I lay face down on my bed, unable to sleep. My bum was on fire. It still ached terribly from the merciless trashing of Father some minutes ago. My own bedroom seemed eerie to me and my head felt woozy. Very soon, Mother will walk into the room, telling me tales I didn’t care about and other things I never really listened to. She always visited me in such manner after Father’s mindless tortures. As if on cue, she walked in minutes later.
Entering my room, she shut the door slowly and carefully as if afraid that Father would discover her here. I pretended to be asleep but she tapped me gently and asked me to sit up on the bed. I complained about my aching butt, she apologized on Father’s behalf and promised to talk to him. She always said that but Father’s whippings always became more frequent.
Mother always told me how special a child I was. Whenever she said this, there would be bright sparkles in her eyes and a broad smile planted on her face. Mother was a natural story teller. She told me of how she and father had waited patiently for my arrival despite constant troubles from Father’s mother and the mild murmurings of people.
“Some people called me a witch,” she would say. “They said I locked up your father’s brain with padlock and threw the key in the River Niger, that that was why he refused to marry another wife after my many years of infertility. ”
She told me of how, when she had told Father of her friend’s suggestion to visit a potent medicine man who was an expert in female fertility, he had beaten her to a pulp. Father had then locked her up in the guest room for three days without food or water.
“Let me see how you will get anymore devilish advice from those heathen friends of yours,” he had yelled at her.
On the third day, he had driven her to the Parish for Confession after which he ordered that she say a Novena to the Holy Spirit which he said was for her final reparation.
“I don’t blame your father. He was under too much pressure from his friends and family but he didn’t care about what they said. He didn’t care about the sly distance his friends began to give him and that they called him ‘woman wrapper.’ A man of his social standing is expected to have many wives but his love for me made him defy the norms,” Mother would say after recounting the incident. She forgot to add, however, that she had lost a two-month pregnancy in the process.
Sometimes, I wondered why she told me this particular tale, whether it was to justify Father’s incessant beatings or if it was in a bid to console me.
She would then go further to narrate the circumstances surrounding my birth. That night, as she spoke, she looked up to the ceiling of my wide room, staring as though the story was imprinted on it. She talked of how she had lost so much blood and how father had run around the city in a frenzy, in search of blood, as the hospital’s blood bank was exhausted; then she would tell me how stubborn and unyielding I was in her womb, how the nurses had become frustrated of what they called her ‘laziness to push’ and had opted for an Operation. As she said this, I imagined myself, small and taut in Mother’s womb, unwilling to come out and all the time, causing her loads of pain and discomfort.
This was probably why I turned out to be a problematic child, I thought. I never wanted to be one but I strangely found myself doing things I never premeditated. It seemed as though I was being controlled by some external force. This same force, I presumed, made me unremorseful for my wrong actions. On a particular occasion when I was six, Father had beaten me senseless after receiving a report that I had broken a classmate’s jaw for no just cause. The next day in school, I went straight to the same boy and bit him hard on his ear. I had to be suspended from school for a whole week, still I never changed but only got worse. In all these, I never knew I was being prepared for a gargantuan task ahead of me. The fulfillment of that task was a major reason for my existence.
I never really believed that I was being manipulated by something outside of me until a strange man began to visit me. He always came to me while I slept at night, he never visited during the day. The man told me things I didn’t fully comprehend, things that made my head feel woolly. He seemed to know much about me and always called me his ‘future.’ His presence felt more real than like a dream.
“Your father named you Chinazo because it was God who saved me from dying in that labour theatre and saw me through the Caesarean Section. You were baptized Augustine because your birthday coincided with the Saint’s feast day and your father had said that was the right thing to do, ” Mother went on. By now, I had become interested in Mother’s story and I listened keenly. Apart from the intermittent rise and fall of Mother’s voice and the occasional croaking of frogs outside, the night was pin-drop silent.
My mother and I were close buddies. She didn’t allow me to feel the loneliness that came with being an only child. She always wanted to know how my day at school went and likewise, told me how hers had looked like. I told her things I didn’t tell Father and no one else, for that matter. But I didn’t tell her when the strange man started visiting. He had warned me not to mention his visits to anyone, not even Mother, saying that the day I broke this rule, my mission would have to be carried out that same day.
Apart from being my companion and confidant, mother was my saviour. It was she who, in a bid to cover my theft, once lied about taking father’s money from his wardrobe. When Father asked to know why I had suddenly stopped receiving Holy Communion at Mass, she had told him I wasn’t feeling well and that she would ask Father Francis if it would be possible for me to be administered wine instead of the customary wafer which she had said caused me nausea.
However, that was not the truth. I actually loved the taste of the communion bread. My only reason for refusing to receive it was to spite Father. Father was a well respected Knight in the Church and the Chairman of the Parish Laity Council, I knew the effect my abominable action would have on his person. Same as when I stole his money; I always had more than enough pocket money to spare. I knew the right buttons to press in order to piss my Old man off and I sure was a good operator of the machine. In all these, I sensed an external drive to cause Father more harm and I could not help it.
That night, Mother could not save me from Father’s whip. Fury was written all over Father’s face when he came back from work and discovered what I had done. That Saturday, I had been too bored from staying at home all day. A thought came to my mind; I realised it had been a while since I hurt Father. Strange as it sounds, I derived joy from seeing Father unhappy. Suddenly, an idea came through and within minutes, the lifeless body of our Alsatian dog which Father loved with so much passion lay at my feet. Father had beaten me till his hands ached, Mother’s pleas and cries had had no effect on him.
Now as I lay on my bed, I vowed that this would be the last time I would ever allow Father to raise his hands on me in such manner. Hot sparks of anger coupled with hatred for the man I called my father ignited within me. I didn’t want to remain the son of a wife and child beater. A man who headed his family with an iron hand, reducing mother and I to mere house mates, puppets even, never giving either of us a say in the running of the family. His word was final, ours was just to obey and carry out his orders as and when due.
Mother kept talking but I was no longer listening to her. Instantly, I felt a great need to protect her from Father. I felt responsible for her. I didn’t want this to continue, this madness that we called a family.
By now, Mother was already rounding off her anecdotal talks and was preparing to leave my room. In her final words, she asked that I forgive Father and try not to do anything to provoke him again. As much as I would want to heed my Mother’s counsel, I knew deep down that I won’t. It was just like asking me to stop breathing. With every nanosecond that trickled away, my urge to do something terrible to Father grew.
Looking at Mother pleading with me, I grew cold feet. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt her but I knew fully well that harming Father would equate to hurting her. I couldn’t hold it anymore, hot tears flowed freely down my cheeks. Facing Mother boldly, I told her everything. The strange visitor’s warning made no sense to me now. Mother definitely deserved better than this. She deserved to know the truth. Whatever the consequence of my action would be, I didn’t bother to consider.
After listening to all I had to say, Mother looked concerned and touched my forehead to make sure I didn’t have a fever. When she asked me to describe the strange visitor, I did. He appeared to be an older replica of me, I mentioned. The man had addressed me as his ‘future’ and had told me to be strong no matter what challenge I faced for I had a mission to fulfill. Mother looked stunned after listening to me. Minutes passed before she instructed me never to mention any of it to Father. I nodded halfheartedly, wondering why. From the way she fidgeted and avoided an eye contact with me, I knew there was something amiss. Mother knew something about the Visitations but she wasn’t going to tell me anything, reasons for which I was soon to find out.
When Mother left my room, I still found it difficult to sleep. My head still felt heavy and I was shivering from a piercing cold. I wondered where the cold had come from since Mother had made sure my windows were firmly shut and had draped a thick blanket over me. The room was pitch black and I wanted to ascertain the time. The next day was Sunday and the household had to wake up as early as 4:30am in order to make it for the early morning Mass.
Tiredly, I reached for the light switch. I fumbled with it sleepily for a while before I was able to switch the light on. What I saw next held me spellbound. I tried to scream but no sound came out of my mouth. It was only open ajar in an ‘o-form’ while I stared unbelievably at my visitor. Standing right at the foot of my bed was the man who had never stopped visiting me at night, the strange visitor. His appearance was way different this time. He looked very real, flesh and blood, not like his normal ghost-like form and our stunning resemblance was more obvious.
Quickly, my mind went to work. I knew that his Visitations took place most times after I had just been trashed by Father. At these times, the man would say soothing words to me, telling me not to be deterred as these present suffering was part of the hurdles on the road to absolute freedom for both Mother and me. But now, I knew something was not right about his visit. He always came to me while I was asleep but now, he visited when I had not even had a wink of sleep.
Quietly, he drew nearer to me smiling mischievously. Surprisingly, every iota of fear in me vanished as he came closer. It was then that I realised who he truly was. I had seen some pictures of him in our family photo album. He was my uncle Augustine, my father’s younger brother who according to family lore, died years back of a chronic illness. I was still unshaken at this realization. A kind of inexplicable calm dwelt within me. Finally, he spoke up.
“The deed has been done. It is time!” he said. He left as suddenly as he had come. I stood up barely seconds after he left and walked out of my room as though possessed. With every step I took, the desire to do something terrible to Father, which had always been in me, became stronger.
It was not until the next morning that I got to know that I had been truly possessed. I knew this on my visitation to Mother at the hospital, my hands handcuffed and my back being watched by an unsmiling policeman. She lay frail and tired on a bed I would constantly associate with death and people long gone as she relayed to me events of the previous night and confessions of secrets long buried deep, six feets under the ground. She told of how I had staggered into Father’s room which they both shared at night, bearing a mysterious knife. According to her, Father was too shocked to defend himself. The only word he could utter before the knife slit his throat was ‘Augustine!’ That was also the last word she heard until she woke up here this morning.
“Augustine was not actually referring to you,” Mother continued. I responded to her assertion with unrefined amazement.
It is here that I’m told the whole story. Many years back, a minor duel had happened between Father and his younger brother which had escalated and ended fatal. The different religious beliefs of both brothers had always been a stumbling block to the relationship between them both. It however got to its peak when Father refused to help foot his brother’s medical bills when the latter had a severe case of brain cancer, unless he denounced his atheistic beliefs and converted to Christianity. Augustine due to his pride, preferred to die than to become a Christian. Having no other source of hope, he wasted away in the hospital. Before long, everyone forgot about the whole matter. It didn’t seem as though anyone had passed on. Even when Mother had told Father about a dream she had while pregnant for me, where Augustine was beckoning on her in a bizarre way, he chose not to think much of it.
I didn’t realise how much time had passed until the police escort said my time was up. At that instant, my Mother grasped my hands tightly and I wondered where her strength had emanated from. I in turn, held on firmly to hers, afraid that I’d break her bones. Hot tears filled my eyes so that I could not spot the bright sparkles in her eyes as she told me how special a child I was.
“You will be great, my child. You’re destined for greatness but nothing like your Father’s,” Mother finally said. These were her last words before she gave up the ghost.
As I walked out of that hospital ward, many thoughts jumped around in my mind. Prominent of all was the contemplation of Mother’s words. They keep echoing in my ears till today. Whenever guilt for Mother’s death begins to torment me, I console myself with the thought of our shared acrimony towards Father, albeit hers was a mild one. Mother’s death was just an happening that was rather too unfortunate. And one of the painful things in life is that we never get to choose what happens to us.
NB: It’s been ages since I posted something here. Even while there’s no rational excuse, I’d like to say that some things have happened to me in this period of estrangement between blogger and reader which have contributed to the prolonged silence. Thanks to all for your usual support. Drop your comments before exiting. Bye bye!