I remember how, weeks before that day, I had suffered sleepless nights trying to summon courage to pen my thoughts. My father would receive the letter, as I later heard, in the company of his friends where he also chose to read aloud the carefully sealed letter from the first fruit of his loins.
The letter read:
******************Home had become war zone. Shouting bouts and words match. My father would rain “thick” abuses and my mother would retaliate with heavier insults. Wanting to remain unscathed, she would add some good measure of jeering and name-calling of all his ancestors, clapping her hands in demonstration. Sometimes it was funny to watch because, hours before the verbal onslaught, my father would proudly parade my mother to the envy of his friends; praising her culinary skills to the hearing of all that were near. He would even invite neighbors three houses down the street to come sit and merry on the current feast.
Father was such a talker. He would at every gathering recount how he chased my mother while teaching at Townsville Grammar School, somewhere on the outer border of Ijaiye in Abeokuta. “She was just a little downtown girl,” he would say…” but a very beautiful one as you all can attest to”.
“Folake,” my father bellowed, “Isn’t the egusi and eba ready to be served? My jolly friends are salivating already”.
“I am about serving my king,” she called out in response
“Salewa, come quickly. Carry these basins of water to your father and his friends. Be careful to set them properly on the wooden stools without spilling,” my mother warned, handing over the large tray to me.
As soon as father saw me approach them in the veranda, he reached for his belt buckle to release the pent-up space in readiness for the heavy sumptuous meal that was soon to follow. Bowing my head and slightly bending my knees as was customary, I set the four bowls on the stools as directed; one wash-hand basin for each man.
From the kitchen, while we washed the pots and other cooking utensils, I heard my father belch aloud. I could almost picture him rubbing his rotund belly and imagined Baba Wale, our neighbor who lived in the same compound with us doing same – he strived to follow my father’s every step. The meals always turned out good as in truth my 'mother could cook for Africa' and this meal was no exception. My father even held her in his arms for a while, playfully pushing aside her wrapper to gain thigh access while his head rested on her ample bosom as a sign of satisfaction and appreciation.
It was a big surprise then later that night when things took an ugly turn as my father threw the carefully hidden cutlass saved for armed-robbers at my mother. I had thought this fight would end in their usual five-minutes-verbal-sparring but no, the witches on duty that night had fiercer powers. That was the beginning of my nightmares. In the dead of the night, my two sisters and I huddled in one corner of the parlor praying to God that Baba Wale would come to mother’s rescue. Baba Wale never came. We crouched in the corner scared of father’s fury and unable to save mother from that burning fury. That night he beat her black and blue. The cause? I’ll never know till this day.
Father would go on to play romance in the day, throwing effusive praises on mother and become a beast at night. One would think a certain demon had been unleashed from the deepest part of hell! To the beatings he added drinking to stupor. Weekends when my own friend came around to study with me, he would come in, in his drunken state ordering me to get his shoes put aside and his toes s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d, according to him.
“Salewa, come here you good-for-nothing daughter of this illiterate poor excuse of a wife,” he would say, “take these shoes inside for me before I spank you. How dare you look to my face you little filth?”
Embarrassed at the turn of things I discouraged my friend from visiting. Too ashamed to keep my head high in school, I pleaded for transfer to another school through one of my teachers. He had spoken to my father to allow me enroll in another school out of town on the basis that the school rated high in the West African Examination Council state performance. There I was to spend 3 terms and live in the midst of other boys and girls. There I would come to see and hear how glowingly they spoke of their daddies. There I would also read and learn all the big grammar I could use as weapon to break my father’s spirit, or so I thought.
Dear Father, I had written.
With a thumping heart and trembling hands, I find the courage to write you. You are not the father I know or thought I knew. You are far from the father I hoped for – something really gigantically drastic has changed inside of you. I watch my classmates and listen to how they converse freely about their fathers, without loathe. Dread fills me every time one of them turns in my direction to hear me talk. What good thing is there to say about you truly? What imitable, enviable characters do you portray worthy enough to be shared?? How you display your manliness hitting your own wife and spewing venom? How you parade the joints leaving stench in your wake? The devious father, who cleverly disguises his ferocious fangs in the day only to unleash wicked words in the nighttime? Only a weak-willed man instills fear in another, not to talk of his own blood; children at impressionable age. You, dear father, are the hideous creature of pure disgrace. You have morphed into this beast-like form; a killer of joy and respect and I dare to pronounce to the entire world, YOU ARE EVIL!
“If this is what they teach you in school Salewa, to humiliate your elders especially your father, I will show you today”. He had dragged me by the ears, pulling my lips as if to destroy my wayward mouth, pushing me into the back seat of his Peugeot 504.
That night, I caught a full view of heaven and hell only I wasn’t allowed in, in either of them.
All pleas to let me return to school fell on deaf ears. His most beloved brother and a few other relatives had tried, hammering on how I am but a child, still he would not budge. I was so close to starting my Biology practicals but father was adamant on my punishment – I was to live with and care for his mother, my grandmother who suffered chronic arthritis and bed sore.
My mother would come to hate me because somehow my foolishness and boldness had toppled the state of things in the house. The issue had weighed heavily on father's mind, he almost sent her packing.
But then we would come to sit together again, each taking responsibilities for grave human errors that could have been easily avoided.
Writer’s note - I missed my deadline. Happy Fathers’ Day nonetheless.
'Mother could cook for Africa' - This slang is Nigerian depicting how vast and adept one is at doing things. Any verb will suffice in place of cook.
Image source - Silhouette Design Store