring Jessamy out of herself, smiled.
"Yes! In an aeroplane! Would you like that?"
Jess began to feel excited. To Nigeria! In an aeroplane! She tried to imagine Nigeria, but couldn't. Hot. It would be hot.
"Yeah," she said, and smiled.
But if she had known the trouble it would cause, she would have shouted "No!" at the top of her voice and run back into the cupboard. Because it all STARTED in Nigeria, where it was hot, and, although she didn't realise this until much later, the way she felt might have been only a phase, and she might have got better if only (oh, if only if only if ONLY, Mummy) she hadn't gone.
Excerpted from The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi Copyright © 2005 by Helen Oyeyemi. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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