There were moments I had wanted death to swallow me. Moments I wished I had been nonexistent. But not this moment. This sad, sucrose-sweet life had cut me a thousand times. And more. I was never a happy person. Perhaps neither a happy baby too. My childhood was terrible, chunks of solitude and rejections here and there. On many occasions, my dad, a drunk, said to me, “I never asked for this,”—pointing at me—”but you came… with your sickness. Had to marry because you were growing in your mother.”
Once, my mum left me at a supermarket. She came back three hours later, said she was having a bad day. My mum was a sad woman. I must have inherited her sadness. The only time she was happy was when her only friend, Mrs. Ibrahim, this chubby woman who cried when she laughed, visited.
My parents were always traveling. Lagos today. Abuja tomorrow. When they were at home, they quarrelled a lot, Mum raining curses on him or throwing her high-heels at him, Dad calling her a prostitute. Because they were always fighting, the four of us were never in the same place. Either Rebecca, Mum and I, or Rebecca, Dad and I. Never the four of us. Mum took us to church on Sundays, the fun park on Christmas, Mr. Biggs on our birthdays, and Dad drove us to school.
I always prayed they leave the house so that it could be peaceful. But it was never peaceful, never felt like home. When they weren’t home, miss Seyi, the house help, took care of us. She was a small woman with a temper that broke into yells and insults if we went outside to play, or asked her to change the TV channel to a cartoon channel, and if she was having a bad day, she lashed our buttocks with her whip.
Only my room gave me peace. So I was always there, shunning the world sliding by outside my bedroom, studying my school books, reading Charles Dickens and J.D. Salinger, tucking away the rest of my childhood from my parents’ rejection, from their quarrels, from Seyi’s yells and whip.
The Audi slowed. The butt of a fresh cigarette was between Michael’s lips, lighter lighting the other end. Smoke spurted out. Cars dashed past us, vanishing beyond the horizon, where the sky rose into a stretch of blue and scattered clouds. A puff of smoke sailed towards me.
My silence scared me, for it would kill me. Like several occasions, I had chosen silence again. In boarding school, I once sat in class and watched three girls, who were my classmates, slap Rebecca. She was heading into my class to see me when one of the three girls standing by the door grabbed her wrist.
Couldn’t she greet? They asked her. And before she could answer them, each of their palms slammed against her cheek. Rebecca staggered, then held the door, before scurrying away. I wanted to stand up. I wanted to yell at those girls, but this was a boarding school. If I did, Rebecca would become a target. So I remained on my seat, updating my geography note.
Two days later, she grabbed my wrist as I was walking out of the dining hall. On her wrist was a small bandage. Those same girls had told her to frog-jump in the girls’ hostel, she said, and when she refused, they broke a tree branch and flogged her. She stared at me, perhaps waiting for me to act like a big brother to defend her.
“Sorry,” I said. “I will talk to them.”
But I never did. Rebecca kept telling me how they snatched her provisions, how they whipped her bareback, how they cursed her, yet I did nothing. My inaction vexed her. For a whole session, she shunned me. And gradually, we became strangers. Strangers tied by blood.