Your father came home one day after eight years away and that day took a dark turn. Just like that he had disappeared and just like that he was back. Memories were revisited and old wounds opened.
You were only five years old when he left. You could only remember bits and pieces of him; the time he shared a loaf of bread with you and laughed when you chewed hurriedly. And when he pushed Ejiro so that she fell on the cemented floor causing her head to bleed. You could barely remember the man after all this time.
He sat on one of the sofas facing the television screen, his two brothers, and sister by his side. He looked like you more than he looked like your brother and sisters. His hairline was receding like the road leading down to your street, slowly eroding due to erosion, and he was chubby enough to have neck rings that showed whenever he moved his head.
You watched them from behind a curtain talk in whispers not minding that Arrow was on. Because of them you were going to miss your favorite TV show.
“Miriode, what are you doing there?” Ejiro asked. From the way her mouth twisted you could tell your elder sister was fuming. “Get inside now before I konk your head.”
Ejiro never joked when it came to konking your head. She knew exactly how to make a fist, middle finger out and deliver the knock on your head to impact the greatest pain.
You took a left turn down the passageway and landed in Kefe’s room instead of the one you shared with your mother. They looked up when they saw you but did not stop their conversation. You sat on the tiled floor to better hear them.
“So this man thinks after leaving for all these years he can just come back here?” Kefe fumed. He grounded his teeth after he stopped speaking. He always did that when he was angry.
“E think say we be fool,” Igho responded fidgeting where she sat at the edge of the bed. “Hmmmm. May male go call uncle Tega come first. May dem settle the matter may the man go.”
You heard the word go and your heart started to race. A part of you did not want him to go. You wanted to know what it was like to have a father. Even though the fathers you knew were nothing to write home about. Eduvie’s father was an alcoholic. Imoni’s father openly had affairs and Ada’s father played lotto pool from morning till night and made jokes about how none of his children resembled him.
“E think say we no know about e other family?” Igho continued. “Leave us for here go marry another woman. After everything wey e don do! After everything!” she raised her voice and Kefe used a gesture of his hands to indicate for her to lower her voice.
“Make e hear me!” she shouted. “Wetin sef! How dare he! How dare he come here saying he wants forgiveness?!”
You watched your brother calm your sister while she spoke about all that your father had done.
How many times had you heard the infamous tales of your father? You could no longer count. You had heard it from your long suffering mother, from your easy going brother and hot tempered sisters.
Your mother was tired of hearing their hateful comments whenever your father was mentioned. You believed she wanted your father to come back home. You could hear her pray for him at night sometimes. At other times she cried and lamented about how he had abandoned her and her children. Yet she prayed for his safety and for him to come back. Why she would do that you did not understand. The man had gone off to marry another woman and had children with her. He had abandoned his first family without thinking about how they would survive.
When he was still around he used your mother as a punching bag. A day never went by without insulting her or giving her a black eye. Ejiro and Kefe always defended your mother and ended up receiving some of the beating too.
Meetings between his family and your mother’s were called several times for him to quell his behavior. But he did not stop.
One event they all told you they would never forget was when he took a machete to your mother threatening to kill her. Because she had enrolled Igho in a computer learning school.
It was the area boys that succeeded in taking the machete from his hand.
Your father hated Igho. He just did. Igho said so. He just hated her for no reason. He stopped paying for her school fees when she was in JSS1. She had to depend on your mother for fees and money for textbooks although your mother was just a petty trader. Igho had opportunities to apply for scholarships and he shut them all down. Igho said he never wanted her to progress. He never wanted her to become something in life.
The hate inevitably became mutual. And she had proved him wrong. She had her own boutique and jewelry shop and was doing well for herself. She had singlehandedly tiled the house and bought the flat screen TV as well as subscribed for Gotv every month.
“That your papa,” Igho said to you, “na devil e be. Devil you hear?”
Kefe laughed at Igho’s comical expression. “Don’t let my laugh deceive you,” Kefe added, “the man is a devil. He cannot be trusted.”
“Why not?” you asked and regretted it immediately.
“See this dundi oh,” Igho spat, hand raised at you with her mouth upturned. “Your papa na winch! Know now if you no know.”
“Your father,” Kefe began. The way they said ‘your father’ and ‘your papa’ made you realize they would never forgive the man.
“He would start flogging us for no reason. Demand that male doesn’t give us food. Ejiro endured the most because she was born first. All that psychological trauma,” he said more to himself. “It’s a miracle she came out of it the way she did.”
“She is back,” Ejiro announced, head halfway through the threshold, “Uncle Tega travel.”
You all followed her to the sitting room where your father’s oldest brother stood up to speak. You all stood next to your mother ready to come to her defence if things went awry.
Your father’s brother did not have the chance to speak because Igho spoke up first. Something must have snapped inside her seeing your father sitting there, relaxed.
“Leave this house at once. All of you get out!” Her body shook as she spoke. She was positively seething. If looks could kill your father would have dropped dead from the look she was giving him.
She came to stand in front of you while your mother called her name repeatedly in between sobs. You stared at your mother wondering how she had aged so fast in such a short time.
She looked like a dried fruit. Worn out and folded into herself.
Your father made no move to stand up and leave. His siblings all stood up to try to calm Igho down.
“Vren ne tine!” Igho moved closer to him and tapped his arm repeatedly.
Your father’s siblings called on your mother to ask Igho to show some respect. She was still folded into herself, sobbing.
You also stood there watching, as if in a trance, suddenly unable to move or react in any way.
Your father looked pitiable as Igho and Ejiro pushed him from the chair.
“Yanjowo, Yanjowo,” he repeated to his siblings walking toward the front door with them where a few neighbors had gathered. The noise had drawn them in and they looked on with glee rather than concern.
“Igho. Ejiro, Kefe,” your mother cried replacing your father where he sat.
“Make e go!” Igho shouted at her. “So na that kind husband you want. Na that kind papa nai you want make your children get.”
“Good riddance,” Kefe stated and proceeded to tell the neighbors to go home.
“Miriode go bring key make I lock gate,” Ejiro ordered moving toward the stubborn neighbors who had refused to go back to their homes.
Instead of brining the key, you joined your mother on the sofa listening to her cry. Your heart sank when she placed her chin on her hand staring into the air, tears flowing like the broken tap in your kitchen sink.
You thought of the ways to make her happy but none of them you knew would work. She just wanted her husband. She wanted her family to be whole again.
There was no feasible way to bring your father back. And even if you could, that would be betraying your siblings.
You stared at her knowing she had many more nights to cry and pray for her husband to come back.