It rained hard and the storm was as worse as ever. Mama, Emmaline with Adora and I held still in a big ship but then, the ship began to tear apart, separating Adora and I from Mama and Emmaline and it sank just like the Titanic in the movies but it was worse because there was a raging tempest and it caused many to slide to the other end of the ship soon it became dark and I could barely see a thing, I couldn’t find Mama or Emmaline anywhere and my heart quivered. Just then I heard Mama scream for help, it was so loud that it frightened me. Mama screamed again and it sounded louder than before. I was still struggling on bed when I woke up abruptly from my nightmare, heart pounding, body drenched in perspiration. I sat up in bed, trembling. It took a few moments for my body to relax and my heart rate and breathing to slow. It rained hard that morning with rain pattering against the roof and windows. Mama’s voice came again and it sounded real this time.
“Papa please! Papa please!” I heard Emmaline’s voice in the background and Adora crying so loud.
At this point, I realized that the monster had descended on Mama again. In rage and fierce anger, I pulled out my little scissors from my mini drawer and ran out of the room, straight to the living room hoping to trample on Papa just as David did to Goliath but I was too late, Papa already left the house.
Mama lay curled up as content as a cat on the floor. She shivered as she cried and my eyes soon became moist. I fought tears but could barely hold it back. Emmaline sat close to her and so did Adora, sobbing uncontrollably.
“What happened?” I asked in a sad tone.
“Papa complained the food had no protein and when Mama spoke, he descended on her” Emmaline managed to answer.
“No protein? Like he releases a kobo for feeding in this house” I let out a loud cry and threw myself on the floor. I wished I were a boy, Papa wouldn’t have had his way but I wasn’t and couldn’t do anything about it.
Papa used to be loving and enormously caring not until Mama’s womb got damaged while giving birth to our baby brother who was unlucky to witness life at its peak. Mama was never going to conceive again and this made Papa pensive and bitter. Soon, Papa lost his job and position as a senior branch manager of a well known business enterprise and we were made to move out of our luxurious apartment which was part of the company’s asset, into a smaller and detached house.
In no time, Papa began to descend on Mama like she were a punching bag. He never appreciated her efforts. All he saw was hate and disappointment. He had always blamed Mama for being the cause of his misery and the reason why he suffered poverty and when he cursed, Mama kept still and quiet and all she ever did was stare at Papa with hot tears burning her fair cheek.
She was more of a slave to Papa than a wife and was never allowed to make suggestions or even talk when he did.
Yet I still struggled to imagine how Papa could change so much in a little period. It wasn’t Mama’s fault that she could never conceive again yet Papa chose to release his frustration on her.
I remember how much I fought for Papa’s love and how much I desired his attention but all I ever got weakened my love for him.
“Foolish child! You good for nothing just like your mother. At least it would have been better if you had taken after her beauty and then all I’d have to do is get you a rich suitor but Naaa! You’re nothing like her, your sisters are much better… Now get out of my sight!”
He had once said and it tore me apart, leaving me bereaved.
Even though Papa cared less for his children, he still managed to give little attention to Emmaline and Adora But to me? It was resentment, just like he did to Mama. Papa always said I looked nothing like him or Mama and he made it seem like I was not his child but Mama said I had her mothers face.
I had once asked Mama why she chose to marry Papa knowing how hardened and unloving he was but she never gave a better reason, yet I knew Mama was bereft of love.
“Your father is a good man and I know he’ll change some day”
“Some day! That man is a monster and you know it. He hates his own children and beats his wife. Who does that Mama!” I had yelled in rage releasing hate and resentment towards my father.
“Helga! He is your father and you must show respect. I know Benedict loves his children but he’s too proud to show it”
“It is not pride Mama, it’s hate. Papa hates us because we are female children. If you had given him a son I bet he’d have cherished him more” I said, fighting tears.
“Helga, you must learn to love your father no matter what. You are my first seed and the strength of my youth. Teach your sisters to love and not hate their father” Mama said, releasing tears. I hated watching her cry, it made me weak and sober.
I’d always thought Mama was too gullible and perhaps too weak to stand up for herself plus her strength was only tied to her total submission to Papa.
“Wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord and Husbands love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church.”
Pastor Matthew our district pastor once preached but Papa was never always in Church to listen to sermons. He said those who went to church were lazy and weak. So I guess the only one who ever practiced these scriptures more often was Mama.
She would wake up as early as four in the morning, prepare breakfast for Papa and us before resuming work at the hospital where she worked as a cleaner. Mama played both roles of father and mother as she was the one responsible for our education since Papa only cared less. He once made it clear to us that his only responsibility was a roof over our head and any other expenses like feeding, clothing and school fees was not his headache.
With Mama’s little income, we were able to attend school and still feed. Although she still did other petty business like baking cupcakes, donuts, meat pie, sausage rolls and bread and she sold them to retailers.
My siblings and I were always disappointed when Papa came home drunk and it frightened us especially Adora, our youngest. She was only nine and too tender hearted and all she ever did was cry each time Papa yelled at us. Emmaline who was only two years younger that I was sometimes joined me to defend Mama but we only ended up with bruises as Papa would beat us hard with his belt.
“That’s enough girls, you’d be late to school if you remained like this.” Mama said, almost sounding like nothing serious had just happened to her. She managed to lift herself up, leaping as she walked to the kitchen.
“Let me help Mama” I volunteered.
“Not now Helga, you and your sisters should hurry and take a quick bath or you’d be late for school, I’ll rush and make breakfast” she insisted.
“No buts Helga. Hurry, I wouldn’t want you girls suffering hard labour at school today.”
She cut off pieces of freshly baked bread. Slathering them with fresh honey, she placed them on a plastic tray which she had gotten as a souvenir at the jubilee feast held in our district church the previous year. She poured the hot Lipton tea she had made into our cups and shared us each a sachet of powdered milk to mix inside the tea. Mama watched as we ate every piece, having nothing to herself. Her eyes were red and swollen but she still smiled, pretending everything was okay. I helped to clear the dishes and hurried to school with Emmaline and Adora.
It was a long, cold, two-mile walk to school, and it rained most of July. We took with us an umbrella and clasped together as we walked, so the rain wouldn’t have to soak either of us.
As I sat in class, I paid less attention to the teaching. All that wandered my mind were thoughts of the early morning incident and the nightmare. I tried interpreting the dream but could not.
“Why did Adora and I have to separate from Mama and Emmaline?” I muttered to myself.
“Helga Benedict, maybe you should tell the class what you’re worried about. You are fourteen for goodness sake, what would a child your age be so worried about?”
Mrs. Maggie, our literature teacher drew back my attention.
“It’s nothing Ma, just the weather.” I lied.
Mama always taught us never to lie. She said those who lied were children of the devil and would have their own part of inheritance in the lake of fire. But I wasn’t just going to tell Mrs. Maggie and the entire class that Papa was a monster and Mama, his punching bag or the nightmare of us being separated on the sea. My conscience troubled but I was able to calm it down with a short prayer of mercy I made in my mind.
It was still raining when school let out. Adora felt damped to the skin despite the rain slicker and hat she had kept pulled down over her head. Mama had got them for her since she easily caught cold.
The evening had passed, making it three days since Papa left home and no one knew about his where about. I felt less concerned but Mama didn’t. She had stayed up all night hoping he’d walk through the door. She still loved him despite his unfairness. That night, there was a knock on the door and Emmaline opened. It was Papa. The whole house grew cold and the silence was broken only by the whir of the ceiling fan as it sliced through the still air.
“Welcome Papa!” all three of us greeted at the same time and it seemed like we had planned it. Mama was the last to greet. Her eyes were sad and worried. She was worried sick over Papa.
“Dear, I know you must be hungry. Let me hurry and prepare something for you; Helga, come along!” Mama started after him.
“I’m leaving tomorrow” He spoke finally.
I was curious. Where was Papa going? My eyes met with Emmaline’s and I knew she was bewildered too.
“Leaving? To where dear?”
“To the states and I won’t be back till I get my papers”
Red climbed up Mama’s neck into her face. She stared at Papa, looking befuddled. I bit my lip and looked between them.
“Benedict, you are abandoning your own family?” Tears ran down Mama’s cheek as she spoke.
“Be thankful I came home first. I would have traveled without your notice.”
“How did you save so much for a visa?” Mama was curious to know.
He said nothing and walked away from the living room into his room. Mama followed after him and I felt queasy hoping she wouldn’t stir up his raging tempest. They talked for a long time, their voices muffled. No more clashing swords, no more cannons firing. Only the low drone of two people talking out their differences. I felt relieved for awhile until I heard noise, something fell. Mama screamed and just then I realized Papa’s anger had been stirred up. I ran with full force into the room. Mama lay flat on the floor. He had pushed her, pulling out his belt to finish her up.
“No!” I shrieked. I sank to the floor and held Papa’s leg.
“Helga, have you suddenly lost your manners!” Papa asked.
“What is wrong with you?”
I lay on the floor, curled tight like a little cub seeking for attention from its mother.
“Get up! Let go of my legs!” I lay there, did nothing.
“Get up!” Papa said again.
I still did not move. He started to kick me. The metal buckles on his sandals hurt badly. He yelled nonstop, out of control. The kicking increased in tempo, I curled around his legs, tighter; I swore I won’t let go even if it meant Papa kicking me to death. I could hear Adora crying and Emmaline pleading for Papa to stop. The stinging was raw because the metal landed on open skin on my side, my back, my legs. I was getting dizzy and weak but managed to still hold on tight.
Perhaps it was a belt now because the metal buckle seemed too heavy. Because I could hear a swoosh in the air. A low voice was saying,
“Ben please, please dear! She’s only fourteen, please stop!, please!”
Papa cared less and he slapped this time. A salty wetness warmed my mouth. I closed my eyes and slipped away into quiet.
Stay tuned for the next episode 😘😘😘
A fiction by: #Chioma_J