“It is not my fault, you know,” says Ayoola when her older sister, Korede, arrives after receiving her frantic phone call. The humour strikes you right then as Korede is unable to understand whether Ayoola’s ‘fault’ is her inability to recall her boyfriend’s surname or his death. Korede is neither angry nor surprised at seeing a bleeding corpse. She clarifies, “She (Ayoola) didn’t mean to, of course. He was angry… his onion stained breath hot against her face”. She gets down to business with cleaning supplies and bleach ‘to remove all traces of life and death’ from the bathroom while thinking about her cold dinner and paused movie. This isn’t the first time her younger sister has called her over after a kill.
In Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer, Ayoola, the murderous, nonchalant, snazzy beauty, singlehandedly commands the beat of the story. She kills, disposes; days later she is dancing to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and fidgeting about posting on Instagram. Korede, the tired, competent nurse, obsessed with her lack of beauty, is certain that her sister can convince the court ‘she had just acted as any reasonable, gorgeous person would’ if she went on trial.
While Ayoola behaves like a carefree teenager breaking a curfew, Korede steps in as the ‘big sister’ and ties all loose ends — from monitoring her sister’s online posts to thinking of lies for a crudely swaddled dead body if she meets an unexpected witness (‘prank on brother? a mannequin? sack of potatoes?’). Korede is in a dilemma when doctor Tade, her secret crush and friend, falls in love with Ayoola. The glittering femme fatale outshines the level-headed Korede and hypnotises the reader in a morally ambiguous situation, much like the one Tade, impervious to Korede’s feelings, finds himself in.
Ayoola and Korede make a fascinating pair. They do not confront one another, but lead parallel lives oblivious to the other’s faults. When Korede destroys the roses Tade sends, in a fit of jealousy, Ayoola covers for her. When Ayoola cries ‘Help me, please’ after a murder, Korede rushes to clear the crime scene. Ayoola, with her ‘impractical underwear, body of a music video vixen, angelic face’ and a fondness for their father’s knife is a stark contrast to Korede, a ‘voodoo figurine’ obsessed with scrubbing surfaces clean. Ayoola is a flirt, has many lovers, and is manipulative while Korede is single, yielding in nature and insecure. Their rivalry is cold but they’ve got each other’s back, like an unspoken bond that can suffer no dent.
The narrative is salted with humour on their opposing thoughts; when Korede worries about the dead man after they dispose the body, Ayoola exclaims “I’m dying here” because of broken air conditioning. Korede, the anxious; Ayoola, the unperturbed.
The ambivalence of thoughts and actions form the core of the novel. “This is victim shaming,” says Ayoola, asserting that her kills are for self defense; “Big sisters look after little sisters,” chants the mother unaware of her daughters’ actions; “What is your (Korede’s) excuse?” Tade asks Korede. Braithwaite concocts a compelling read through several usual tropes — a coma patient as a confidant for the deepest, guilty secrets, the good girl-bad girl sketch, infidelity, gold diggers in relationships and a love triangle.
The novel succeeds in being relatable to the digital generation whether it be hashtags that go viral and bite dust in a few days, Korede reading about serial killers at 3 am and binge-watching TV shows to take her mind off things, or Ayoola’s Snapchat episodes. It is trimmed with quotidian Lagos life through corrupt police officers, slipshod investigation, hospital employees with side businesses and older, rich, married men in want of younger girl friends.
Braithwaite populates the novel with flawed characters, including Korede, with her judgemental nature and Tade, ‘who sings to children’ but, as Ayoola describes, “All he wants is a pretty face. That’s all they ever want.” A proud Korede adapts to inherent patriarchy, when she gets into a squabble with a police officer while on the way to discard a body, saying, “Educated women anger men of his ilk, and so I try to adopt broken English.”
The novel pays little importance to the ‘crimes’ but is swirled in a dark past and the beguiling family of an Ambien induced mother, a dead, abusive father, a sister with a tendency to stab her boyfriends and a domestic worker dazzled by Ayoola.
My Sister, The Serial Killer does not preach or justify. It is not elaborate in design like Dexter, the eponymous TV show about serial killers. This debut novel is a snappy bundle of brisk chapters, titled ‘Red’ ‘Instagram’ ’Orchids’, some even as short as half a page. The character development is superficial, loopholes, a handful, and the psychological implications, shallow. However, the Lagos noir promises a good story, shimmering with cliched tropes and sardonic wit. It makes you sign a secret pact to accompany the irresistible sister duo even though you can foresee how it will end. Ayoola summons the reader with the same words she uses for her sister, “Korede I killed him” and there is no looking back.