“I did it for you.” She said; but she never asked me if it was what I wanted.
I could feel my husband’s eyes boring holes into the right side of my head but I did not care. I would answer his questions once they left, but not a second sooner.
I kept my gaze on Osato, my immediate elder sister. She shifted uncomfortably where she sat as she made eye contact, averted her eyes, made eye contact again, and averted her eyes once more.
“Look Isoken; irregardless of how you feel about us, she was still our mother, your mother.” Osahon said.
It was his third attempt at trying to convince me to change my mind.
I considered telling him “irregardless” was not a word. Not because I cared to help him improve his grammar, but because I wanted to yank him off the pedestal he put himself on.
He fancied himself the family spokesperson. He was the first son, and he believed that entitled him to the role of head of the Momodu family. Well, second in command, as the man who he was a spitting image of still held the title.
“Are you even listening to me?” He barked.
I shifted my gaze to him. “I am sitting right here, there is no need to shout.”
“All we are saying,” Esohe began, “is that no matter what happened in the past, she was still our mother.”
The ever-so-vocal last born who never took sides and never stood for anything. We had been close once. In fact she was more or less my best friend; but when I needed her, she played neutral.
It broke my heart.
“I am not refuting the fact that she gave me life, and I am more than happy to contribute to the funeral expenses; but I will not be present at the funeral.” I ended, my tone firm.
“And why is that?” Osahon bellowed. “What was it she did that was so wrong that makes her deserve this treatment from you? She suffered for us and now she is dead and you don’t want to be involved?”
“I did not say that. I said I will contribute-”
“This is not about the money!” Osahon screamed, standing up.
Instinctively, my husband stood up too. If the situation were not tense, I would have kissed him for it. He may probably never understand how much that meant to me.
“Osahon, calm down.” My husband said, allowing empathy rise above his need to protect.
“How can I be calm James? Can you hear your wife? She is saying she will not attend her own mother’s funeral! Her own mother!”
My husband glanced over at me, a plea in his eyes but I was not looking at him. I was staring past him.
The woman did indeed birth me, but she stopped being my mother a long time ago.
“Isoken! Isoken no try me. No try me!” My father shouted, advancing towards me tentatively.
My mother was on the ground behind me, bruised and bleeding. This time his hands had not been enough, he had smashed a vase on her head.
The sound of metal on concrete had Esohe jumping backwards where she stood mid-way between my father and I.
When I was done drawing a line on the floor, I planted my feet firmly behind it.
“If you know say dem born you well papa, cross this line. Cross am make I see whether one of us no go die today.”
I was sixteen, but you could not tell from the wild look in my eyes and the way I brandished the cutlass with the expertise of a seasoned executioner.
I felt the warm liquid drip down my left arm from where he had sliced through with a piece of the broken vase, but I could not risk losing eye contact.
The man was swift, and even though anger had given me strength I did not know I had, I was aware that he could overpower me in a matter of minutes if he got the chance.
I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eyes.
“Bro Osahon no try am!” I spat, turning to a forty-five degree angle so I could have both my father and my only brother in my sights. I could not believe that even after everything our father had put our mother through, Osahon could still be controlled by him.
“Isoken drop the cutlass. Ah-ahn! You wan kill papa?” He asked, trying to sound controlled even though his voice shook.
“I no go drop am oh, I no go drop am. If una wan kill me, make una just kill me now. Instead make you hol papa, you dey there dey tok nonsense!”
“Ehn okay so you wan kill papa?” He asked, obviously angered by my insinuation.
“You wan make im kill mama?” I fired back.
He opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it again. I could see the inner turmoil but it only made me angrier. It was a no-brainer; yet here he was, struggling with what to do.
“Osahon! Wetin you stand there dey do? Collect that cutlass!” Father ordered.
Osahon looked confused, darting his head back and forth between our father and me.
He inched towards me, but this time he pleaded. “Isoken abeg, just drop the cutlass.”
“Osahon I swear.” I slammed the cutlass on the ground, brought it to my tongue, and then thrust it in the air for emphasis. “I swear if you try am…”
Osahon stopped in his tracks as it dawned on him that I was prepared to die rather than stand down.
“This girl, e be like say you don crase oh.” My father shouted, shocked by my gesture.
“I don crase oh. I don crase well. Na that same crase wey dey your blood, na im dey my blood.”
Suddenly, the gate flung open and the landlord appeared; accompanied by his wife and two policemen. Osato followed shortly after.
I was grateful somebody had the common sense to call for help.
As soon as I saw that my father had been subdued by the policemen, I flung the cutlass aside and rushed to my mother.
I tore off what was left of my left sleeve, and wrapped it around her bleeding head, and then cradled her to my chest while I barked orders for my siblings to pack up some toiletries and essentials.
It was not my mother’s first visit to the hospital; I already knew what she would need. Osahon and I carried her to the landlord’s car. I ran back into the compound to grab the bag from Esohe, instructed her to take pictures of the blood and broken vase. This time, he was not going to get away with it.
My mother spent five days in the hospital, and from the moment she could speak coherently, she was asking for my father and scolding us for throwing him in jail. After three days of trying to explain to her why her life was more valuable than any allegiance she felt she owed to her husband, I lost my cool.
“He beat you to a bloody pulp. What did you expect us to do? Just stand there and watch?” I exploded.
“He is not a bad man, he just has a bad temper.” She said, then winced from the effort. Her head still throbbed badly.
“Mama, you have used that excuse since you married him. He beats you every chance he gets and you keep using that excuse.”
“That is no reason to throw him in jail, he is still your father!” She said, a little too defensively.
“And he tried to kill my mother!” I fired back.
“I know, and for that, I cannot live with him anymore but he does not deserve to be in jail.”
“He deserves worse.” I muttered under my breath.
I could have said it out loud but I saw that the mere act of speaking was a struggle for her.
“You need to rest mama.” I finally let out.
The day my mother got discharged, she went straight to the landlord and begged him to help her secure my father’s release. She assured the landlord that she was leaving him, but could not stomach him rotting away in a jail cell.
We moved out of the house that day. The landlord was kind enough to allow us squat in his boys quarters.
Two days after my father’s release, he came barging into the landlord’s compound demanding his wife and kids. He knew better than to make trouble but he made it clear to the landlord that he will sue him if he insisted on “kidnapping” his wife and kids.
He offered my mother a half-hearted apology, and asked my siblings and I to follow him home.
When our eyes locked, there was nothing remorseful, kind, or loving there. I did not even have to speak. He knew I would not follow him; but Osahon and Osato did. Esohe and I stayed with my mum.
My mother barely got any sleep that night. By the next morning, she sat us down and tried to explain why we needed to go back home.
“Mama, you must be joking!” I yelled.
“You won’t understand. You are not the one that has to live with the shame. He said he was sorry and I do not want a broken home.”
“But you are content with a broken head?”
“Isoken!” Esohe scolded.
I glared at her. She looked away.
“He said he was sorry Isoken; don’t you know how to forgive?” My mother tried again.
“How many times Mama? There was a time he used to always say he was sorry, and you would forgive him. Now he doesn’t bother anymore and you are still forgiving him!”
“You were there nau, he said he was sorry this time. I think he has changed.”
“He tried to kill you mama!” I exclaimed.
“Stop talking rubbish. Am I dead? He just got a little agitated because I provoked him-”
“Are you even listening to yourself?” I snapped.
“Watch your tone Isoken!” She warned.
I opened my mouth and shut it again, shaking my head in disbelief.
“Look,” she sighed. “I am not happy with what he did; but he has apologised and I don’t want my family to be divided. I mean look at how we are living? Squatting in a boys quarters when we have our own home? Your sister and brother living separately from us?”
“Esohe, can you please talk some sense into your mother?” I said, exasperated.
“I don’t know Isoken…I miss Osahon and Osato. I don’t want us to grow up in separate homes.”
I spun around. “Esohe! Have you forgotten so soon what went down less than two weeks ago? We can’t possibly be a family as long as we have that man under the same roof!”
“Isoken!” My mother screamed in shock. “Don’t speak about your father like that.”
“He said he was sorry.” Esohe repeated, her voice quieter like she was trying to convince herself of it.
“I can’t believe you. Either of you!”
I stormed out of the room.
The next day, we packed our things and I stood by the landlord’s gate as I watched him ask my mother over and over again if she was sure she this was what she wanted. He even told her she was welcome to live rent-free in his BQ until she could stand on her own two feet.
None of it worked. By the time my mum had said the third “what will people say?” I walked out of the compound to keep from yelling at her.
On arriving at the house, I trailed behind my mum and Esohe as we entered into the compound.
It was quiet; all traces of the incident gone. Compound swept clean, blood scrubbed off. It looked almost serene…almost.
My father came out of the house, arms folded and leaned on the door.
“Good afternoon papa.” Esohe let out.
He nodded in response, then released an arm; gesturing for her to come to him.
She took slow steps at first. When she saw his features relax, she quickened her steps and ran into his waiting arm.
He kept his eyes on my mother, his cold eyes watching her every move as she took slow steps, gripping her travelling bag tightly.
She kept her head low. Once she made it to where he stood, he stepped aside and she opened the door to the house and walked in.
I took one more step closer to the house and caught a movement out of the corner of my eyes.
Osato emerged from the backyard, holding a basin of dirty clothes.
I started to smile then I noticed she had a limp.
She dropped the basin upon seeing me, ran up to me and wrapped her arms around me tightly. I had not realised how much I had missed her. I dropped my bag and held onto her and wept.
As I slid my hand down her back in a bid to pull away from the embrace, I felt something. They were shaped like ridges, as though she was wearing a patterned embossed blouse, only she was not.
I went still.
I spun her around so quickly she almost fell, lifted up her blouse and stared in horror at the whip marks that defaced her beautiful caramel skin. No doubt punishment for calling for help; help that led to his arrest.
She yanked her blouse down and averted her eyes, but it was clear she was upset with me. I could have apologised if I did not see Osahon walk out of the house, a black swollen eye distorting his handsome features. His beating was likely for not being able to subdue me.
“Come inside and close the gate.” My father said in a firm tone.
I looked at all my siblings, one after another; my eyes coming to rest on Esohe’s face – which was a mixture of fear and…hope? How could hope even be an option after what she just witnessed?
“No!” I said firmly, picking up my bag and retreating back towards the gate.
“See Isoken, I no get power abeg. Close gate, enter house.” Osahon said, sounding like he had aged two decades in only two days.
“Ah-ahn, you are still there?” My mother said, emerging from the house and noticing I was still standing near the gate..
“Come with me.” I whispered to Osato.
Esohe had a little defiance in her, and would likely survive it all. Osahon would be going off to University soon and that would be his escape; but Osato. Mousy, quiet, non-confrontational Osato would probably get the brunt of our father’s madness. Second to our mother of course.
“Please!” I begged, taking another step backwards.
“Where would we go?” She whispered back, her eyes welling up again.
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll figure something out. Anywhere but here.”
My back now rested on the gate. I had taken my eyes away from my father so long that I had not seen him gesture to Osahon to block the gate.
I saw Osahon a little too late. I spun around and reached for the gate but he yanked me back by my backpack, the force throwing the gate wide open. I stumbled, regained my footing and pulled forward as hard as I could, trying to get out of the gate.
I heard quickened footsteps and looked back just in time to see my father, rushing towards us. His eyes promising torture befitting of a hardened criminal.
In that moment I knew that if I let the gate close with me inside of it, I would not live to see the next dawn.
I twisted my body to the left. My backpack came free of my left shoulder and Osahon stumbled backwards just as I twisted to the right, freeing myself of the backpack entirely.
I ran and did not look back.
I ran all the way to the landlord’s home, knelt before he and his wife and begged for sanctuary. I offered myself as their housemaid and promised not to bring them any trouble. All I asked in return was shelter until I could complete my secondary school. After which I would find some kind of job to support myself and move out.
They offered me a home, changed my school after my father tried to kidnap me twice and paid for the new school. They also paid for my Bachelors and Masters degrees, and helped me secure a job after graduation. I owed them my life and never took any of it for granted. They became the parents I knew.
I tried to keep in touch with my sisters through the years. Osato was too scared to sneak out so she sent letters through Esohe. As I suspected, the abuse had continued.
From Osato’s letters, I learnt that our mother got beaten whenever he was in a foul mood, or whenever any of the children rebelled against him. Every time the police was called, our mother would plead and insist she did not want to press charges.
It got worse after the landlord evicted the family. The landlord explained that he had to because he did not want any death on his property, and I could not blame him.
They had to move to a smaller house and father absolutely hated it. He blamed mother and accused her of sleeping with the landlord while she resided in his boys quarters. He said the landlord evicted him out of jealousy because he wanted mother back. He called her a whore and constantly humiliated her in the presence of others. With Osahon gone, Osato and Esohe were at our father’s mercy. If they rebelled or tried to alert anybody, Mummy got beaten some more. If they tried to fight him off when he hit her, they got beaten too.
They felt helpless.
I tried to convince them to run away from home but they refused. Osato’s excuse was that landlord would not be able to accommodate her as well, even though I tried to convince her otherwise. Esohe’s excuse was that she could not leave mother at father’s mercy, and I believed her. What’s worse, the neighbors in the new abode believed family matters were none of their business, which made it easier for my father.
Unable to bear it anymore, I suggested we come up with a plan to get our father out of the picture for good. My suggestion was to frame him for a crime that would send him to prison for many years – hopefully until my sisters were older and out of the house.
To my surprise, Esohe refused to be a part of it. She was content to bide her time until she and Osato were off to University – a response that shocked and utterly floored me.
It was then that I realised that as much as Esohe talked a big game, she was more content to make do with the status quo until she was away from the house. It was not only cowardly, but selfish.
After that, my relationship with Esohe suffered and we gradually grew out of touch. As much as her actions deeply disappointed me, I did not hold it against her because I realised that there was one common denominator in this vicious cycle – my mother.
“You will not understand.” She had said to me. How was I supposed to understand a woman choosing to remain in hell? Even if I could wrap my brain around it, how was I supposed to understand a mother forcing her children to live in the same hell?
Were mothers not the ultimate protectors? Did mothers not fight tooth and nail to provide a safe environment for their children? Why was mine different?
I was not even angry that she abandoned me. She hid behind the excuse that my father forbade her to have anything to do with me and it hurt, but I could live with it. What I could not stomach was her decision to keep my siblings in a toxic situation all in the name of ‘keeping the family together’.
The resentment started like a seedling, and by the time I was wrapping up my bachelor’s degree, it was a full-blown tree with roots so deep they were impossible to uproot.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Osato finally said, tired of avoiding my stares.
I ran my hand along the scar on my left hand and smiled. “How are you?” I asked.
“Em…fine.” She responded, then looked around the room, wondering if she was the only one perplexed by my question.
“Why are you so rude Isoken?” Osahon asked, the anger resurfacing. “We are discussing something serious and you are asking how Osato is. What sort of nonsense is that?”
“Osahon, calm down-” My husband began.
“It’s okay dear.” I said calmly, tapping him lightly on his left arm.
“Brother Osahon. I don’t want to waste your time, or anybody else’s. This is not me being difficult, this is me being straightforward with you. There is no force on this earth that will make me attend that funeral. Like I said, I will be happy to contribute my portion towards the funeral arrangements, but I will not be present at the ceremony.”
I stood up.
“And before you launch into some self-righteous speech, I think you should spend more time advocating for the living, than the dead. If the uncharacteristic application of make-up is not a dead giveaway, then you should have at least noticed the bruising on Osato’s arms. When you are ready to discuss how we can teach her bastard of a husband a lesson, let me know. Otherwise, the next funeral we will be discussing will be hers.”
“It was good to see you again, all of you.” I said, meaning it.
I excused myself and walked away.