No matter how hard it tried, the sun could never catch my father on the old, bug infested mattress that covered half our room. You see, my father was a creature of habit, and no matter how he felt in the morning, he was always first to get up in our compound or complex as my best friend, Silas calls it. He was also first into the rusty, hole riddled aluminium structure that unwisely served as our compound’s only bath/toilet/every peeping tom’s delight.
Everyone found it strange that my father who was without work and really had nowhere to go was always first into the bath house. Everyone had come to accept this strangeness except Mr. Emma. The man just couldn’t understand why my father would hold up the bathroom for so long and go nowhere ‘tangible’ after. So as a result of my father’s habit, Mr. Emma developed a habit of his own. Every morning, he would launch into a 10 to 15 minute diatribe at the top of his lungs on how my father was a never do well. He would curse, rant and rave and for most living in the complex, Mr. Emma’s early morning bellowing soon became their wake up call and Mr. Emma, their reliable rooster.
By now, Mr. Emma should have been screaming and banging bam-bam-bam on the bathroom door. ‘Samu! Samu!! You wan make I late for work again abi?! You no get work but you go dey inconfinience people wey dey go work. You go baff finish now go siddon for front of ya house tilleee beer parlour open! Useless man! Idiot! Bastard! Fool…’
And on and on, till my father would have come out of the bath in his brownish ankle length towel. His broad and hairy chest would invariably be in Mr Emma’s angrily contorted face, subtly reminding him of his physical disadvantage. As if on cue, Mr Emma would lower his tone, lift his oversized bucket, mumble some inaudible curses and scurry into the bath. Without fail, this had been the morning ritual at the complex. This morning however is different; Because of me, there has been no banging, no shouting and no scurrying. As I stare at the pair of dangling feet above me, I wonder guiltily, how long before someone notices the unusual calm? How long before this same calm births an uproar?
Mr Emma was not the only one who disliked my father. Almost everyone in the complex did. One woman in particular never had anything good to say about him; my mother. She hated him with a passion, and it was difficult to imagine them ever being in love. My elder brother, John and I were no different. Old and fresh bruises fought for dominance all over our bodies, and while other children in the compound were always scared of going to school, we were petrified of coming home.
Why was my father the way he was? I wondered, as I surveyed our room through the slits of my eyes. On the far end of the mattress, as close to the wall as she could get without actually going into it, laid my mother. She obviously wanted to avoid any physical contact with her husband whenever he came back from his drinking spree. For some reason, the tumour on her right shoulder looked slightly bigger. It contrasted against her light skin and looked both beautiful and hideous at the same time. Could it be growing? I wondered and quickly glanced to the right of the raffia mat John and I shared. As usual, my brother was facing the wall and sweating profusely. I couldn’t see his face but his breathing was steady, so I knew he too was fast asleep. My other brother, Kennedy was at Aunty Clara’s place, being more of a domestic help than a guest. Still, we all knew he was happier there. I turned my gaze upwards to the left only to see my father’s dangling feet. They look really small for a man his size; almost feminine. How come I had never noticed that before? I thought, and continued staring at the pair of size 9 feet dangling back and forth before me. As I watched, last night’s memories forced their way back into my consciousness.
Like I said, my father was a creature of habit and last night, like every other night, I expected him to stagger into our living room cum bedroom anytime from 11.25 to 11.30 pm. I expected him to stumble over the same stool and curse in the same colourful torrents for roughly the same number of minutes before eventually falling into the same alcohol induced unconsciousness he craved. This pattern had been the same for as long as I could remember and I wasn’t expecting anything different last night. There I lay, wide awake on the raffia mat, thinking about what Silas and Nkem did behind the school bus when I heard the rattle of the door knob. My right hand, already on its familiar journey to my privates froze. I quickly adjusted my position, shut my eyes and waited patiently for the familiar scent of beer or shepe, the locally brewed gin.
How come I can‘t smell my father from the door as usual?, I wondered and continued sniffing the air like a wild animal trying to perceive danger. Still, there was nothing. Maybe it’s not my father. Maybe it’s someone else, I hoped as the rattling continued.
Sadly, the door swung open to reveal my father’s huge frame. He was very steady on his feet and carried himself purposefully. I had never seen him that aware at night before. In fact, he looked as sober as a priest plotting to rob a collection plate. I followed his every move as he dropped the envelope he was holding, then slowly lowered his frame on the same stool he always stumbled over. As he sat, his shirt swung open and I immediately noticed the rope. Bright yellow and glowing in our room’s dimness, it was hanging from his waist, almost like a belt. I watched as he took off his shoes, then slowly pulled the rope free. I watched his hands as they slowly but mechanically attempted to create the noose. He was sweating as usual but I could tell it was from neither the heat nor alcohol. He finally got the knot right at the fourth attempt and by the third try he was perched on the stool. He looked genuinely weak, out of breath and defeated. I was a jumble of emotions as I watched him fasten the rope to the ceiling-fan hook that had never before harboured a fan because we couldn‘t afford one. I watched as he checked to make sure the rope was secure. I watched as he said a prayer that lasted a little over three minutes. I watched till I forgot I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I watched till my father opened his eyes and met my gaze.
He immediately realised I had been watching all along. In the split second that followed, he also realised that if I had wanted to stop him, I could have. Me; his own son, could have stopped him, but did not. It was at that moment, my father truly resigned and jumped.
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