Mum used to tell me that the worst of fools were those who would leave a frying pan for the comfort of the fire but, I never did understand what she meant. It had sounded like she was attempting the reinvention of a cliché.
If she could see me now, she’d marvel at my capability for foolishness. It has to be a talent. It’s rare to see a human being who skips both frying pan and fire and builds a home in an active volcano. That’s me. Classic fool.
Seriously, (not that I think you are joking) I’ve had to wonder about this talent. Perhaps, I got it from my father.
I never knew the man. And I asked about him only once-and never again. I had been six or seven at the time. Maybe fourteen or sixteen. I forget. Whatever. I had been younger when I asked my mum about him. You know I couldn’t be blamed for being curios about the absence of proper male figures in my life. Especially since the ones I knew came at night and left before morning after making several weird sounds with mum.
At least, I had thought the sounds weird then.
After my question, mum had replied, “He lived. He drank. He humped. He died”. And there was the tragic biography of a man; his entire existence summed up into a dead sentence.
And as for my mum, she lives. She humped a lot—remember the weird noises—and I wish she would just die. Ah! I can picture you recoiling in moral indignation at that. I’m being truthful. The truth shall set you free, they say. Cliché again. But I love the comfort of clichés. And the promise of freedom appeals to me.
You see, I’m in a small prison cell. Or is it just “cell” or “prison”? I don’t know. Anyway, my enviable location makes me sensitive to any thing concerning freedom.
Anyway, after asking that question and receiving such a sweet answer, I did try my best to forget about my father. I tried! Believe me! But something had plans for me. Not God or the Devil. Those are someones not somethings.
You can then imagine my surprise when the day I met my father was the same day I killed him. Like they say, in cold blood. Funny thing, blood isn’t even cold. Where was i? Aha! Patricide!
His name was Jonathan. That was what the judge at my trial called him. I hadn’t known his name. But I remember thinking that Jonathan was such a long excuse for a name. Mine is a short excuse for a name.
My name is Jacob.
I met Jonathan at a construction site of all places. I was one of the labourers and he, well he was one of the men in suit. He was quiet but didn’t look weak. He reminded me of a calm cobra. So we obeyed him when he talked. And he rarely did that; talking, I mean.
The trouble came the day a labourer stole something from his car. I don’t remember the man’s name but, I remember that it was something very important; a briefcase with money—cliché—and some important contract papers. So we were all called in and he would ask in that calm manner of his. Had the thief mentioned his intention? No. Had anyone seen him? No, everyone had gone blind. Did we know where he lived? No. What about any other detail? It was at this point that people would say, “No sir. Nothing o.” But I was different.
“I might know where he’s headed, sir” I told him and with hope in his eyes, he replied, “Tell me where. Just try and I’ll reward you”.
I tried to do that; offering a list of places where the thief would have gone to spend the money. They were like that, you know. Thieves: easy spenders.
Perhaps he was impressed by my analysis or the attempt at it for he asked me,
“What did you study?”
“Engineering, sir” I replied. “Civil”.
“That’s good,” He told me. “Let’s get going then; check those places you mentioned”.
On the drive to the “places”, he tried to do small talk. Something about the government. Where I schooled. Blah, blah. Then he asked,
“What’s your name?”
And then I saw him clearly stiffen. What was a name to him?
“Hm. I had a son named Jacob…once”.
Had. Past tense
There are moments in life that define you and they are moments in life that you define. The moment I looked at his face defines me. It was the moment I noticed the similarity in our faces. Then the question I asked over defines me.
“What was her name? Your wife”.
He raised an eyebrow at the personal question but still paid attention to his driving. A moment later he said, “Clara. Her name was Clara”.
I swore at that something playing with my life! That was my mother’s name! Why! Why! Why!
“That’s my mum’s name,” I said and watched what his reaction would be. Well, to be honest, I think he overreacted. You don’t just apply brakes in the middle of a busy road because you have found your long lost son! That’s just insensitive!
And what followed was not funny. The truck behind us slammed into whatever car we were using—I don’t know cars—and the last thing I remember was our car in the air and the awful feeling I had when it hit the ground.
When I woke up, he was dead and I was alive. That simple and that painful. You see, I had killed my father with simple words.
The rest is pretty odd.
They tell me that there was no accident and that I had not met my father. They call themselves doctors and I wonder what business a doctor would have in a prison. But they are special kinds of doctors, they say. The kind that heal your mind. Moreover, they add, I’m not in a prison. I’m in a mental facility.
Hmmmm. You believe them?
Then they tell me—they do this twice a month and call it, reorientation—that I had stolen the money from my boss and not some anonymous thief; that I had killed my boss in his office.
Those special doctors also add that my mum has been dead for several years and that the weird noises had come from my room. They mention something about her damaging me. Then they mention incest. I don’t see the connection.
Then they add something more; I am not Jacob. They tell me that my name is Jonathan, that long excuse for a name.
My mother’s name isn’t Clara too. It’s Faith.
Then they give me the pills. Two pills twice a day. I call them special pills.
My name is Jacob.
And I swalllow them.
My name is Jonathan. For now.
MICHAEL E. UMOH
¾ MASS COMMUNICATION