Hallelujah and the Other Side
Serial Short Story
Hallelujah is a ravenous woman; whatever she eats, she consumes thoroughly. Fat mangoes are reduced to moon-shaped seeds scraped so clean that streaks of fuzzy white fibres lay flat in the tracks carved by her teeth. She speaks with a stutter, which can have the effect of making her seem timid, but only until you witness her command a room of students. Her father, Patrice, calls her by doubling the fourth syllable in her name—Lulu. He calls her every Sunday at 4 PM to ask if she happened to make it to the morning Mass or to remind her that she still has time to make it to the evening one.
And her lover, Tafa, only calls her by the first two syllables of her name—Halle—when they try and refrain from tearing each other apart in cruel ways during their rare but heated arguments. Or when they surrender to ripping each other open in desperate and gorgeous ways in lovemaking. Otherwise, Tafa calls her Babe or Guapa or some other tender term of endearment.
Hallelujah insists that her students call her in full proclamation—Hallelujah!—which she prefers. Or Ms. Mamadou—which she finds acceptable. At twenty-nine, she is one of the youngest postdocs in the Biology department of Saint Agnes University. And even though she has instructed classes since mid-way through her Master’s degree, she feels that she must prove her authority to teach, as if a doctorate in her field is not sufficient.
Hallelujah speaks with a stutter that she developed rather suddenly at the age of eight. Her tongue began to stumble around consonants when she witnessed the aftermath of her mother, Caroline’s first attempt at ending her life. She woke from an afternoon nap to find her mother in the bathtub, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Caroline was fully clothed; she had been warding off something dark since she was an early teen, something that wanted her body cold, rigid. That day—in a moment of clarity that one might also call sheer exhaustion—she thought, why not? She’d only gone to the bathroom to urinate, but she decided it was as good a place as any to do the deed. So she gulped down the entire contents of five pill bottles—prescription SSRIs, antidepressants she’d refused to take for the last few months because the sun should have been enough, her love for her family should have been enough, she felt fine! Caroline had eaten all the pills and sat in the tub, waiting. Her eyes had just started to roll back in her head, and her limbs jump involuntarily when she heard her daughter’s footsteps coming towards her. She regretted only that Hallelujah would have to see her go. She failed that day, but would succeed a few years later, on the very day that Hallelujah wrote in her leather-bound diary:
If she wants to die so badly, maybe it will give her the quiet she’s always shouting about.
She'd done it in a fit of frustration after having been scolded for singing too loudly. When she learned of her mother’s death, Hallelujah tore the page out of the dairy and ate it. She let her warm saliva soften the stiff paper before she chewing and swallowing quickly. She vomited violently when she found out that her father had been in the car when her mother decided to drive it straight into the mouth of a truck that had been transporting pineapples and oranges to the Nigerian border. Her father survived, but he lost his sight, the head trauma he suffered from the impact was so severe, his eyes so badly ruined that they were removed entirely. He also lost his memory and still refers to the incident as an accident. Hallelujah never corrects him.