I walked for a while and stopped to see if the other boys were coming along. They were, but at a slower pace; we were age mates but they all looked much older. At sixteen; I was narrow-chested and lanky unlike my peers who were broad-chested and huge. I walked on by myself, through the dusty road, past houses covered in fine clay dust. On getting to the entrance to my compound, everywhere was quiet, no one was in sight but for bingo snoozing and wagging his tail under the udala tree.
As I neared my mother’s door, I heard them.
“Be quiet!” he growled.
My mother pleaded to be spared, but he hit her. I heard the thuds and slap sounds mixed in with his growls and other funny noises. I did not go in to see what happened in there, I never did. It had occurred on several occasions, after which my mother would emerge from her room a ghost of herself, most times with her clothes torn. The first time I tried to challenge Uncle Ejike about his fights with my mother, I received a slap that sent me sprawling on the ground. After the stars had disappeared, I lay there thinking of what to do. All that flashed through my mind were images of my late father calling me a weakling, scolding me for getting beat up in a fight. “No son of Dike can ever be a weakling,” he always said.
As the noise grew louder, my mother’s pleas sounded more agitated. I was the true son of Dike, but the memory of that slap stood between me and the door like a Royal sentry. Afraid and confused, I turned and ran as far as my legs could carry me. It wasn’t until I arrived at my late father’s grave that I realized my destination.
“Papa, it has happened again”, I blurted out in tears as if he was physically present. “I could not protect Mama. Your son, the weakling has not become strong yet and Uncle Ejike keeps beating your wife. They say that spirits fight for their loved ones, please come and help us.”
I laid on his grave and wept, until the tears caked with the red earth and the sun began to set. I returned home late in the evening, ate my meal of garri and bitter leaf soup and went to bed with a heavy heart.
Things returned to normal the next day; perhaps Papa had listened to his ‘weakling’ son. Then I returned from Umummiri, our village stream, and heard them again. The same noises; his growls punctuated by thuds and my mother’s pleas. Perhaps it was my visit to Papa’s grave, perhaps it was foolishness, or maybe I was tired of being called ‘weakling’, but I walked up to my mother’s door and knocked on the door.
“Mama!” I yelled.
“Get away from there,” was the response I got. The growls and thuds resumed almost immediately. I peered through the door hole but could see nothing. So I moved back and with all the strength my small frame could muster, I rammed into the door and it gave way. The scene that accosted me was of both of them jostling to cover themselves with wrappers. Uncle Ejike stared at me, the disgust stark in his bloodshot eyes. I was small and wiry but I was not a naïve kid; realization hit me in the guts and without giving it a thought, I rushed at the monster with clenched fists. I received a strong punch that let the blood out of the sides of my lips. I geared forward again, ramming my head into his pot belly but it seemed his stomach was elastic; I crashed to the floor.
“Run, Emma,” my mother screamed, “Run!” I did not want to run but the panic in her voice sapped me of the last dregs of my insane fury. And I ran.
I ran for many years. Just returned today. I push the gate open and walk into my compound. Everything seems the same, except that Bingo is not under the udala tree. The tree has also grown succulent fruits and the breeze fluttering its leaves is moist.
I head straight for the door and it is as if I have been transported back in time – the growls, thuds greet me but I cannot hear Mama’s pleas. I knock and the same growling voice thunders, “who is that?” I keep quiet and knock a second time, hear the door bolt pulled back and he comes out. “Can I help you?”
I throw punches at his jaw and nose, pull him up and land a head butt on his mouth before dropping him to the floor. I dial a number on my mobile phone, listen and then say, “Sir, this is (Seargent Chika Dike) from Umuoke Headquarters, we have just apprehended a rapist and domestic abuse suspect. Bringing him in for questioning.” I listen for a while longer and terminate the call. I tie him up, hands and feet.
It is not my father’s spirit at work; I have taken control. I lift my mother and adjust her clothes. I see the recognition in her eyes and all I do in response is smile. “Who are you?” He asks from where he lays on the floor and for the first time, his voice isn’t a growl. I smile.
“The weakling,” I respond. His eyes light up with surprise and recognition. Just before he says another word, I gag him.