She comes onto the stage in a cage. She is wearing a shiny blue raincoat, a jewel-encrusted bikini peeking out of it. Tall platform heels. Her curly red wig bounces as she skips out of the cage and intimately into my life. We are not even properly introduced, yet her hands are everywhere. She grabs her own radiant derriere — she handles it, offers it — like it is a facsimile of Cain’s scriptural offering to God. She squats and spreads her legs, settles a hand between them, where it stays. Caresses her bosom. She masturbates a dancer with the help of a cane. She pretends to go down on the guitarist.
“Ewww!” Chisom’s disgusted voice pipes up behind me, startling me around. “Brother Emeka, what are you watching?”
“Shhhhh!” I hiss, my eyes snapping angrily at my ten-year-old sibling. “It’s just a stage performance –”
“By who this time – Rihanna or Beyoncé?!” Chisom squints at the television.
At that time, the performing pop star dips. Marches. Stalks. Jogs. Grinds. And straddles one of her dancers.
“Oh my goodness!” Chisom shrinks back from the telly, as though a communicable disease is wafting from the screen, and turns an accusing glare on me. “Shebi mummy has told you to stop watching all these…these…people” – she waves an indignant hand at the television – “…she says they are godless people. But you will not hear.” There is such a look of righteous rectitude on her face that I feel like the rascally little child getting told off by a stern elderly person.
The role reversal is not lost on me, and I feel a quick spurt of anger course through me. Chisom is such a Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. Mummy’s baby girl. Daddy’s little pet. Pampered lastborn of the house, who is blessed with an aptitude for her class work (something that makes our parents very happy), and an uncanny understanding that the more she portrays herself as the faultless child, the shinier her apple will be in our parents’ collective eye. Such level of manipulation makes her the most dangerous sibling in the world, I often think.
“You won’t shut up your mouth and mind your own business,” I snarl with such venom that she recoils from me. “If you dare tell mummy or daddy about this eh…eh…” I flail helplessly in my mental lexicon for the right words that will string together the appropriate threat, and then settle instead with snapping my fingers menacingly in her face. “You will see,” I finish lamely.
The shuffle of footsteps coming from the corridor is the presage that tells of Mummy’s approaching presence. I dive for the remote control and quickly snap off the television, plunging the pictures on the screen into a dark abyss that swallowed them up, leaving the screen blank-faced, a stoic chattel that will faithfully keep my transgression safely tucked away, until the button on the remote is flicked on again.
Mummy marches into the living room, rifling through her bag. She is a formidable figure, in spite of her soft matronly build and huge pendulous bosom that sway as she walks. The no-nonsense look she usually wears on her face every morning before school runs is back on there, its rigid lines perfectly ironed out on the contours of her face. Ever since I can remember, I have never seen that look leave her face in the mornings of Monday all through to Friday. It is that expression that warns us, her children, that when we are been woken for the day, we had better remain awake. Snuggling back in bed will not be tolerated. The same look promises all sorts of painful penalties if we don’t gobble up breakfast, whether there is milk in the tea or not. I have two younger brothers – thirteen and eleven years old – and we are all a rambunctious lot; that look is what keeps us from misbehaving in the car whilst she drives us to school. I am fifteen now, and fancy myself almost a man, yet that look keeps me in line as surely as a cane would.
“My car keys…where are my car keys? And that appointment book…ok, here it is… The envelopes for those invitations… Where are those keys sef? Is there enough money in my purse? The keys, the keys…” Her fingers dig inside her mammoth handbag as she mumbles off a litany of objects without which her day would not make sense. Then she looks up, and her eyebrows whip close together, forming one long, severe line. “Ele ihe unu mega ebe a? What are you doing here? And where are Kelechi and Tobenna?”
“They are outside in the car,” I reply in a muted tone.
“And why are you two in here instead of outside with them?” she snaps, her eyes darting from us to the inside of her bag, still searching for the car keys.
“Brother was watching Beyoncé and Rihanna in the television,” Chisom sings out with the temerity of King Henry Tudor pronouncing decapitation on yet another ill-fated wife.
I gasp. The little bitch.
Mummy’s head shoots up, and Chisom shimmies a little dance to buttress her point. Mummy’s head oscillates slowly in my direction, her eyes now narrowed to slits. “You have been watching all those nonsense music even when I’ve warned you not to?”
I gulp hard, the silence that came in the wake of her question enhancing the sound of the saliva slurping down my throat. “Mummy…it’s not – it’s just…”
“How many times have I warned you, eh, Chukwuemeka?! But you won’t listen. You will spend your allowance on all these dirty music, buying CDs and not reading your books!” Her voice has turned strident with rage. “Instead of learning Christian songs, you’re busy warbling all that nonsense from…em…from…” She flounders, looking toward Chisom for help.
“Tuface,” supplies the smug little girl.
“Eheh! Tuface!” She swings her angry face back on me. “No matter how many times I talk, it feels as if the words enter one ear, and go out through the other.” At that juncture, she trudges toward me and latches one of the offending body parts between her fingers, pulling so hard that I wince at the sparks of pain that arc through my head. “You this foolish child! Since you won’t listen to me… Chere ka nna gi lota!”
And there it was. The words that send a cold chill slithering down my spine.
Chere ka nna gi lota!
Wait till your father comes back.
Those words that fell with the staccato weight of a death sentencing. As much as Mummy’s demeanor instills discipline in her children, Daddy’s cane does a whole lot more. Streamlined. Wiry. Supple. Whistling through the air with such a sylphlike grace, that one can never suspect the unimaginable pain one stroke against a culpable flesh can cause. The cane wields such a reign of terror that it has become embodied with my father’s presence. Daddy works as a marketing executive in a bank, and as such, gets to travel a lot. Big man job. Stressful job. And so, when he returns from his trips, after having endured the patronization of his customers, the last thing he wants to come home to are unruly children.
So the cane is kept handy to correct any misdemeanors. When Chisom threw a tantrum over her night bath, the cane went ‘thwack!’ When Tobenna squealed his protest at the vegetables in his dinner, the cane went ‘thwack-thwack!’ When Kelechi and I had a skirmish over the veracity of me getting two-siki at the throw of the dice during our game of ludo, the cane went on a thwack-y rampage. Thwack-THwack-THWACK!
And after shouldering the responsibility of raising four children, three of them boys, Mummy devised the magic words that keep us in line. Chere ka nna gi lota.
Wait till your father comes back.
The words now echo inside my head, sweeping out tendrils of terror throughout my system, causing my heart to pick up a beat that can rival the rataplan of drums in a festival. I shoot Chisom a look of pure loathing. She looks wary, a little uneasy, as though she fears that the fury of the cane might find its way to her for being a witness to my misdeed.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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