We had the quintessential childhood—vacations when we wanted, we went to the best schools, had the most memorable outings. We really enjoyed, I and my sister. Our parents doted on us, and gave us all we wanted; well, there’s no gainsaying the fact that my family was rich. The only mar on my childhood experience was the day I ignited my sister’s hair while we were playing. My father gave me the flogging of my life, afterwards, I developed pyrophobia.
As with good things, it eventually came to an end. I was twelve then, so I barely understood what was going on then. It was harder for my sister, who was eight, to comprehend.
“Why are Daddy and Mommy fighting, Andy?” she usually asked, until she too understood that my family was going through a storm.
All I can say was that it started the day some men came and took Dad away. They were huge men, clad in black suits and wore black shades. None of them smiled, they had stony faces. They had taken Dad away in a police vehicle. I had asked Mom where they were taking Dad, as he was screaming and cursing when he was led out.
“Don’t worry honey, Daddy will be back soon,” she said, forcing a smile. I knew she was upset. The tension in her body was palpable.
“Is Daddy a bad man, Mommy?” my sister, ever honest, ever open, asked. She was never one to mince words.
“No, my dear. They just want to ask Daddy some questions,” my mom, promptly replied, quelling Ada’s fears.
In the end, it took two weeks for Daddy to return. He came back looking like a shadow of himself. He had grown tattered beards and his eyes were sunken. We never knew that we would never have our father back again.
After the coming of the men in black, everything changed. We got no more gifts, no more surprise packages. Whenever we asked for something, what we got was:
“There is no money.” My father said that so many times, that it became his mantra. And my mother grew bitter and very violent. She never seemed to have our time again. What a change, so swift! It was as if a magician waved his wand, and then poof! My perfect life was gone.
One day Daddy came home very late, dead drunk. My mother, who had been itching for a quarrel with him, pounced on him and was asking where he was coming back from. He did not reply as he staggered to his room (they had also, of late, started sleeping in separate rooms). But my mother gave him no rest. She pursued him, calling him a thief and a 419-er.
Then he slapped her. It was a resounding slap as we heard the echo of the slap from our room. My sister, who had already slept off, woke up looking terrified. I shushed her, and crept towards my father’s room. I stayed at the door, peeped in and saw my mom on the floor, her right hand to her face, and tears streaming down her cheeks. She stayed there for about two minutes, then she quietly stood up to leave.
I then scurried back to our room. I never told Ada what I saw; I lied to her, telling her that a bottle fell from Daddy’s table.
I later gleaned that those men were from the EFCC, my father was involved in some fraudulent business activities. Then he had to save his neck by using all his money to bribe his way out. After that, he had gotten very despondent, drinking himself to stupor.
Even our school had to be changed as the main source of income had dried up. We were now sent to a public school, where we had a tough time acclimatizing. I was called ‘biscuit bone’—I wasn’t physically strong and imposing—and was constantly bullied. My sister was luckier, within a few months, she made friends and belonged.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse at the home front, they did. It was something that, at fourteen, I had the vaguest idea about. And it was happening to my family. My parents had called the both of us to the living room. From the way they were poised, I sensed a cold war between them. Now we would be in the crossfire. I sat with my sister on the other armchair while my parents both stood, looking down at us and occasionally shooting hateful glances at each other.
They were quiet for a long time, till my mother blurted out, “We are getting divorced.”
Divorce, I knew about that. Wasn’t that when two married people decided to stop being married? And they wanted that? Why?
“Mommy, why are you divorcing?” Ada asked.
“Sweetie,” my father began, crouching and cupping my sister’s face, “there are times when parents—people who are married—cannot continue to live together because of some unfortunate circumstances.”
“What circumstances?” I asked, “And what about us?” I pointed to my sister and I.
“Andy, these things are complicated, they’re hard to explain.” My mother was fumbling for words. But the most disappointing fact was that neither of them showed any remorse, their minds were made up.
In the end, they divorced. We got stay with our father, since my mother claimed she couldn’t cater for us. She had promised to visit regularly, but till today, we hadn’t seen her. She simply vanished from our lives—our golden mother.
Life with only our Dad soon became a jungle, you had to have your wits about you to survive. In a flash, he had started seeing us as the cause of his downfall, and consequent upon that, he trashed us very well. It now came down to either growing a thick skin, dodging his blows, or being entirely invisible. We mastered the three.
Soon also, we stopped schooling. So, we had to find ways of surviving. We started odd jobs—mine was bricklaying and the occasional bus conductor, my sister’s was being an apprentice seamstress. The rough days had arrived.
The day we finally left home, it was because my father had brought a woman, who he said was to be his new wife and our new mother. She was a huge woman with even bigger bosom and a very faint voice. She was fair, and very irritable, at least to the both of us. With Dad, she was all-loving and attentive. She sent my sister on an errand, but Ada forgot. When Felicia (we never could get to calling her ‘mother’) returned, she had used a pestle on her, cracking her skull. I was enraged and lunged at her, punching and kicking her.
I took my sister to a local pharmacy where her wound was sutured. Dad came back, and without asking for our own side of the story, asked us to make sure we left nothing of ours in his house while leaving. Where would we go to? Our time alone had started.
Now, at twenty-five years, I had seen all life had to offer. I own a mini transport company, and my sister now runs a boutique. Our life was shaping up to be a better one than it looked like years ago. As I pull into our rented apartment, my phone rings. It was an unknown caller.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello, is this Andy Chukwuma?” the voice was that of someone I could never forget.
“Your father is seriously ill and wants to see you and your sister. Can you please come?”
My next action surprised me. I ended the call. When Ada came back, I informed her of Felicia’s call, and my subsequent action. She was ambivalent, wanting to pay them back and also being hit by the pangs of love we had for our parents. Later, she said we should not heed her. “Maybe they had gotten wind that we were now a little bit successful and wanted a cut.”
But one week later, we got a call from someone we never expected to hear from again. My mother. She also mentioned the same thing—my father’s illness and his desire to see us. She pleaded with us to at least, come before making any conclusions. What should we have done? Our parents had called us, and we had to answer.
“I’m deeply sorry my children,” my father said. He was looking gaunt and hollow. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had months left. “I never wanted things to turn out the way they did.”
“What really happened, Dad?” Ada asked. She was more affected by his present state than I was.
“It was a mistake on my part that jump-started the whole cascade of events. I and two of my friends were involved in a shady deal concerning some government contracts. We were to build a new shopping mall, but we circumvented the whole process and used cheap materials in doing the job. We were found out after one of us confessed and then my life went downhill. I used ten million naira to pull myself out of the mess and was left with nothing.”
“But was that the reason both of you divorced? I asked, darting a look at my mother. She was squirming in her seat. I guess this was where she came in.
“No, my child,” my mother started, “it wasn’t the only reason. I was at fault. I was embittered by how the family’s finances looked, and so I started to sleep around. One day, your father’s friend saw me with a man inside his car and videoed me kissing him. That was what crashed my marriage with your father.”
After all these years, I finally know what destroyed my impeccable family. Two wrongs, from both parents. It was such a tragedy that we got to know because of my father’s ailment.
I guess I had to count my blessings. I and my sister didn’t turn out to be useless people, and in the end, we got to have our parents back, even though it wasn’t as it used to be. My mother never remarried but with my father’s marriage to Felicia, we now had two mothers and a dying father.
Three months later, my father gave up the ghost. It wasn’t such a big blow. We had decided to repair the damages in our family, so we are now living with our mother. Felicia went back to her village, to her people; may she find luck.
Ah! What a life. I pray nothing tears us apart again.