I pushed up my nose in scornful resentment as Papa was handed a microphone in church to bless the offering. James, my eight years old brother hissed as well, and it was loud enough to welcome some gazes. Some of the old women sitting beside us stared at us, in a way that told us we were spoilt brats, but we knew they would not understand, even if we tried to explain, how our dad, who is everyone’s hero outside the home, have turned our mother into a punching bag for the past two years. “If I have the chance, I’ll remove my offering from that basket” I said, as I couldn’t stand watching Papa who just ended an early morning wrestling bout with Mama pray over an offering. He was an Elder, but not to us his children, who all our lives have watched and seen him in his craziest rage. James passed me a note, it was rumpled and the words in it were hard to decipher because of his blunt pencil. “I am not going home after church”. I read the note and threw it in the bin beside me. Papa was approaching and not paying attention to the priest’s sermon will attract a knock, so I focused so hard till it was obvious I wasn’t listening.
“Where is your mother?” the head of the Mother’s Union asked after service. “She’s sick” I said at the same time Papa said “She traveled”. Our eyes met and I knew I was in for trouble. “You don’t have sense!” He shouted back at me after he tried his best convincing the poor woman that mum travelled. The walk home was a long one; James had sneaked out before closing time and it was awkward walking with dad alone. I summoned up courage to start a conversation. “Papa” I stuttered, “why was mum shouting this morning”. “She fell” he was quick to answer. “How?” I queried, not minding if he wanted to prolong the conversation or not. “Are you asking me how your mother fell? When you get home ask her!” He shouted back with a stern look.
I remembered those days when he was so nice and treated us with extra care, and I often wondered what happened to him over the years. He was looking twice his age and his hair was greying with speed. We used to look forward to incentives for every little errand, and his warm hugs after work while we struggle for his briefcase were comforting. He was very respectable and we were very proud of him. When Papa lost his job at the glass industry, he lost his good heart as well. For about two months, his savings and the hope for a new job kept us fine, until poverty gripped us harder. Proceeds from Mama’s roasted corn couldn’t do much, and so constant nagging and fight began. The first time it happened, James was five, and he miraculously survived being dropped from a storey building. Mama explained to me that his anger was like that of a dragon, but has been managed for a long time; she thought he was over it.
As we made our way past the street market very close to our house, he coughed and said “Where is James?” He probably did not notice the whole time that his only son was not with him. “I don’t know” I responded. “Did he say he was going anywhere?” “No Papa”. I said deliberately to see how much he cared. He silently walked on. We approached our house, which we shared with co-tenants, and saw a small crowd at the door with a disturbing look. I hurried down and Papa walked behind me too. “What is happening here” he asked, his eyes seriously begging for answers. Aunty Cecilia, my mum’s younger sister came out of our room and told everyone “She lost her baby and she is still unconscious” “Which baby?” Papa shouted. “Your wife was pregnant and you couldn’t just spare her some beating” she said in a very rude way. Papa dashed inside the house and dashed outside, betraying his manliness and seriously struggling to fight back tears.
“What have I done!” he said as he sat on bare floor. He pulled me to his side and I felt the long lost fatherly warmth his hands had to offer. James walked right in; he was surprised to see people in front of our door. I followed him, breaking out of Papa’s grip. “Has he killed my mum” he asked as he made his way to the room and placed his head on mum’s body. He felt a movement and looked up. Mama was awake. We were both excited. She smiled, gave me a pat on the back, held out her hand to James and said, “Your dad used to be a good man you know…” We both nodded in agreement as she continued. “But he is the perfect example of who you should never grow up to be like, promise me you won’t”. James nodded his head silently, hoping to run out and tell others mum was conscious, until he looked back and noticed her eyes were closed again. “Mama!” we shouted. Everyone rushed in except dad. “She’s dead!” one of the women said, throwing her hands on her head. I ran to hold James, it was too tough for him to bear. “We will never cope” he said. “We will” I assured him as he fell on my laps and sobbed uncontrollably.
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