Sleepless night, cold rooms, loud silence, hanging questions. No one seems to know...
Things had never been the same ever since my father lost his job. The happy family which we once had began to tear apart bit by bits. The gay atmosphere meteorically turned estranged just like a dream.
Like every other normal family, my family, the Peters, was a nice one filled with loving members. My father used to be an accountant in a reputable bank while my mother owned a booming eatery. My family was always filled with elation and happiness. I was the only child of the family and I was nine years old. My parents loved me so much just as I did.
We had been leading our normal lives until my dad brought a retrenchment letter home. At first he wanted to hide it from us by pretending every early morning that he was going to work while he wasn’t. He was able to keep that up for just two weeks until my mum discovered the letter while cleaning their room. My mum was very angry that he tried to hide it from the family. She confronted him about it and that was how we found out that our big man had been sacked. The incident was a big blow to the family but not as big as what happened next.
When My mum discovered that dad had lost his job, she began to urge him to search for another job since he still had his certificates. My dad heeded to her advice but soon stopped after five weeks of unfruitful job hunt. He started to stay at home doing nothing just watching football on the television screen. Mum then became the breadwinner of the family. She, one day got fed up and scolded dad on his bad behavior of sitting at home and watching television.
That day was very hot as dad became angry. I was scared that they might start fighting so I ran to my room and shut the door. I threw the bed sheet over my head and closed my eyes I could still hear their voices faintly. Whenever they quarrelled, they used lots of invective words which I didn’t want to hear. My legs were shaking violently under the bed sheet.
Few minutes later, I heard the main door bang. I stood up quickly and walked to the window to see who it was that left. I saw my dad driving out of the compound in his car. I sighed and went back to the bed. My parents rarely quarrelled but whenever they did, it was always hot. My dad didn’t return until the next morning.
Days after the quarrel, my father changed. He left the house early in the morning and came back late in the night. I hardly saw him. I couldn’t understand why. It couldn’t be because of the quarrel. They have long settled their differences. They were always together joking around so dad couldn’t be angry with mum. I thought.
Whenever i got lucky to see my dad, he was always with a whitish substance and some drugs. Each time i questioned him about it, he told me they were drugs for stomach ache. I asked him if he had stomach ache and he said he did. I felt sorry for him. He continued taking the drugs and I wondered why the stomach ache refused to leave him.
One fateful day, i felt my stomach aching and luckily for me, my dad was around so I ran to him because I was hoping he would give me some of the medicines he had been taking but to my greatest surprise, he refused. Instead, he took me to a nearby pharmacy and bought some drugs for me. I asked him why he was being prodigal when he had countless of stomach ache drugs but he told me those drugs were for adults only.
I wasn’t skeptical about anything. I took the drugs and soon I became well but my dad continued taking his drugs. He wasn’t recovering from the illness. Those drugs must be fake. I thought. I even told him one day to throw away those drugs and get new ones from the pharmacy since he had been taking the drugs for almost a month but my father drew me closer to him and nuzzled my cheeks. My mum wasn’t aware of my dad’s everlasting stomach ache and my dad asked me not to tell her. He said she had many things on board and he wouldn’t like to stress her out with a minute problem. I saw reasons with him. Mum had been working extra hours because the family was depending on her only. I wouldn’t want to bother her with more burdens.
Some weeks later, My mum started complaining of someone stealing her money. She said she kept a sum of twenty thousand naira in her wardrobe and when she checked later, she couldn’t find it. It was so strange to me. Why would money be missing in the house? I wondered. I didn’t take it so who would have taken it? I told my mum that she might have misplaced it on her way from the eatery but she glared at me. We searched frantically for it to no avail.
My mother became very gloomy after losing that money. The same thing happened again and this time around my mum stopped bringing money home. She stopped at a bank each time she made a huge sale. it was disheartening to think that a thief was in the house. It was saddening. There was no more trust in the family.
When I thought all strange things were over, my dad stopped coming home. I said earlier that he often left the house early and returned late but this time around, he didn’t come back home. It was so strange and i was worried, so was my mum. She even picked a day to search for him. I wanted to go with her but she refused to take me along so I sat in the sitting room staring at the door. I fell asleep and when i woke up it was ten in the night. My mum hadn’t returned. My legs began to shake. I became restless so I paced around the house since sitting down was already tiresome to me.
The door opened and my mum walked in. She looked so tired and unhappy. I ran to give her a hug and she smiled wryly at me. I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water for her even without her asking. She thanked me and took a huge drink from the bottle of water.
I waited for her to finish drinking the water before I asked her the question that had been hanging in my heart through out the day. She smiled again at me and asked why I hadn’t gone to bed.
“I was waiting for you.” I replied. “Did you find dad?” I asked again as I held my legs to stop them from shaking. It was always like that whenever I was nervous about something. When I was two years old, my mum took me to a medical centre to take an injection against hepatitis and tetanus, my legs shook so much then that she had to hold them. That was when she discovered that my legs shook whenever I was nervous or scared.
“Not yet dear.” My mum replied. “I checked everywhere for him even his friends’ houses but none of them knew about his whereabout. I’m so frustrated. Your dad has been acting strange ever since he lost his job. He had been...”
“He must be in an hospital.” I cut in. I didn’t think my dad was to be blamed. He must have left to treat his stomach ache.
“Why did you think so?” My mum asked moving closer to me.
I bit my lower lips. Dad had asked me not to tell her but I couldn’t hide it anymore. “Dad had been taking drugs for stomach ache. It must have been an acute one because he had been taking the drugs everyday for a month now.”
My mum’s eyes widened. “What kind of drugs has he been taking?”
“I don’t know the name of the drugs but it’s a whitish substances wrapped in nylon. He said it was for stomach ache. I think we should check St Grace hospital, he might be there.” I told her. My eyes were already teary and fat drops of tears were threatening to drop.
My mum became still the moment I said that. She looked like she had just seen a ghost.
“Mum, are you okay?” I asked her but she shook her head.
“You said he had been taking these drugs for a month now right?” She asked me and I nodded. Immediately, my mother broke down in tears. I was horrified.
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier Mary? Why?” She whimpered.
“Because dad asked me not to. He said he didn’t want to bother you.” I cried out as tears rolled out of my eyes.
My mum stood up and shook her head. She took her bags and walked away to her room. As I heard her climb the stairs, my heart shook violently. I was confused. My mum left just like that leaving me with lots of questions and no answers. Why was she crying so hard? Why was she looking so sad? As I sat thinking, I heard my mum’s soft sob from her room. Pain so strong gripped my heart tightly as I listened to her sobs. Soon I joined in the crying.
I fell asleep in the sitting room that day. I had cried myself into sleeping. When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t find my mother. I went to her room to check on her but she wasn’t there. I called out her name but no response. I then went back to the sitting room and that was when I saw a written note on the dining table.
“Mary, I’m going out to search for your father one more time. I hope to find him. I’d be back soon. There’s a carton of noodles and some eggs in the kitchen. Prepare some for yourself and go to school.”
I sighed. How would she think I’ll go to school? How would I be able to concentrate? I walked to the kitchen and prepared noodles for myself. Noodles was the only meal I could prepare and that was my favourite food but while I ate, I couldn’t savour the taste. It tasted like gall in my mouth.
My mum returned just like the other day but this time, earlier. With her expression I could tell that the result wasn’t good.
“I searched everywhere, no sign of him.” She muttered as she walked into her room.
My mum gave up the search after that day. My father’s parents were dead so there was no one to consult. I refused to believe my dad was missing. I hoped that one day he would come back just as he had left. Three months passed yet nothing from my dad. This changed my mother. The departure of my dad demoralized her. She became withdrawn and stayed indoors most of the time. I too was affected. I wasn’t myself anymore. I was so worried and hurt but I still believed, strongly, that one day, somehow, my dad would return from whatever hospital he was. I was willing to wait patiently for that day.
The house was cold and icy as we were all lost in our respective thoughts. The house wasn’t the same without my father. It looked precarious to me. My mum continued with her business. She never said anything about my father and I never asked.
The departure of my father not only affected my sanity but also my academics. I couldn’t concentrate in class. My teacher noticed this and she called me to her office one day. I was a brilliant child and I was always among the first three that passed. She asked me what was happening and why I was losing interest in my academics. I stared at her numbly because I didn’t know what to say. After many fruitless attempt to know my predicament, she sent a letter to my mum. My mum who knew why I was like that sat me down on her bed and told me not to allow my father’s betrayal affect my life. I didn’t understand what she meant by that but I shook my head and left her room. I tried reading my book immediately I came into my room but all I could see was my father’s face and the stomach ache drugs. This was what always happen whenever I wanted to read. When my test result came out, I failed woefully. I wasn’t surprised because I didn’t prepare for the test but the rest of my classmates and teachers were surprised at my poor performance. I felt bad about it because I wasn’t used to failure. My mother didn’t say anything about it. She only asked me to work harder. I was grateful she didn’t stress the issue.
My mum took solace in church. I could tell that the departure of my father affected her just as it affected me if not greater. My mum felt the church was a place were burdens were lifted, where she could feel free and was accepted, where she could empty all the content of her heart to God and where she could feel the presence of God. She made it compulsory for me to attend all weekly programmes and Sunday services. I didn’t mind because I loved the church and I loved God. I loved hearing stories about Jesus and all that he did. I loved Sunday schools and I loved the hymns and praises we sang in church.
Two years swept away like dust still my father was no where to be found. My mum got better within those years. She began to carry on with her life. She was no more looking sad and withdrawn instead she looked happy. Her eatery business was booming like never before. She even employed more people to help in the service of food. I always dropped by the shop anytime I returned from school, then in the evening, I and my mum would return home together. Each time I dropped by the shop, I’d either see my mum discussing with her friends or taking note of sales. She was always busy and had no time to think or sulk over my dad. I was happy my mum was happy because I heard that over thinking could terminate the life of a person. I had just lost my dad, I didn’t want to lose my mum too.
One Wednesday afternoon, as I was returning from school with my friends, i sighted a man standing by the side of the road. He seemed to be waiting for something. Now, I didn’t need a teacher to tell me who the man was. I wasn’t mistaken at all. He was my father but he looked so dirty and shabbily dressed. His hair was rough and dirty. He looked like he hadn’t shaved or taken his bath for like six months. I called out quickly, “Daddy!” I began to run towards him. I ignored the calls of my friends. I didn’t even perform the ritual of looking left and right before crossing. My dad looked back slightly. Just then a car stopped immediately in front of him and he entered the car without waiting for me to get to him. He didn’t even give me a glance.
I ran after the car screaming at the top of my voice but the car didn’t stop. I fell to the ground and began to weep. I just saw my father whom I hadn’t seen for more than two years and I didn’t get a chance to speak with him. I hated myself. I blamed myself for not calling louder. I blamed myself for not running faster. I blamed myself for not trying harder. I wept till there were no more tears to shed.
When I got to my mum’s shop that day, my mum knew instantly that I had been crying. She sat me down and asked me what happened. I told her everything. I wanted her to know. I told her how I let an opportunity of speaking with my father slip away. My mother drew me into her arms and rocked me like a baby. She sang into my ear that it wasn’t my fault and I shouldn’t blame myself instead she told me to blame my dad for not visiting the family he left for more than two years. I fell asleep in her arms and I woke up on my bed that night. I didn’t know how my mum carried me all the way from the eatery to the house.
My mum had told me it wasn’t my fault but deep down I felt it was. I prayed to God to grant me another opportunity but it never came. I didn’t see my father anymore, no matter the amount of times I walked through that particular path I had seen him.
One day, I came to the eatery and to my greatest surprise my mum asked me to get my bags that we were going home. I asked her why we were going home that early. It was just two in the afternoon. She replied that she wanted to take me out to see a movie. I was excited by the news so when we got home, I ran into the bathroom to take my bath. When I came out of the bathroom, my mum was selecting the clothes I would wear. She selected a denim jeans trouser and a silky blouse with a sandal to match. She asked me to eat my food while she go and freshen up. I went to the dining table where a dish of Jollof rice with fried eggs was waiting for me. I ate the meal with great relish. My mum was an extraordinary cook, no wonder many customers flooded into her eatery to buy food.
My mum came down the stairs immediately I was done with eating. She was dressed in a yellow floppy gown. Her braided hair was tied into a bun. She looked taller because of the stiletto she was putting on. She smiled at me and asked me how she looked.
“You look very beautiful mum.” I informed her. The smile on her face widened and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Thanks dear!” She touched my cheeks. “let’s get going.”
I sat at the front seat with my mum as she drove. I didn’t know where the movie theatre was located so I stared out through the window. It was a silent drive as we were both occupied with our respective thoughts.
We got to the movie theatre after a drive of about forty five minutes. We entered into the darkened theatre and luckily for us the movie was just starting. Mum chose some seats away from everyone else and ushered me to sit.
The movie we watched was titled ‘night wonder.’ it was a sentimental movie about a woman who lost her husband after five years of marriage.
My mum asked me how the movie was and I told her it was very interesting. She smiled at me.
“You know, the movie was kind of talking to both of us.” She chuckled. “I love the woman’s ability to get up from the ground, dust herself up and move on and that’s what I’m trying to do. Since your father left, I haven’t been myself but I’ve been trying to move on with my life. The movie is trying to tell us to move on. Mary, you should move on. Don’t allow your father’s betrayal affect your life, your academics and your relationship with others.”
I understood what she was saying. In fact, I wanted to change. I wanted to be normal again. I was losing my friends and I was failing in school. I never knew my mum noticed all these things. My behaviour had changed ever since my father left the house.
She was right. It’s time to move on. I promised my mum that I’ll move on just like the woman from the movie. My mum smiled brightly at me. She wrapped me in her arms as I felt her tears drop on my shoulder.
I kept to my promise as I started to improve in my academics. Even though, I wasn’t among the first three in class, I was at least among the first ten. I started to amend my behaviour. I started to come out of my shell. My mum was glad at my changed attitude. She told me she was proud of me and I felt that was all that mattered.