13 Years Ago
The younger of the two boys dashed down the stairs, straight into the kitchen. Seconds later, the older one raced down after him, following his brother’s path into the kitchen. The younger of the two stood in a corner, his back to the wall, an apprehensive look on his face. His brother scowled; the menacing look on his face fully relayed his displeasure.
“Give it back, Joe!” he barked.
When his brother tightened his mouth in defiance, he then took a threatening step forward.
“Give it back to me!”
“No!” Joseph shouted back. He hid the hand which held the Iron man toy behind his back.
“I’m not playing, Joe. Give it back!” James thundered once more.
Joseph raised his shoulder to meet the side of his face. “No!”
“It’s not even your own. Give it back. I’m warning you.” James’ mouth had formed a moue of displeasure and his eyes had turned a dull shade of crimson that it usually took on when he was filled with emotion.
“No.” His brother remained defiant.
What happened next happened in a blur. One moment, Joseph was standing there, his back to the wall; the next, his eyes had widened within the fraction of a moment that it took James to charge at him like a mad buffalo. Joseph let out a startled squeak as he attempted to dart around his brother and out of the kitchen, but James was quick to intercept his evasion. He tackled him and both of them fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs and huffed breaths. They wrestled briefly on the floor until James, being the older and stronger of the two, gained the upper hand. He turned Joseph around so that he was lying on his belly, and then held him pinned down with his weight on his back. With one hand, he pressed Joseph’s face to the ground, and with the other, he grabbed his right arm, which still held on tightly to the toy, and twisted it backward. Joseph shrieked in pain. He thrashed with his legs as James, unmoved by his frantic pain, continued twisting the arm determinedly. Finally, Joseph’s fist unclenched and the toy fell out of his hand.
Even then, James did not stop. Completely overtaken by his anger, he screamed, “Next time, you listen to me!”
A crack of bone followed by a long wail of agony later, James got off his brother’s back, whose shoulder he had just dislocated.
“JAMES! JAMES!” His father’s voice boomed from a distance.
Sensing trouble, James jumped off his bed. He could hear the fast-approaching footsteps of his father. He hurried to the door to shut it, but the imposing, intimidating figure of his father was already standing there, casting a ominous image that told of the impending doom. Gripped by fear, the twelve-year-old James retreated slowly. There was a furious pounding behind his ribcage.
“What did you do to your brother?” his father’s voice was quiet and silky with rage.
James didn’t reply. He couldn’t. His vocal chords had been strained shut with fear.
“Are you deaf or dumb? I said what did you do to Joe?” The man’s voice had begun to climb.
“He…he took my –”
He did not get a chance to finish his sentence before his father’s hand streaked through the air to land in an open palm blow on his face with such force that he was sent staggering backward. Firecrackers exploded before his eyes. He was suddenly dizzy. Another slap sent him tumbling to the ground even before he could regain his composure from the first blow.
His father loomed above him as he shrank into himself on the ground, whimpering.
“Stand up! I said stand up!”
James remained lying on the ground, still reeling from the shock of his father’s attack. His head felt suddenly thrice its normal size. He felt unable to move.
His father began to unbuckle his belt. “You don’t like to listen, ehn? I will teach you a lesson!” As he spoke and his fingers worked his belt from the hoops, he gave the boy two successive kicks to the ribs.
James screamed in pain and clutched his sides, rolling away from his father’s leg.
But there was no reprieve. His father’s belt soon came loose and the leather band whistled through the air toward him.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
The belt landed on his body in rapid succession, interspersed with his screams of pain.
“Daddy, please! Daddy, please! Daddy, please…” he pleaded as he thrashed wildly about, flailing his arms.
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
“I promise, I won’t do it again…!”
“I will teach you a lesson, you stupid boy!”
Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
“Daddy, please. I’m sorry!” James shrieked.
“I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget!”
His father went on mercilessly flogging him. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!
James jerked about on the floor with such reckless abandon, like a possessed being during an exorcism. He squirmed and rolled. He bawled, screamed and pleaded as he felt the stinging lashes of the belt. His pleas fell on deaf ears as the beating went on and on, until he stopped moving or begging, and simply lay there whimpering with each strike from his father.
His rage finally quelled, his father heaved away from the supine boy. Breathing hard, he turned and walked out of the room, leaving the sniveling boy there on the ground. A few moments later, his mother came in. She had stood and watched in silence as her husband whipped their son without mercy. She moved quietly to her son, her eyes dewing with budding tears as she took in the angry red weals that had sprung up on James’ skin. As she gathered the boy into her arms, mindful of the renewed whimpers as his bruises got inflamed with her touch, she began crying. She did not make any sound; the tears simply fell, streaking down her face and beads of them dropping onto her son. James continued mewling, and she stroked his head as she hushed him.
“It’s okay, Jamie,” she soothed. “It’s okay.”
7 Weeks Ago
He parked his car a few metres away from his destination, and trekked the rest of the distance.
As he stood a few steps from the entrance to the clubhouse, his head slightly bobbing to the sound of the music throbbing from the building, his mind flashed back to the time a year ago when he assaulted the inebriated, racist woman who had called him “a fucking black wanker”. Or so he’d heard. He’d been too fired up, rearing to teach the bitch a lesson with his fist.
It had always been a problem, his anger. It got him into numerous problems growing up. There were the countless fights in school that got him suspended severally, the many physical altercations with his brothers for which he always got punished. But he liked to believe all that was in the past now. His life was about to change, he knew this. The prospect of being reunited once more with every member of his family filled him with some excitement. And a little trepidation as he considered his father. Surely, whatever animosity the old man felt toward him must have disappeared with the passage of time and separation. He was willing to let bygones be bygones.
He thought about how the family had become so dysfunctional in the years that he’d been away – a persistently-busy father who hardly cared to know what his children were up to and only pandered mechanically to his duty as a provider, an estranged wife who felt increasingly abandoned by her husband, siblings who rarely interacted with each other – a family that only came together when they absolutely had to. These weren’t the people he’d left behind when he ran away. In spite of their faults, with his father’s despisal of him, back then, they’d been close-knit. How things had changed.
Maybe everything does happen for a reason after all, he thought. He wouldn’t rest until he fixed all that was broken.
He sent a short text to his brother, whose number he had gotten from Sandra, informing him that he was waiting outside the club for him. He placed his phone back in his breast pocket and waited patiently.
Approximately fifteen minutes later, he saw a figure, which he instantly recognised to be Joseph’s, walk out of the building and move toward him. He had gotten bulky and was of average height. He was clean-shaven with a low-cut. On both his ears were studs and his nose was pierced. As a child, he’d looked strikingly like their father, and hadn’t possessed any of their mother’s good genes, good looks that James had inherited. But he made up for all that with his current sophistication, however gaudy he looked. He wore a black T-shirt with the words “I EAT PUSSY” boldly inscribed on it, blue denims, and black Adidas shoes.
When he was a only a few steps away from James, he began to slowly clap his hands, as if he were applauding a wonderful performance he had just seen.
“Well, well, well,” he said with sardonic humour, “if it isn’t the return of the prodigal son. Drum roll please.”
James arched an amused brow. “I bet you’ve been practicing that all day.”
“You know me well, bruh.” There was the affected twang to his speaking that spoke of time spent overseas.
James stared at his brother, quiet, unmoving.
“Long time, no see, Jamie,” Joseph said as he approached his brother and enveloped him in a big hug.
James hugged back with feeling. He’d missed his brother. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he husked as they pulled back from each other.
“I hoped I’d never see you again,” Joseph gibed good-naturedly.
James playfully shoved him backward. “Get out of here. You play too much.”
“No, really,” Joseph said, chuckling. “I was hoping you’d die or something.”
“Screw you. I’ll break your other arm,” James threatened with a smile.
Joseph’s visage took on a mock-scowl. “Try it na. I’ll just wipe your brows off.”
Both men broke out into laughter and hugged each other again.
“Come in. Let me introduce you to a few of my friends,” Joseph said.
They walked into the clubhouse side by side. James swung an arm around Joe’s shoulder; he was still taller than his younger brother, even though Joseph was bigger widthways.
“So, how often do you come here?”
“Every time I’m in Nigeria, this is my second home,” Joseph answered as they navigated their way through bodies and tables to a corner booth. The lights were dim and the music throbbed with heightened intensity.
“Looks like you fit in here just perfectly.”
“You know me, bruh. I love to catch my fun, and this is where the fun’s at.”
They got to their table and Joseph went about the business of ordering their drinks. As James observed him and took note of his brother’s quiet confidence, he found himself thinking of how he and his older brother, Michael had being the ones who had exhibited the excessive need to please their parents. He had grown up perpetually feeling the sting of his father’s disapproval, and had actively sought the man’s affection, plagued as he was by the guilt that he’d done something to deserve his father’s displeasure. Joe, on the other hand, had never felt this needy desire. He had always been the most rebellious of the three boys, even as an adolescent. It came as no surprise to James that he had grown to be this wild. What was a surprise though, was the fact that he hadn’t gone completely out of hand – or so it seemed – given the liberty he enjoyed as a foreign student in England. He had been quite shocked when Sandra told him that.
Their drinks soon arrived and they continued reminiscing in the first few minutes of enjoying the drinks.
Then James leaned forward and said gravely, “Joe, there’s something important I have to tell you.”
“You have five seconds. Go!” Then he chuckled. “I’m just kidding. What’s on your mind, bruh?”
“You know I’m not one to be sentimental, right?”
“I really think there’s a reason I’m back again.”
“Oooo-kaaay?” Joseph drawled, his brows lifting this time.
“I’d like to reunite us, our family.”
A moment passed during which Joseph eyed him as though to make sure he wasn’t joking. Then he responded with a chuckle and then another, and it continued, progressing slowly until he was laughing boisterously, his loud mirth drawing a few glances from those closest to them. James sat there, quietly staring at him and waiting him out. He eventually calmed himself.
“You look pissed,” he said, as he lifted his bottle to his mouth.
“Apparently, my own joke is so funny, I missed it,” James said with heavy sarcasm.
“Look, Jamie, not taking the piss, yeah? But what you just said now, yeah, it’s bollocks, man. I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink.” He eyed James’ bottle as though it contained something more potent than the brew they were both having.
“You’re the one laughing like a maniac at nothing, yet I’m the drunken one? The fact that you find the idea of a happy family so funny is what’s bollocks.”
“Alright. And you’re the messiah who’s going to save this family is that it? You, the lost son who’s been gone… How long has it been now?”
“That’s irrelevant, Joe. Do you think it’s a coincidence that I’m back at the time when our family is mostly in need of intervention?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I think,” Joseph said sneeringly. “Our family has needed intervention since forever. So it’s not your calling to fix us, bruh. Go back to England, James. Go and live your happy life. Forget about us. We surely have forgotten about each other.”
James lowered his head and sighed heavily. Suddenly, a surge of anger began to pound away at his insides. He balled his right fist tighter, fighting the urge to knock his brother down and pound the words into his head till he saw things from his perspective. Joseph was giving him a headache.
“Look, yeah, what I’m saying is,” Joseph continued, “some things are better left the way they are. We’re probably better off this way. I know I am.” He chuckled again as he took another swig from his bottle.
“I’m failing to see how being scattered about with scarcely any communication between us is better off,” James ground out.
There was no response from his brother. He had gotten distracted by the sight of a dark-skinned, slender woman clad in a thigh-length skirt under which stretched an expanse of long legs, and a red sleeveless top. She walked up to them with the hip-sway movement of a woman who knew she was a knockout and would not shy away from using it to her advantage.
“Hey, Joe,” she cooed.
“Hey, baby,” Joseph cooed back.
She leaned forward to whisper into his ear, while smiling at James, who did not smile back.
When she straightened, Joseph turned to James. “Alright, bruh, I’m off to go have some fun, yeah. It was good to see you.” He got to his feet and extended his hand to place it on James shoulder. “Keep in touch, okay?”
And without another word, he turned to place a hand on the woman’s waist, allowing himself to be led away from his brother.
Written by Tobby