I am in the backyard, building castles out of mud.
Sussie walks up to me holding a rat hanging at the end of a rope, tied on one of its hind-legs.”Samuel, look what I caught in the kitchen,” she says, excitedly.
“The rat that has been wasting our food.”
“Oh! So what are you going to do with that now?” I ask and return my attention to my half-built castle.
“Ummm,” she hums at first, then says, “I will kill it.”This startles me. I hate animals being killed. I hate death.”Sussie, you are not supposed to kill. Bible says do not to kill,” I tell her with a scornful look on my face.
Then, she pulls out a bottle of ‘otapiapia’ from somewhere in her clothes.”I want to see how it reacts to poison if I put this otapiapia inside its mouth.”
She proceeds to put a little of the ‘otapiapia’ into the mouth of the helpless rodent.
I hear mama scream.
I hear the thuds. The pounding. The lashing. I hear more screams, and it’s mama’s.
Papa has gone mad again.
Few minutes earlier this afternoon, he’d returned home drunk and sober. Bloated and red-eyed. And mama had verbally attacked him for spending much on drinks and leaving us underfed.
We live in the ghetto, somewhere in Nigeria. Struggling daily to survive. Papa is a lazy man, or so, mama used to say. He spends his ‘any money’ on drinks and lotto, and comes home to lay his anger on us, the innocents.Drunk, he ‘d beat mama – who would not put up a fight like every other ghetto women. And afterward, leave her in tears. This is what is happening now. He is beating her again. After she had verbally attacked him, he had dragged her into his room to wipe her with the koboko I do see under his bed when I sweep the room every morning. I turn to my younger sister. I am three years older than her, and she is my only family, aside from my mum. She isn’t happy. And she looks like she is suppressing tears.”Samuel, he is doing it again? He is going to whip her as he did last week?” She asks, wanting me to confirm.
I am uneasy. Confused.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to tell her. Nodding, I run my fingers through the smooth strands of her hair.
“Susan, one day this will all stop.”
“Someday,” I say reassuringly.
Mama screams again from Papa’s bedroom.
“Raymond, leave me! Leave me, you bastard!”I walk to the door and try to open it. I am disappointed. It is locked as it used to, whenever papa was torturing mama.
I bend and look through the keyhole. I can see the inside from my view. Papa must have pulled out the key after locking it. I see him. He is sitting on mama’s belly and raining his fists on her delicate face. She is trying to shield her face with her hands, but he knocks them off. She is screaming again. Neighbours won’t come. People in the ghetto deemed it right to avoid family fights especially if the man is as notorious as my father. Infuriated, I bang on the door.”Papa stop this. Stop beating mama. Papa stop. Papa please Papa.”My sister walks up to me. The sadness in her eyes emits palpable outrage. I can see it clearly as I can see the crystal liquid forming at the pockets of her eyelids.”We can’t do anything. Every day, same thing. Nobody even wants to help mama. When will Papa stop beating mama?”
Then finally, she lets the tears drop. They run down her smooth cheeks like stringed horses and drops to the ground. I think I can hear the ‘tap-tap’ of the dropping tears.”Sussie, stop crying, okay? Things will be fine. It isn’t that I can’t do something, but…,” I tell her.But what? But, I am a coward? The unrepentant weakling everyone knows me for. What can I do? I am as helpless as my mother. People say I am her counterfeit. I can talk as much like her, but lack guts. No courage. No such bravery as Dede Ibori who singlehandedly fought five robbers last week.
The next morning, I sit by mama’s bedside with Susan, massaging her broken face with a towel dipped in hot water. She yells out in pain when I touch an open wound. I grunt and mutter a prayer under my breath. I look at her face. She is an eyesore. Battered and bruised. Blue in the eye, red in the mouth.
Papa walks out of his room. And he beckons on Susan and say, “Take this money, go and buy me fresh palm wine from Mama Idibo’s store.”Mama Idibo is the ugly fat woman who owns a bar and restaurant somewhere in the ghetto.
In the afternoon. I hear a cry, from the comfort of my castles in the backyard.
First, I thought they were mama’s. The sharp cry comes again. I rush inside, and my sister follows closely behind. We meet papa in a terrible position, grabbing his stomach and writhing in pains, on the floor – in his room.”My stomach. Ah! I’m dying,” he moans, recoiling.
There is a cup of half-drunk palm wine on the table. I pick up the cup and take a sniff. A deep sniff.
Otapiapia. Papa has been poisioned! I don’t know why, but I wasn’t alarmed. I glance at my sister, our eyes lock immediately.
“Susan, what did you do?” I ask her, reading the answer right off her eyes even before she answered.
“I.. I..” She stammers.
I hush her into silence, nodding. I stow the palm wine and the cup out of sight.
I rush out to the streets, screaming.
“Somebody help, my father is dying.”
Few people come. My mum, with them. They only meet the writhing figure of my father, trembling like an epileptic and blood gushing from his mouth.
“Samuel. Susan. What happened?” My mother asks in a pained voice, balanced on a thick walking stick.”
“Mama, we don’t know. We met him this way,” I say, watching my father slowly losing it. Losing life.
“Someone call a doctor,” Mama Junior, our next-door neighbor is screaming. “This man is dying”
“The hospitals are on strike,” someone tells her. “Or have you forgotten? ”
The trembling figure is still now. Mama shakes him. He does not move.
Mama becomes a widow that night.
Papa died that night.
And this night, while I look at his photo, the tears flowing down my cheeks burns as they roll down.
It is two days after Papa’s burial.
Susan walks in, arms folded.
She knows it’s papa’s photo I am looking at. She knows I am not happy about his death, even though he maltreated us and left us underfed. Even though he beat mum into a pudding. He was cruel, yet, he was my father.
He was her father.
And he was my mother’s husband too.
“Susan, you really didn’t have to poison Papa,” I murmur.
It is a murmur, but she hears me.
She sighs loudly enough to tell she wasn’t happy too.
“You sat and stared and do nothing when he beats Mama. I had to do something. So I put in few drops of something in his palm wine. I couldn’t stand him always beating mama. You’re such a witty coward, Samuel,” she says, in a flurry of words. Then she walks out angry.
She had made a blank point. I am a coward. A witty coward.
This morning, I tell myself I am not a coward. I could slay my own demons myself, the same way Susan had slain mama’s. I could do mine myself.
These bullies who waylay coward boys are there at their usual spot by the side of the road.
I am passing, both hands in my pockets. Whistling and on my way to Steve’s house. And I see those bullies.
They see me too.
Before, they call out, “Hey fishboy, come here,” and attack me, beat the hell out of my frail tiny structure and rob me of whatever valuable I possessed, I say to myself, I am not a coward. I’m not a witty coward. I have more guts than my younger sister did.
“Hey, here comes the fishboy today. Say we make do with him?” I hear one of them say.
The fear creeps in as usual, but I resist it. No way, I’m not a coward. And I’m not a fishboy!
“Hey, you stop there,” one says as I walk past them.”
“Come stop me,” I say to them, amazed at the baritone of my own voice when I wasn’t afraid.
“Haha, it seems fishboy has new guts…”
They were gathering. Forming a circle around me.
I ball my right-hands into a fist and ram it into the chest of the nearest guy. The force of the surprise impact nearly lifts him off his feet. I bash the second guy in the face. I hear the jaw bone crack and he lands with a thud on the floor, groaning. The other comes upon me, raising a long knife. I grab him by the ankles and lift him off his feet and fling him down upon the earth like a sack of beans. I don’t know what possessed me. I pounce on him, pick the knife beside him and stab him several times on the belly screaming, “I’m not a fishboy. I’m not a coward!”
When I stood, the sight was bloody. I glance around, nobody in sight.
I run. Far away from the site of my crime. I had killed somebody. The law would definitely come for me.
They’ll find me, and they will kill me too. But does it matter? I had dropped something. I had dropped fear. I am not a coward anymore. I’m a brave wistful fellow. And while I wait till they find me and prosecute me for murder, I will immortalize myself on paper. I’ll drop this memory. So when they kill me, I’ll die with happiness knowing that a part of me still lives somewhere.
About The Author – Michael Okereke is an 18-year-old Nigerian writer, blogger and web developer. Stays in Owerri, Nigeria. His writings and works of art have been featured on various blogs, literary magazines, and book readings. Co-Founder, African Hub Magazine, amongst various incredible startups for the benefit of growing talents.