Jeremiah hadn’t always been a killer, he was once a boy; a real boy and he was innocent back then. There used to be a time when he was just a kid, a small boy that followed his mother to the market, to the church and sometimes, to the mission school where she taught social studies.
His mother, Abigail, was the only parent he knew, he never heard of his father being spoken of or saw his picture. His inquiries to know him always elicited the same answer from his mother, “You don’t need to know him.”
That was the answer she gave when he was younger.
“Ask about him again and you’d go to bed without dinner,” was the answer he got when he clocked seven.
‘Whack’, a slap to his cheek accompanied the question as soon as he clocked eight.
He’d learned then, not to ask about his father again. His mother didn’t want him to know who he was so he stopped bothering her, he stopped asking her, but he never stopped wanting to know.
Whenever she wasn’t around, Jeremiah would rummage through her things, hoping to see something, anything, a picture, letter, name or signature that would take him close to identifying the man that had fathered him but he found nothing linking any man to his mother.
Any man at all.
And neither had he seen any man with her since he could remember.
How then was she able to give birth to his brother, the apple of her eyes?
The question bothered him when he was six and discovered his mother was pregnant. Was she the modern day Virgin Mary?
He’d asked her once, “Mother, how did you get pregnant without a husband?”
‘Whack’ was the answer he got, “Don’t ask me such questions again.”
And he was punished for asking such question. No dinner for him that night.
His mother, Abigail Stokil was an avid church goer, she was more like a career church goer. She spent all her time and life praising the Lord and she mandated Jeremiah to do the same.
He did as his mother wanted, until he became questioning her about the universe. How it came to be.
“Who is God?”
“If Jesus is his son, who’s his wife?”
“Have you ever seen him?”
“Can we see him?”
‘Whack’, he’d get.
“You don’t ask such questions, the answers are too big for you to discern. They might explode inside your tiny head.” She’d poke his tiny head, almost toppling him.
Abigail always had a church activity to attend, morning mass, revivals, services, she was in the choir, a member of the mother’s guild, a Sunday school volunteer and she cleaned the local vicarage: unpaid.
She loved the Lord and she believed the Lord loved her too.
She was the perfect Christian in the church but she was far from perfect at home.
She was everything to Jeremiah, everything but a mother.
Jeremiah had grown up tutored, not by his mother’s words or love, but by her palm; the right one.
And like a circus animal would comport itself when the whip was wielded, Jeremiah would cower whenever his mother was around. He’d understood at an earlier stage of his life that his mother hated him, he didn’t know why, but her countenance always changed whenever she looked into his face.
And sometimes, for just no reason she’d pull him nearer to her and ‘whack’, she’d slap him. She always seemed satisfied after then, pleased.
She seemed to be punishing him for a sin he knew nothing about.
It got worse when his brother died. Jeremiah was fourteen while his brother, Tanwa, was eight.
His mother hated him the more after that. She distanced herself from him and from everybody. Her attendance at church became erratic, her home was left in disarray and her whacks became incessant.
Jeremiah became as depressed as his mother and for a while, he felt guilty for his brother’s death but sooner snapped out of it.
Fate was what killed his brother, not him. After all, he’d been told in Sunday school that nothing happened without God’s will.
How then could he blame himself for Tanwa’s death?
Why was his mother making him feel guilty?
Why didn’t she love him?
Jeremiah was never happy around his mother, his being happy led to resentment on Abigail’s part. She never liked to see him happy. If Jeremiah’s face showed the minutest trait of happiness in Abigail’s presence, he got beaten; slapped till Abigail’s hands ached.
He grew up moody, always bottling his happiness in him and keeping the cover on, until Abigail wasn’t around. He could sit at a spot for hours, not moving or blinking and definitely not thinking. What would he think about?
Memories of school? He hated school more than anything, the kids there always made fun of him.
Church? Not for him.
All he had were memories of this house, his home. He never leaves it, never steps down the hill except he was going to school. He hadn’t even been to church in a long time, Abigail had stopped taking him.
Running around the house was forbidden, so was merriment. Music was banned, except it was dreary; usually hymns.
Abigail was a protestant. She attended a church that was a breakaway from the popular Jehovah’s Witness because they believed the Witnesses were lax in their traditions. Abigail’s religious principles were strict, she upheld it in every way possible.
The only times Jeremiah felt some measure of joy was whenever he sees his mother dressed in her blouse -the one with the high shoulder pads that made it seem she wanted to fly- and her skirt that looked so large, he used to wonder if it was made for three people.
It was the time he only felt happiness. It was the time his mother went to church, leaving him at home.
He’d stand at the door and watch Abigail as she went down the hill that had their little bungalow sitting on its eye, her skirt sweeping the ground that she walked.
He’d watch her till he could not see her anymore and he’d return inside to play with his only friend in the world. His sister.
He called her Ayo; joy.