A trajectory of non-truths, and the complicity of witnessing lies.
Your father is a liar. We mean no disrespect. We used to find it charming. Perhaps we like you too much to say it to you face. Perhaps we are too cowardly. But it is the truth.
Christmas. We are young. Toddlers. At your house for holidays. Our minds are quick to embrace distractions, a chameleon crawling its way up a green stalk. Our little bodies are full of energy, running around dropping imaginary bombs on each other. He walks through the gate, tossing sweets in the air. We leap off the ground to catch them in our tiny palms.
I remember when I was a soldier.
Yes, I fought in the war. I carried a bazooka, like this.
He lifts you up, holding you over his left shoulder, jerking you back and forth, making sounds of rumbling explosions.
Our mouths hang open.
And then my bombs finished and I killed the enemy with my bare hands.
We gasp. How?
He holds his hands together then pulls them apart. Like that.
Midterm break. Primary two. We watch Commando. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a bazooka look like a flute. We kill our first chicken. Our hearts race after the chase. We slit its throat. Its yellow legs jerk. Its blood flows warm. Its innards slide out steaming. We throw up.
We ask him. Where’s your uniform? Where do you keep your gun? What war? Which army?
What on earth are you monkeys talking about?
Easter. We are older. Masters of horseplay. Scars glisten on our skins, from falling off trees, catching kicks on our shins. Your family comes to us for holidays. We spend our days in our room. The volume of the stereo turned up. The bass rattles the rafters. At night we come out to forage. Raiding the refrigerator. Drinking cold coke. Eating leftover rice. Fighting over fried chicken wings. Our grandmother thinks the rats are at it again.
You are asleep. Bedsprings creak. The sound leads to Aunt Maria’s room. We peep through the key hole. We see your father’s beer belly, gyrating. We see Aunt Maria’s fair back, arching. Our weight pushes the door in. They tumble.
I was changing the bulb.
The light bulb is over our heads.
We wake up. Your father has left.
He has work to do at the warehouse, your mother says.
Aunty Maria is generous with helpings of plantain porridge and spare change to go the Indian cinema.
September. Puberty inception. We live with you, attending secondary school. The first faint golden hairs appear below our noses. We flex bud-like biceps in front of the dressing mirror.
Vacation. Your father drives us home. We are homesick. Longing for the aroma of your mother’s egusi soup. Gasping for the sizzle of akara frying at six am. Gagging for MTV. Restless for the new sounds of R&B to update next term’s love notes. Your father parks in front of a bar. Paradise Now in neon blue.
What are we doing here?
I have business to take care of.
You are suspicious. Dad, are you going to gamble?
His face is stern, like a cutlass left out in the cold.
We sit together, watching the football match. A waiter serves pepper soup. He orders cold beer. We each get a bottle.
He bets all. Nottinghamshire versus Crystal Palace. 0-4. He loses all.
In the car. He presses Tom Tom sweets into our palms. Along with crisp, one thousand naira notes. We suck the sweets. We pocket the cash.
Your mother sits at the dining table. The eba has gone cold.
Where have you been?
I took the boys to the warehouse. They wanted to see how the printing press works. Holiday project.
Come and eat.
We sit at the table. We find it hard to swallow.
Three days later. The landlord serves an eviction notice.
The gap year. Teenage threshold. We are practically men, we think. We shave every four days. We squeeze the choir girls’ breasts.
You move into our house, waiting for university. Then your mother comes too. A pickup loaded with belongings. Her wedding picture falls from the top. Her smile cracks in the glass.
We overhear our mothers and aunts.
What have I done to deserve this? Was I not a faithful wife? Was I not good mother?
My sister, it is well, says our mother.
And none of his friends know where he is?
No, nobody. He said he was going to buy a newspaper.
Men are evil, says Aunt Maria.
Don’t talk like that! Do you know if he was kidnapped?
Or hit by a car?
From our window, we cannot help but notice. Aunt Maria’s son looks just like you.
Your father’s missing advertisements stop running on TV.
You mother refuses to hold a memorial service for him.
He will come back, one day.
A neighbour says she saw someone that looks like him when she went to Calabar, with a family.
Your mother slaps her.
Exaggerated rumours of his sightings dwindle slowly.
You become preoccupied with your life but never forget.
Joseph just got a boxer’s nose—a splatter of cartilage like a morsel of cold pounded yam between his eyes. He didn’t have a bridge to begin with. Now he’s disfigured, without the glory of having knocked someone’s lights out.
Did you lie about the ball crossing the goal line when it didn’t? Yes.
Why you dey lie?
Guy, you no dey see?
I die if na goal. The ball went over the stone.
Then you go die.
Why you go dey lie like you papa?
What! And the ball drops from under your arm.
Was he tactless? Yes. Did he deserve the first punch? Yes. The second? No. We think it was overkill. But he had it coming.
What the hell man! You broke my nose!
You shouldn’t have called insulted my father.
The fuck man! Your father is fucking liar. Everyone knows it.
You look at us. We look away. At the algae-covered wall. At the caterpillar-covered mango tree. At the stones of the monkey post. At the sand between our toes.
Say that one more time.
If you father didn’t lie he’d have a heart attack.
And Bam! We heard he crunch. We smelt the blood. We saw Joseph’s incisor airborne.
Joseph talks of revenge. I’ll break his head. But we know this is mouth.
What were we to tell Joseph’s father the constable? What story could we invent to prevent Constable’s Jo’s baton cracking our skulls and dragging us to his police station, for doing nothing while you mauled his only son? We have heard the stories. Faceless inmates end up in ditches, sans genitals.
You brace yourself, ready to face the consequence. You won’t lie. Never. But you did.
Joseph, between spitting mouthfuls of blood, said he fell, face first, on a stone as we played football.
Just another little white lie.