“Mama, mama………please leave my mother alone.” I screamed with tears rolling down my eyes as I watched my mother being dragged by the mob into the streets. I ran after them and did all I could to stop them but I was pushed and hit several times by the men and women who surrounded her. I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was hard to take in the sight that I was witnessing. My mother was being hit, slapped and spat at by all including children. They had accused my mother of adultery and so their punishment was to burn her alive. She had been saying that she was innocent but who listened? None. Even the people my mother called friends were nowhere to be found. They had all abandoned her. There was not even a single proof and yet they took it upon themselves to punish her still. These were people who were not even free from wrongs or sin. I cried my eyes out hoping that they would pity me and my younger ones but nothing I did changed their minds. I still had three younger siblings who needed mama. We were all still so young, we could barely call our father a father and yet they wanted to take all that we had. I tried to squeeze my way through the crowd to get to where my mother was but they kept tugging my shirt and thrusting my head. My heart was pounding and I was hoping that God would prevent them from doing any harm to her. When I saw that they were not listening to my pleas or the ones of my siblings, I ran home to beg papa for his help. I told him to follow me to the village square so that he could beg them for mercy but he ignored me. All the while that I was crying and speaking to him, he ignored. At thirteen, I realized how wicked my father was. I stood up and from where I had been kneeling and begging and said; “I hate you!” before running back to the village square. By the time I had gotten there, they had lit the fire and my mother was on fire. She was rolling, shaking, screaming and screaming, calling out the names of me and my siblings. I knelt down on the floor and watched as the villagers murdered my mother. She had been tied like a goat, stripped of her clothes, and locked down with a tire around her neck. They brutally murdered an innocent woman.
After the fire was out and they were sure mama was burnt, unconscious and unrecognizable, they left the scene leaving me in shock, fear and confusion. I couldn’t even recognize her again. I rolled on the floor wailing and wailing with two of my siblings crying beside me. The last born at the time who was just three years old was at home sleeping when all this happened. We were now motherless, if not orphans due to the father that was already dead in our lives.
Two years went by after the passing of my mother. I managed to continue mama’s business with my sister, selling bread and small provisions. Many times, I was insulted and spat on because according to the society, I was the daughter of an adulteress. Sometimes people even called me a prostitute. Many women warned their children to stay away from me and my siblings. Even some warned others not to buy from us. That was our struggle for a long time. My father didn’t do much for us either. If at all he provided anything when he was not collecting from us, it was to give me a small change to buy food that couldn’t even cook a whole meal other than to buy bread. I and immediate younger sister didn’t continue school. We had to drop out so we could manage what we had to send our other two siblings to school.
There was a time when we were not selling much and I couldn’t get anything from what we sold to feed my siblings. My father was not helping matters either so I had to look for where to beg or borrow money but no one was ready to help. It was as though all the villagers were against us. They shut their doors and closed their eyes. My sister who thought stealing was her next best option was caught and taken to the village square to be beaten. I had feared that they would kill her like mama but after two men intervened, they let her go. Many times, I would gather my siblings to talk to them about staying away from trouble so they wouldn’t get killed. I wasn’t going to lose another person, I told myself. Every day I woke up with the same dream where mama had been screaming and shouting for help. The screams were like the ones I witnessed the day she was killed, screams of helplessness and pain. The more I remembered that day, the angrier I grew with hatred in my heart for all those who killed and allowed her death. The only soft spot in my heart was left for my siblings.
A year later, things became even worse and unbearable. We couldn’t afford school fees for Chidera and Chinonye and I couldn’t watch my siblings starve so I had to look for something else to do. I had heard that a woman at the other village was posting girls to homes in the city as house maids so I decided to find her, hoping she could connect me with one of the families. I managed to get a little money from a friend to travel to the other village. When I went to see the lady, she didn’t look very pleased to see me, I didn’t know why. I had told her my purpose for coming but she turned me down. I begged for a while before she finally said she would help but only if I accepted that she earned seventy percent of my salary. I was taken aback when I heard this and almost protested but when she said to take it or leave it, I had no other choice than to accept what was coming my way. I finally made a deal with her and she told me to go back home and get ready to leave for the city in a month’s time.
Once I returned to my village, I heard a shocking news about a man who was looking for me to confess. My sister had said that he needed to speak to me concerning our dead mother. I wasn’t sure who he was or why he wanted to see me but I did not hesitate to hear from him when he mentioned mama. He finally visited again and this time around, I was able to see him. His purpose for coming shocked me when he made a confession. He said that he had been the reason why mama was called an adulteress and why she was burnt to death. He was the person who made the false accusation when my mother had refused to sleep with him because he was angry. I heard his confession with only my immediate junior sister around and stood up in shock and anger. I roared at the man and almost tore at his shirt when I got a grip of it. I was raged and filled with disgust. I couldn’t believe what he caused our family because of his selfishness. I couldn’t even understand why he all of a sudden decided to confess at that moment when everything had fallen flat. After my sister had managed to pull me from trying to fight him. I went straight to the kitchen to get a knife that I believed I was going to use to kill him. I pointed it at him and made threats to kill him because I thought I would feel better after revenging the unjustified death of mama. I closed my eyes one last time and let out a deep breath before running and trying to stab him in the chest when my sister came rushing and pulling me back. I didn’t know when I let out my anger and mistakenly stabbed my sister while I was backing her. When I felt my sister let loose and retrieved the knife to stab the man standing a few meters away from me, that was when I saw that the knife was covered in blood. I threw it aside and screamed when I saw that I had stabbed my sister in her left shoulder. She had passed out and was unconscious when this happened so the man who came to confess to us helped in rushing my sister to the hospital where she later got treated.
My sister was okay and only sustained an injury which we were told would heal within a couple of weeks but that made me realize that revenge is out of anger and would do no good or justify the past. I was very angry still and tried as much as I could to control it but the past could not be forgotten as it was the reason why we were in that position. After my sister got better and was supported by the workers at the hospital, I was able to leave for the city where I could start earning some money to take care of my siblings. Every day, I was reminded of the day we lost mama but that encouraged me into making better decisions and being slow to cast the first stone.
This is a story written due to the numerous mob killings that happen in our society today. It involves cases like adultery, stealing, fraud…etc. Why is there still something like mob killing especially in Nigeria where I have seen and heard about cases like this? I understand that these are crimes and needs to addressed but if someone has committed a crime, why not report the case to higher authorities who have more control of taking care of the situation or better still find out more about the issue before taking action? Why take things into our own hands and destroy the lives of many without even a slight evidence? We let the politicians and ‘biggers guys’ put us to chase but murder the commoners for something not half the crimes committed by them.
Before you cast a stone, take a step back and make an analysis. Then think before you act.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the products of the writer’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
To read other stories by Benita Okafor, click here