I got to know life was a complete farce at a young age. Or how else would you describe a man, who after an exchange of marriage vows, decides to turn his wife into a punching bag? That was the case of my father.
I can’t clearly remember my age as much as I recollect the first experience – maybe I was six or seven. But the memories in my head were as new as fresh peas from its pod. I was eating Amala and Egusi soup on the dining table that fateful day, together with Tombe, my younger brother when it all began. We heard shouts and insults emanating from the bedroom and Tombe immediately became agitated.
“It is all right for families to have arguments,” my moral instruction teacher had once said so I tried to calm Tombe. But deep within I knew when smoke was turning into fire. I said a silent prayer and continued eating.
We had barely eaten for another five minutes when we heard a loud thud, followed by a piercing cry. Mother ran out of the room, with only a faded wrapper – that seemed to fall any moment – around her sagging breasts. Father instantly followed suit – he was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Mother was crying and her face appeared swollen but she still had enough strength to rain curses on father.
“Shameless man!” She cried out.
“Useless woman,” father replied. He had raised his hand and was about to hit her when Tombe ran across to father.
“Daddy, please don’t beat mummy,” he pleaded. His eyes had already welled up with tears. His plea brought me back to my senses. All the while I had been looking on like I was watching a scene from an epic movie. I was about to join in the plea, when father pushed Tombe aside and whoop was all I heard. Father dealt mother with a slap so heavy that I could feel the reverberations.
“Chei! This man has killed me oh!” Mother was able to run out of the house before father could add to the injuries. He wanted to go after her but this time Tombe and I held him down. He did not try to overpower us. Instead, he calmed down and sat on the sofa.
I did not see or hear anything about mother for the next two weeks but I later got to know the cause of the fight – mum had refused dad sex the night before the fight. He wanted another child – the third in a space of seven years – but mum had totally disagreed.
Mother had to beg father before she was allowed back into the house three weeks later. Pastor James even solicited on her behalf. She promised to be a good wife in all ramifications. I wasn’t sure if that included a compromise on dad’s request.
Is a man the architect of his own misfortunes, or does destiny have a role to play? This was the question that lingered in my mind as father, Tombe and I left the cemetery that evening. The sound of the rustling leaves interfered with my thoughts, making it difficult for me to answer the question.
It had been nine years since I first saw father assault mother and the thought of the fact that there would be no more assaults sent cold shivers down my spine. I glanced at father and the mere sight of him made my veins boil with blood. He had taken my prized possession away from me because of his selfish desires.
Was it mother’s fault for conforming to the customs of society and marrying a man, only for that same man to end her life? For a moment, I wanted to go back to the cemetery and exhume mother’s corpse but the stench of the graveyard seemed to repel me.
I was not at home when father pulled the trigger – I was in boarding school – and I wept profusely each time I remember how I could not save mother.
Tombe had told me how it all happened. Father had come back home drunk that day and immediately asked for his food. It was almost 11pm and mother was not expecting him so she did not prepare a meal for him. Father was mad and immediately pounced on her, battering her until she became unconscious. “I think she hit her head on the floor,” Tombe had said.
“I tried to revive her but she never came around, so I called the neighbours and we took her to the hospital, where sh…sh…she died.” Tombe sobbed uncontrollably as he said the final words.
I had already determined that I was going to avenge mother’s death and I knew exactly how I was going to do it. I wanted Tombe to join me but he refused. He said he still loved his father.
Father was asleep that night when I slowly crept into his room. His snore was as loud and irritating as a pig’s grunt and that assured me that he was deep in sleep. I moved over to his side and raised my hand up, the sharp knife, sparkling under the dark.
“Koffi! Don’t do it.” It was Tombe. The next thing I knew was a grip on my hand. Father had woken up. He looked surprised but he immediately smiled mischievously – I knew what he was about to do. I managed to escape from his grip and bolted away, out of the house and into an unknown world, just like mother had always done.
I was beginning to feel the pains she felt and for a moment I was happy with father. I was happy because he had relieved mum of her pains. He made her at peace. Oh, how I longed for that same peace. I decided the best way to get it was to run away and never come back.