“Please Mama, I’m sorry, I will not do it again, I promise!” Supo blabbered amidst wails as tears indiscreetly flooded his face. His grandmother, a sturdy, old woman who looked younger than she actually was, held his left hand firmly, as one would hold on to a pole on a train trip, lashing on his nine-year-old backside with a cane longer than Supo himself. He struggled wildly, in his own little way, fighting to yank himself from Mama’s firm grasp of his arm. That wish dissolved in the wind, as salt in boiling water.
“You are a thief, stupid boy; you want to grow up to be an armed robber, abi? Over my dead body. When I finish with you, you will see your daddy and call him your mummy. Ole jatijati lo fe ya.” His grandmother ranted in short pants, each word or phrase coming at intervals, the timing complemented each stroke she released on Supo and his incessant reciprocating pleas, making it sound like a duette in making. Her eyes raged with fury, causing a conspicuous squeeze on her forehead.
Supo started living with his grandmother when he was a little over two years old. His mother died as well as a sibling she was bringing to the world for him, and his father was doing a lousy job at raising him alone. Mama pleaded with his father to let him stay with her until he was a little older. She had hoped that his presence would fill the void created by the loss of her daughter.
He arrived from school that day and Mama led him to his bedroom to change from his smart looking white short-sleeved shirt and navy blue shorts into house clothes. She left him in her shop, a small extension in front of the house where she sold mostly, petty things: provisions and other items for immediate household use, to bring him lunch from the kitchen in the main building. She sensed a familiar aura of mischief around him when she returned. She systematically placed his food down, so her face would be close to his for clues of what he was up to; what graced her nose was the sweet smelling scent of Robot chewing gum.
“What’s in your mouth?” She asked suddenly, staring deep into his eyes. The question startled him, terror consumed him as the thought of exposure, and the resulting punishment flashed through his little mind. The result would not be pleasant so he did the only thing his naïve mind deemed best. She saw a tug in his neck and swiftly barked:
“What did you just swallow?”
Unconscious of his widened eyes and rapid breathing giving him away, he replied.
“Nothing” His mouth stank of guilt.
Mama was mad. She gave him a prologue to the hell she was about to let loose on him; a couple of slaps on his face were quickly followed by smacks on the back of his head. With a sudden burst of energy and the swiftness of a ninja, she grabbed a whip from a corner of the shop and started at the little boy’s bony backside. The whip danced from his back to his buttocks, to his legs and returned to his back.
Mama had a reputation for rigidity in parenthood, particularly with instilling morals and correcting misconducts in children. Her favorite adage was “ojo a ba riibi niibi n wole”. That is a Yoruba proverb meaning ‘The day we perceive an abomination is when the abomination is buried’. What angered her most was that he was committing the same offence for the third time. She was exhausted after beating him and was determined to correct the new habit in Supo permanently. She took a new razor from a pack and made three little incisions of about half a centimeter each on Supo’s hand. She applied some fresh pepper on it. Supo was too exhausted from the previous beating to cry aloud. He sobbed quietly as he endured the fire dripping into his right hand and stinging his soul. His relatively undeveloped mind might have been too young to grasp the concept of death but at that moment, he did not wish for delicious food, toy cars or a bicycle, but a sure way to release himself from the horror of retribution. During this time, however, he realized why preachers insist one must live a righteous life.
He drops the last of his luggage in the boot of his father’s car. He turns around and for the last time, with his eyes firmly shut, he inhales deeply-the warm air of what will be a big chapter in his book of history. He is fifteen years old now, old enough to comprehend the passing of time, and everything it consumes. He takes a last look at the marble-crested headstone of what is and will forever be his grandmother’s new home. He enters the passenger seat of his father’s car, and fastens his seat belt.
“Are we set?” His father asks as he enters the car.
“Yes sir.” He answers, not very audibly.
He looks at his father. His father smiles and ruffles his well-combed hair. He smiles back, slightly withdrawing his head from his father’s hand. His father starts the engine to begin their trip back home. He strokes his hand as they travel, knowing that a part of Mama’s heart beats underneath the three holes covered with undisguisable lids that he can never physically open. For some reasons that elude him, he feels no bliss, pain, anger or anxiety. He knows he will always have a home right there, in the depth of memories that will be locked and unlocked by the scars his hand bear; and that, he is sure, is everything he needs for the remainder of his journey.