child abuse

19 Bush Street : Part 2 of 2

For eight years we pleaded with God to bless us with a child. I prayed fervently, cried diligently and fasted religiously, starving myself until my pot belly deflated, my cheeks became hollow and my collar bone threatened to break free.

“Eat my darling, please eat!” she would cry, fearing for my life. Eat? Was food going to improve the quality of my sperm?  How could I eat, knowing I was the reason we were childless? Every night we knelt to pray, I asked God to forgive me for not telling her the truth; for not telling my wife that my non-existent sperm count was the reason we were childless.

My fast was a signal to God; I needed Him to feel my desperation, needed Him to see how much I was willing to sacrifice if He would only make a real man out of me.

“It is God that gives children,” they said, but that was no encouragement to me. Had I done something wrong, something that deserved such a severe punishment? I gave to the poor, fed the hungry and looked after widows hoping that God would see what a good person I was and have mercy on me.  I clung to hope, to the belief that the God I believed in would end my misery.

And then one day, the very thing I had been praying for, we had been praying for, finally happened.

That day, the day she told me she was pregnant, everything changed. Hope turned to the darkest form of despair, sorrow to a blinding rage. I knew then that I had surely offended God. After everything I had done for him, given up for him, how could he sit back and let this happen to me?

I saw fear in her eyes as she stood before me, silently begging for my understanding.

Shame embraced me tightly as the reality sunk in; another man had given her what I couldn’t. A better man, a real man, had stepped in and excelled where I had failed so miserably.

Shame turned to anger and I struck her across the face; twice. She stood still, tacitly urging me to carry on if it would make me feel better. It didn’t but I slapped her a third time for good measure. Still she said nothing, gave no explanation and in that moment, I knew that she never would.

There was no miracle about her pregnancy; no divine intervention or immaculate conception. Someone had impregnated my wife and neither I nor God was responsible. I knew it, God knew it and she sure as hell knew it. For months I had been unable to handle matters in the bedroom. The pressure to father a child and the guilt of the secret I was carrying had taken its toll on my libido.

Anger coursed through my veins as I imagined another man flooding her womb.

Did she love him? Did he love her? Was it a one night stand or were emotions involved? Who was he; someone I knew or a stranger she just met? Did she even know or were there a number of potential candidates?

Months went by and the bigger her belly grew, the hotter my anger burned. I wanted to tell the world she was no better than a common prostitute, selling herself for the seed of a man. I wanted the world to hate her for betraying me in the worst possible way but to do that would be to admit that I, the same man who cruised the streets of Lagos in cars ten times the size of my flowing agbadas, could not impregnate his own wife.  So I smiled when people congratulated me and sang praises to God on my behalf. And the more I had to smile the more I loathed her for making a fool of me.

I gave him my name but even before he was born, I knew I could never love him. I watched him as he grew to see if he resembled anyone I knew but he was the spitting image of his mother. I saw how her eyes would light up when she looked at him and hated him with every fibre of my being. He was a constant reminder of my inadequacy as a man and yet I had to feed and clothe him and pretend he wasn’t some faceless man’s bastard son. I prayed she would go and take her trash with her, but I should have known better. If my prayers didn’t work when I was giving away my wealth and starving myself, it certainly wouldn’t work now that I was at war with God.

I pummelled her, hoping she would pack her bags and leave, but she didn’t. I beat the crap out of him hoping the so called love of a mother would compel her to whisk her bastard to safety, and still she stayed. No matter how mean I was, how monstrously I behaved, she wouldn’t leave me.

I knew what she wanted, what she craved more than anything, but over my dead body would I give it to her. She would have to turn to God to absolve her of her guilt because I would never forgive her for defiling our marriage, for taking what was left of my pride and burning it to ashes.

19 Bush Street : Part 1 of 2

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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.

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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.