It’s my thirty year old birthday today, so naturally I’m home, sitting at my desk and staring out the window at the coming night. It’s still light outside, yet an impatient moon floats in my horizon. Another milestone reached, another reason to grow a beard and reflect. It’s always good to remember. Where would I be, had things turned out differently? Earlier on I browsed nearby houses, and just now I’d been searching online for a decent engagement ring. Who knew? I close the lid of my laptop and drift back to the pre-Google 90’s of my pre-teens—one night in particular that shaped my entire outlook on life.
There’s no genesis to this story, since I was born into the pathetic cliché. Man beats wife, wife does the Christian thing and stays, man assaults kids, man does not provide, man is generally a low-life. Textbook dysfunctional family. It’s incredibly annoying that our circumstance was so banal, thereby making it seem inconsequential. You find it in every corny book and movie on domestic violence. At the time I wasn’t aware how common or not it was in the average home, but I surely didn’t have any friends who spent three days in hospital for shielding their mother from a flying chair.
On the night that changed everything, I sat in my room and weighed the options yet again. I thought of running away but there were too many uncertainties: Who would I live with? Who’d hire a twelve-year old? I’d probably get kidnapped and sold anyway. My father was right about one thing—I wasn’t physically strong yet. Same questions, with the invariable lack of solution. I could still taste blood at the back of my throat, from the last head-butt against the door. After much shouting and proclaiming my weakness as a man, he’d stormed out for the night. My cousin told me all parents beat their kids to discipline them (obviously his folks didn’t rent video cassettes of American movies). Still, I wondered what lesson was to be learned from chips of wood in my scalp. I was helpless, weary—completely fed up being angry and bruised, sad and pathetic.
I looked out the window. The fog was there again. Not outside but in my head. It had been with me the past few months. Clouding my judgement, putting ideas in my head, slowly re-shaping my personality. With it came the usual bouts of anger and resentment, but lately, resignation, mindlessness. I called it zombie mode. It was the safest, most reliable state to be in. Inside that fog there was now peace, quiet, and something else more permanent beckoning to me.
The night was young and still as I searched the heavens for a clue. The gibbous moon hid behind some clouds, playing peek-a-boo with the stars. Or at least with us earthlings—his distant cousins probably saw him just fine. How tragic, I thought. Tonight was ordinary, depressing, flat. No thunderstorm to threaten the roof over our heads; no once-a-century eclipse; nothing I could call a sign from God. So much for being a special child.
I lifted my mattress and got the cash I’d stolen from my father’s wallet that morning. I fully expected him to return any moment from the drinks joint, hurling accusations at everyone. The punishment for theft couldn’t differ much from what I endured simply for existing. Four fifty-naira notes, plus a twenty. S.W.A.T.-style, I made a sweep of the house and noted everyone’s positions, before stealing outside to liaise with our gateman. I handed him the cash with instructions, and sent him on his way.
Back in the kitchen, I put the kettle on. Everything went down better with tea, no exceptions. This time though, I wouldn’t need much. I poured just half a cup—an outrage in my family of tea-guzzlers. As it steeped, so did my scheme percolate in my mind. There wasn’t much to do though, I’d just run with it and see what happened. Soon there was a knock at the back door. With a curt “thank you”, I took the package from the gateman. I tried to shut the door but he stopped it with a foot (my heart sank briefly to my gut) and handed me something else. “Oh, there’s change? Keep it”. I’d no further use for it. After a quick peep to confirm the pack’s content, I locked the door and spun round to behold Chinny, my responsible elder sister. She stood five paces away, and I smelled a confrontation.
“What’re you doing?”
“Nothing. Just watching the gate while Ahmed went to buy his dinner. He’s back now so came to tell me.” I didn’t miss a beat. Having a lot of pranking experience, my acting was pretty good. It was the perfect lie, since it actually happened all the time. So why did she seem dubious? Maybe all the years of practical jokes had caused her to mistrust me.
“Oh, okay.” I could see the gears in her head turning. “Then what’s in the bag?”
“Well I just…” Not so smooth anymore. “Some things Mum sent for.” Another semi-believable lie, but even I knew I was reaching. Mum had been in bed for hours, sleeping away her latest encounter.
I was going to blow past her and away to my room, when she very slowly walked up, took the bag from me and peered inside. She had on the “I’m-older-so-don’t-dare-challenge-me” face. Be cool, act normal, I thought. Fighting for it was only going to arouse suspicion. You can talk your way out of this.
But Chinny said nothing, only marched upstairs, taking the bag with her. Crap!
(To be continued)