A soul-touching story of the disintegration of a family whose root cause was the cheating of the father who sired two other children out of wedlock
My parents are in love, they really are, but not with each other. I don’t even understand why people get married. No, maybe I don’t understand why my parents got married. I never will. My parents are no parents at all; probably they should be called strangers who happened to know the names of each other. I always hoped they would settle. I even prayed for their love to be rekindled, only to realize there wasn’t any love in the first place.
Things started to fall apart in our home one year ago when Mama said she won’t follow Papa to the village for a final stay. It was a sunny Friday, one of those Fridays in the month of March when Papa broke the news. Mama said she doesn’t want to be a village woman yet, saying she was still young, but Papa was always hot tempered, he wanted to go back to his village where he has completed his house, a four bedroom apartment with a brown metallic crisscrossed gate. Papa was a man doing very well in his importation business, in Lagos state so it was a bit strange when he told us about moving to the village.
I sat alone inside my room; my two siblings – Ekene and Nkechi -were deep in sleep. Mama and Papa argued for more than an hour. To say it was the first time they were arguing was to say you don’t know them at all. It was a cold night and the rain fell in lazy, shy drizzle. Papa’s bass voice was heard the loudest, something I took from him. I stood up; one of my arms held the other at the elbow and paced around my room, clearly unable to get comfortable. But, I was used to it, because Papa and Mama quarreled every day. I became increasingly aware of everything around me, even the chirping cricket made me turned sharply as if either of my parents had drawn the first blood. I would shake my head in pity when I saw it was just a cricket. Their screaming arguments weren’t what irritated me, what irritated me was the fact that they had always fought about the same thing. I kept pacing and my restless legs showed no signs of tiredness or pains. I couldn’t hold it anymore so I came out of my room, to the sitting room which was close to Papa’s room, although it was shared by both Mama and Papa we still called it Papa’s room.
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Papa got out of his room and went to the balcony, he was sweating and so was Mama, who followed him with a steady pace. I was not to interfere, Aunty Ada, Papa’s younger sister had told me couples settle themselves. I tried to distract myself by watching TV but it failed woefully. I turned it off and tried to relax a bit. The loud wail that followed in the next relaxed minutes was enough to make me interfere. It was like that of a baby whose mother just abruptly stopped breastfeeding when it still wanted more.
“Papa what happened, Ogini?” I asked, with an uncertain tone that reeked of confusion as I stared at Mama, who was struggling to get up and my temper piqued. I wondered why Papa had hit her in the first place. He had always taught me never to hit a lady. And, according to him, “The strength of a man depends on how he treats women and only weak men hit women, especially their own women – wife, sisters or cousins”. Papa should be called a hypocrite!
“Out of my way!” Papa commanded with his heavy-rooted Igbo accent, and I quickly moved so he could pass without pushing me as he does whenever anyone obstructed him.
“Sorry, Mama. Let me boil water for you so you can massage your leg and hand. See, you’re injured” I sympathized, helping her to her feet.
Mama had stored some hot water inside her stainless flask, so all I did was loosened its cap and poured the water into a bowl until it came out in drops, small and slow drops. After that, I shook the flask, making sure no water was left before taking the bowl with our kitchen towel to Mama. I watched as Mama soaked and squeezed the towel inside the hot bowl of water, I also watched as she closed her eyes whenever she pressed the wet towel on her injured leg and hand. It was then I knew how evil Papa was. But, I shouldn’t judge, I don’t know what happened. No one had told me and surely, no one will. I threw the water away and dried the towel after Mama had finished using them. I stayed at the balcony, thinking. I could see Mama too, through the window at the balcony, she was pacing. She looked troubled, although it wasn’t a new thing for her to be troubled, it was Mama’s persona. Only that this time, she looked confused, lost and was pacing aimlessly with sad eyes. I was tempted to ask, but the last time I asked her, the reply was “Nothing, my dear”. I wasn’t pained by the reply, I was pained by the fake smile that accompanied the reply, and it has to be fake because Mama obviously wasn’t fine. I could remember it vividly; it came with a pat on my shoulder too.
After staring for a while, I collapsed onto a chair and was drowned in thought. We were living in a big and comfortable house; we also stayed in one of the most secured estates, Coleman’s estate. The road was neatly tiled, and the beautiful trees there were big with wide, heavy shades; wide enough to shelter more than three people. Each flats had their own balcony, where people mostly hung their washed clothes. The only thing I found disturbing was the bleat of generators. The deafening noises from different generators could be the reason Papa talked about leaving for the village. I was only trying to convince myself that Papa and Mama still loved themselves but each time, I struggled to believe myself. It was obvious they were out of love, all they had for each other was hate.
Before this, there was a night Papa chased Mama out of the house with a machete. Mama would return after three days with Uncle Chukwuma, her elder brother who was living in one of the comfortable flats you would find in Randle Crescent. Papa welcomed him as if nothing had happened into the sitting room. They sat and talked at length. In the end, they shook hands, Mama hugged Papa and everything seemed settled. It looked like peace would reign for a very long time after the discussion but it only lasted for two days. I was stupid to believe in them again, I was stupid to convince and believe they had found love one more time. The only difference was that Mama wasn’t chased out of the house, Papa only refused to eat as he started eating outside, in various restaurants. I once saw him one evening at Mama Chinelo’s restaurant; he was eating chicken and drinking wine when he called me to join him. I was returning from the evening Mass, and it was when I got to the crowded restaurant that I discovered it was his fifth plate of chicken he was eating. He had eaten four other plates. Each plate contained four pieces of chicken meat in big sizes, so big you would not finish one even after twelve bites. I shook my head in disappointment, embarrassment even. I declined the offer to join him and went straight to the house. They would settle after more than nine weeks, lived happily for some time, and now this happened.
Mama looked wretched now, it must be stress. She used to be beautiful, very beautiful. I began to wonder how she ever met Papa, I wondered more on why she ever agreed to his proposal. But, according to Aunty Ada, Papa used to be an unruffled gentleman not this restless thug he has become. Maybe Mama was deceived by his gentle, flawless look, or maybe according to my English Language teacher, Miss Blessing, men are April when they woo and December when they marry, I thought. So, I do not blame Mama at all, I really don’t.
By the time I was done thinking, my two siblings were already awake. They were eating when I entered the room. I went to the dining table to greet each of them with a kiss on the cheek and asked them if they dreamed. Each nodded in affirmation with bright eyes. Ekene said his dream was funny while Nkechi said hers was scary. In the end, none of them talked about their dreams and we ate in heavy silence. I loved the youngest, Nkechi more. She was quiet and wiser than most of her mates, wiser than her twelve years too. She was also beautiful, the radiant glow of her eyes forces a grin that stretches from ear to ear on my face. I was proud to have her as a sister. Papa calls her Old One. I was proud of Ekene too, just that I never showed it. We were served a lunch of yam pottage. We finally broke the silence and talked about school while we ate. Nkechi broke the silence actually, when she asked Ekene,
“How is school?”
I finished my secondary education last month; Ekene was in his first year in the senior class while Nkechi just finished her junior school. Mama came in and warned us never to talk anytime we eat and we kept quiet after apologizing. It wasn’t the first time she was warning us so it was the right thing we apologized.
Papa came in, he was not alone. He came with his friends, three of them and the three he came with were not familiar in anyway. They followed each other and walked in a single file with Papa coming in first. The two others followed him. Well, I don’t really know Papa’s friends, the ones I knew were Papa Kelechi, that always tell him Chelsea are a better team than the Arsenal Papa supported, and Brother Chigozie, the bachelor who was friend to all the married men in the estate. We greeted Papa and he answered, not with his voice but with his head. He just nodded and his friends too nodded when we greeted them. They sat down and formed a small circle as they discussed. I struggled to hear them, I tried to but I could barely hear their toneless discussion. Our dining room was a part of our sitting room, it could be easily called the sitting room but the curtain that divided it made it a different room. My siblings were done eating, I was done eating too but I still sat there and pretended I was eating while I waved them to their room. I tilted my head to the side where they discussed and gazed with focus, still, I couldn’t hear them, Infelt a painful lump in my throat. I became angry, I wanted to know. I packed the plates and made for the kitchen when I saw Mama. She stood at the door of the kitchen, which was close to the dining room. She saw me and immediately started playing with her hair in bid to hide her interested glance, she feigned boredom too. I knew she wanted to know what they were discussing, just like me.
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Two months passed, Mama and Papa were still at war. They don’t talk or greet, they washed separately and ate separately. But, we ate with Mama because she always cooked inside our house while Papa ate outside. The year slowly crawled to its end and there was no sign Mama and Papa would settle. It was their longest since I started taking interest in their numerous quarrels. Christmas came and before I knew it, New Year arrived too. It was just so sad seeing two people who were supposed to be my hero and heroine, being at war with each other. I cried on that New Year night, the hot tears came in serious torrents.
I was returning from the computer school I enrolled in after the first week of the New Year when I saw different foot wears at our door, just behind our foot mat that read WELCOME. Initially, I thought a small party, family party, was going on but after eavesdropping, I discovered the voices from inside weren’t happy ones. I entered inside immediately and faced Mama who was going out with two big boxes. Mama was crying too. I was too busy looking at the young girl with two kids, two boys, who sat on the sofa with so much convenience that I didn’t try stopping Mama. Mama left. I stared at her and her kids, too confused to utter anything. She met my gaze and immediately buried her face in her lap.
Hours later, I would find out from Papa that the two boys were his and the girl was his wife; his new wife, and was to become a step mother to me and my siblings. I was gob smacked. Papa would assure me that polygamy isn’t as bad as people had painted it to be and that Mama would return. He said it with much certainty, convincing me with “Your mother will return, if not for me, then for you and your younger ones”. I became convinced, I so much believed Papa or maybe it was Mama’s love for us I believed in more. But, I would never understand why Papa was having an extra marital affair. I would never understand why Papa went as far as having two kids, not even one, with another woman especially since Mama had given him three children. Mama had given him both genders too, two boys and a girl. And, I would never understand why Papa had brought this woman to be his wife and allowed Mama go like that. Maybe I should try to understand why Mama had left without us or left without a fight for her marriage even but then, I thought about the difficulties she would encounter; the difficulties of sharing. The difficulties of sharing the same man, the same pots, the same room too. I knew they would share more things than the aforementioned if Mama had stayed and welcomed her as a second wife. I just went to join my siblings in our room; Papa had locked them inside the room earlier with the bolt outside so I quietly open the door and entered.
I perched on the edge of my bed, close to the window. I pressed my forehead against the window louvres, closed my eyes and bit my lips. It was only then I realized my life was turning upside down. It was then I also realized my life was changing its colors, like an uncoordinated rainbow that was at war with an angry sun. My hands moved lethargically as I vacantly stared outside. The clouds moved peacefully in a choreographic manner and I wished my family’s life was like that – peaceful, coordinated, and happy. I picked a picture beside me, a picture of me; I had snapped the picture the year I left secondary school. It was a reminder that I graduated as the second best student but to me, it was a reminder of how I failed. I stared at it with a slack expression, my head rested on my left hand. The picture represented and reminded me of my failures, the latest one being my inability to stop Mama from leaving the house. While looking at the picture, I could hear the rustle of bags, polythene bags maybe, and then I knew Papa was leading her to his room. I could feel this hollowness in my chest and my heart pulsated slowly with pains and aches on the left part. I was thinking of so many things, thoughts of self-harm, that I couldn’t concentrate on one. The thoughts flooded into my head in serious torrents. I would collapse into my bed and sleep on my stomach, burying my face with a pillow. Often times when I think of the kind of love I wished for Papa and Mama, it was that kind of love that was in easy pixels. It was that kind of love that doesn’t chatter, it only moans. But there was no love between them, no modicum of love.
We would wait for days, the days became weeks which rolled into months and we waited till the year drifted away slowly but Mama never returned. Papa had lied or maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and wait a little longer. Two years passed, another year followed and Mama still never returned.