They would argue and shout at each other almost everyday. It got violent the day Dad slapped Mum. She screamed and held onto his shirt daring him to beat the living daylights out of her.
I ran in between them and begged them to stop. They ignored me and kept spitting words and struggling with each other; Dad trying to yank her off his shirt and Mum holding tighter, refusing to let go. I watched them call each other all manner of despicable names that I had never heard before. Tinu screamed, Dare cried. I was almost on the verge of breaking down at the seeming hopelessness of the situation until Mfon intervened and begged them to stop. Instantly, she seemed to calm them down. Dad straightened his shirt and stormed out of the house forgetting to take his coat along. Mum just hissed and went back into her room.
Mfon stood there in the living room watching them go. Then she turned to me, a sniveling expression played on her face.
‘Seun, why didn’t you call me when they were fighting?’
‘But they were shouting! You could have heard them…’
‘Shut up! If you had called me earlier, it would not have gone this far!’
She had moved closer and was now glaring down at me. I noticed for the first time that she was wearing slight make-up – her mouth bore lipstick and her face was lightened by either pancake or powder. Somewhere in my head a flicker of suspicion lit up.
She hissed at me and went back into the kitchen. I held the crying Tinu and the morose Dare and tried to comfort them. I wasn’t doing a very good job as I was also visibly shaken.
I sniffed back at the tears that threatened to come out and stiffened my body to absorb and dissipate the sobs that were building up. My mind did a quick flashback to what we had just witnessed. The two people who just fought were not the parents we had grown to know; they were not the same Mum and Dad who had showered us with love through the years. Both of them had become monsters and complete strangers to us and to each other.
Days passed and things got worse between Mum and Dad. The fights grew and Mfon always stepped in just in time to stop things from escalating any further. It was like she had become some sort peacemaker. The love between our parents seemed to have died out completely. Mum never dragged Dad in to do ‘funny things’ to him anymore. Dad never kissed her goodbye at the door or do his tickling tricks anymore. They stopped spending time talking at the dining table like they usually did after the day’s work. The only contact between them consisted of threats and physical struggles.
One night after tucking a sleeping Tinu into my bed (she could no longer sleep by herself because of the strange constant nightmares), I sat by the edge of the bed, brooding. My mind raced. What was happening to us? Where did we miss it? We used to be a very happy family; the envy of other families. But now things seem to be falling apart. The anguish began to well up in me like a gradually building storm.
I got up with the thought of quelling it by going to bed when my eyes fell on a medium sized black Bible on a small shelf where I kept my school books and teen novels.
It was Aunty Moji’s second bible which she had loaned me to use in church some Sundays ago. I picked it up and flipped through the pages which had many of its verses highlighted in marker colors. The intense sorrow welled up in me again and this time I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.
The Bible reminded me of her; it smelled of her. I wished she were around. I held the Bible to my chest as if it would offer me some comfort. What did I know? I was just a child that was still learning…and Aunty Moji…she would know what to do. But she wasn’t around to talk to. I was on my own; we were on our own. I flipped through the pages again and stopped at a page that had a divider placed in between. There was a highlighted part on one of the pages; the 11th to 13th verse of the 29th chapter of the book of Jeremiah. I stared at it for a few seconds then read it aloud to myself:
‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.’
I felt the emotional storm in me subsiding. There had been no Aunty Moji to talk to, but here were verses jumping at me from the pages of a bible, reassuring me that if I spoke to God, he would hear me. And somehow I believed those words.
But how do I do that? My mind raced again till a thought struck me. I knelt beside the bed like I had seen Aunty Moji do a number of times and with the Bible still in my hands, closed my eyes. My mouth felt salty from the earlier attempt to cry. I swallowed and found the words;
‘Lord, please help us. You’re the only one I can talk to right now. Please save our family.’
I sniffed, got up, put the Bible back on the shelf and sat back on the bed. I suddenly felt more relieved after saying those words; a certain calm seemed to envelope me and the intense sorrow subsided.
I got up, changed into my PJs and slipped into bed next to my snoring kid sister.
The next day, Mum traveled for a one week seminar in Abuja.
Mfon was put in charge of the house. And did she take control; she literarily became the ‘mother’ of the house. She ordered us around and acted more like the matriarch rather than the house help. The most startling of all was when she changed in the way she dressed; all the local wrapper and blouse she was accustomed to wearing were discarded for jeans and tops, short gowns, chic skirts and blouses. She no longer wore her scarves. They were replaced by well weaved hair or nicely adorned wigs. Her face, hands and feet bloomed with make-up and exotic nail paint.
My siblings and I were shocked and confused at her sudden change. Initially we thought she was preparing for some outing on the first day of her wardrobe transformation. But gradually we realized it was not for any outing. That was when it hit me – this was the real Mfon.
Dad saw her on that first day of her new look as he prepared to go to work. He just smiled and walked out the door like nothing was wrong and I feared the worst. I had seen the smirk on his face and heard the chuckle from Mfon.
I didn’t need a soothsayer to tell me what was in the offing. I had seen enough on Nollywood movies to know where that exchange would lead to by the time Dad got back from work.
I sat in the living room, gazing at the family portrait that hung on the wall, lost in a void of dread.
‘Lord…please help us…’ I whispered through trembling lips fighting hard not to imagine the possible and horrible outcome…