His face was redder than I’d ever seen it, eyes bloodshot and spilling hot tears, scalding tracks along his cheeks. I’d see him cry many a time, usually in silence, but this, the state he was in, was new territory. I heard the cracks as his heart splintered, the sharp edges piercing his lungs, drawing blood and cutting off his air supply. I caught him in my arms as his knees gave way. It was then I felt the throbbing welts peppered across his back. Anger burned within me.
How could he do this to him?!
Yet I was powerless to act. I lowered myself to the ground, taking him down with me, gently rocking him as he cried out in agony, silence, no longer an option.
“It’s okay Baba, it’s okay,” I whispered over and over again as I continued to rock him in my arms.
“Why does he hate me so much, Tega?! What have I done to him?! I want to die Tega, I want to die! God please let me die, I am tired of living!”
I wanted to tell him everything would be alright but knew I’d be lying. If the things I had witnessed in the two weeks I had been living with them were anything to go by, it was only a matter of time before Baba’s wish would be granted.
I’d met Big Uncle once before I came to live with him; when he came to Warri for Papa’s funeral. He was the golden boy of the family, the only one for generations to break free from the clutches of poverty. His hands fed many mouths, mouths that multiplied as poverty continued to breed poverty. He was a demi god, the saviour of the family. When he mentioned in passing that he was in need of domestic help, Mama latched on to his words like a baby suckling its mother’s breast. She offered me up speedily, eager to please her saviour. With Papa gone, life was about to get even tougher for her. Being in our benefactor’s good books was of the utmost importance.
I was excited, eager to see Lagos, the land of opportunity and the birth place of Big Uncle’s fortunes. The schools they said, were better and to Mama’s horror, Big Uncle had agreed to fund my education when I cheekily asked. The only reason she didn’t beat me black and blue was because He seemed pleased with the idea. I would go to school during the day and cook and do chores at night. I had dreams of going to University and the thought that I could potentially be the second ever graduate in the family, a student of Unilag, made me giddy with excitement. My chest thrust itself outwards and I walked around the family compound like a peacock about to take flight.
The day I told Papa I wanted to go to University, he laughed so hard, Mama had to pat his back furiously to stop him from choking. To prove a point, I sat JAMB and passed with flying colours. Not that anyone cared. I wasn’t going anywhere when Mama needed a hand frying akara in the market. Yet, here I was, packing my meager belongings, getting ready to leave the smell of stale oil and soaking beans behind.
When I arrived at 19 Bush Street and realised I would have a bedroom all to myself, I danced in circles till I became unsteady. I would no longer have to share a room with all three of my siblings. After years of dodging my younger sister’s fists as her subconscious dealt blow after blow in the midnight hour, I would have a bed all to myself. A proper bed complete with a mattress and bed sheet! Collapsing on the bed, I stared at the ceiling in awe. A fan stared back at me. A fan, a ceiling fan in my bedroom?! Heaven was finally smiling down on me.
The first time I saw Big Uncle beat Baba, I knew for sure that heaven had tricked me. I had traded in a lesser form of hell for the ultimate damnation. I had seen many parents beat their children, received many beatings from Papa myself, but this beating, was like nothing I had seen before. He unbuckled his belt, backed him up against the wall and flogged him till he collapsed to the ground. But for the sound of the leather slapping against Baba’s skin, the room was silent.
The speed with which Big Uncle’s hand contracted and relaxed as he swung blow after blow, left me speechless. Tears pricked the backs of my eyelids but I didn’t think I had the right to indulge in tears. If Baba could lie in silence while Big Uncle beat him for dead, who was I to cry?!
I stood motionless till satisfied with his handiwork, Big Uncle left the room. A part of me feared the blood stained body lying still against the wall, was a corpse. Staring intently, I willed it to come alive. What would people say if they heard that a man had used his hands to kill his own son?!
And then I saw his chest heave. Tears of relief streamed down my face.
Everything would be alright.