The sun is gradually setting, and this evening I can faintly hear your voice being carried in the wind of the dusk as you sing out loud and dramatically; “row, row, row your boat…”
I know all of this is in my head as you’re dead and have been dead for a long time now, but the memories of your drunken voice even years later still warm me up and cause tears to gradually etch down my face. Papa, I miss you.
Everybody thought I was stupid when I didn’t detach myself from you even as your alcoholism worsened and you were barely ever sober. I defied every psychological theory that expected me to be traumatised by your new drinking habit, and the fact that you distanced yourself from everybody, and became the laughing stock of the village. Maybe it was because of those precious moments I was the only one that witnessed; those moments in the morning when you sobered up and woke to find me sitting by the door, partially asleep.
You would moan in pain from the hangover that weighed on you, look at the empty bottle of dry gin by the side and then curse it as tears welled up in your eyes. Then you would gradually turn to look at me, and then begin to frantically lament about how you hated what you were, and how you loved me and mama. I believed you papa, for I always saw the pain in your eyes, the way they moistened and glistened with sadness, and the way your voice shook when you went on lamenting on how desperately you wanted to stop drinking. Your habit didn’t pain and affect anybody more than it did to you. It was during those times that you I would cry and hug you, enduring the repulsive smell of liquor and mouth odour, and you would beg me to sing for you.
You were the first person who thought I could do something big with my vocal talents.
While everybody seemed to know you only for your intimacy with the bottle, I knew you for the muscular arm you wrapped around me, and for the presents of smoked fish and oil you used to buy for me…before you changed.
The day you died changed me; I was the first person to see your dead body sprawled helplessly on the floor in your hut, and what pained me most was the fact that I had chosen for the first time in a long while that night, to sleep with mama in the other hut, instead of with you. Perhaps if I had been with you, I would have been able to confront death on your behalf when it came in the middle of the night to take you. Everybody said the gods had punished you for neglecting your family and being irresponsible. Now that I know it was alcohol poisoning, I feel after all that the gods had a hand, for alcohol became your god. I do not judge you for this though. Papa, I still miss you.
Papa, do you know what happened after you left me? Mama mourned your death as was tradition, though I sensed that she didn’t miss you one bit, and when the period of mourning was over, mama began to see uncle Maduibike, the idol carver.
I used to be awake at night, pretending to be asleep when I would hear him come into the room as mama giggled, and afterwards in the dark, I would hear unpleasant squeals from mama, and annoying moans of ecstasy from him as they would vibrate beside me, shaking roughly from whatever they did, not even being cautious enough not to wake me.
I hated these moments, but the moments I hated most were the ones that usually followed, when for reasons I didn’t know, they would argue, and suddenly uncle would turn violent and lash out an already yelling mama, and then strike her with the same energy that you used to strike at the firewood when splitting it. At these points I would no longer be able to pretend to be asleep, and so would burst into loud sobs, and uncle would complete his mission with one or two slaps on my cheeks before he would strut out of the room, leaving me and mama wailing. Mama never comforted me after this; she would scream at me, telling me that all of this was your fault and mine. She would claim that uncle refused to marry her because she had me, and he didn’t want extra responsibility. She would then wish she had met him before she met you. I used to wish she had never met him and picked him to be the man she loved, and that she had enough confidence and belief in herself to pick a man worthy of her. But then I stopped when I realized that would mean that she would never have picked you too.
Papa, do you remember the thing I told you that uncle Madubuike used to do to mama at night that made her to squeal while they both vibrated? One day he did the same thing to me, and I knew back then that it was the same thing because he moaned the same way, and I felt the urge to squeal like mama did, because pain I felt between my legs were unbearable.
That night, uncle came around and when he and mama were done vibrating, they quarrelled as usual, but this time he didn’t beat her. Instead he lurched at me and spun me around from my fake sleeping position, and before I could gather enough momentum to cry or scream, he pulled my wrapper up, and pushed a part of himself into me, wounding me from within. I know he wounded me because the next day I saw dried stains of blood on my wrapper, my body and on the floor mat. Mama only sat by the corner and cried.
When he was done, he pushed himself up and went to Mama’s side, and after some dialogue that I didn’t hear, they hugged. That’s when I began to hate Mama. The next day I turned fifteen.
I ran away from the village when uncle did it again three more times, and I ended up in Owerri. You remember Owerri? The place you told me that everybody that left the village went to and became rich easily. It wasn’t easy o, Papa. I begged and sang to make money to eat, and two years later, while I was begging and giving up on life simultaneously, this man came and told me that I could use my voice to become rich. Let me not bore you with too much details Papa, so that you can go back to resting with the ancestors. This man, uncle Okonkwo took me in and enrolled me for a music competition.
While I lived with him, he came to my room at night and did the same thing that Uncle Maduibike did, but I did not stop him. Things didn’t feel the same way after uncle Maduibike’s so I didn’t mind, and this time I felt it was my way to repay this kind man for giving me hope.
Papa, I won the competition, got a scholarship to further my education, alongside a car, a house, and a monthly payment, as well as a record deal for when I turned eighteen the next year. Uncle Okonkwo said he was proud of me, but I would have to give him something before he let me go, and so I gave him the car, and a lot of the money I won.
That was a while ago.
I’m now a big girl Papa, I’m twenty two now, and doing well in the music industry. I’m rich, but I have chosen to stay single because I don’t like men, though all of this is not the real story I want to tell you; guess what happened yesterday Papa?
I was coming back from a performance and was heading home with my manager when I saw the site of a ghastly motor accident. A taxi had collided with a trailer, and because it was in the middle of the night, hardly few people were still on the streets, and those who drove by refused to stop because of fear of criminals looming around.
I knew I had to be humane and help them, so I told the driver to pull over and together with my manager, the three of us ran over to the other side of the road while calling for medical help.
Papa guess who the taxi driver in the taxi that got hit is?
A very old uncle Maduibike
He is in the hospital now getting treatment and I have his bills all covered. I’m scared to ask him about Mama’s whereabouts or condition, but I know I will have to eventually.
I miss you Papa, I love you.