The sun is gradually setting, and on 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 distance 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.
Those moments when you would moan in pain from the hangover that weighed on you, look at the empty bottle of dry gin by your 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, I always saw the pain in your eyes and they were too sincere to house a lie. The way they moistened and glistened with sadness, as you would lament on how desperately you wanted to stop drinking. Your habit didn’t wound anybody more than it did to you. It was during those times that I would cry too and hug you, enduring the repulsive smell of liquor and mouth odour.
Afterwards, you would beg me to sing for you.
You were the first person who thought I could do something major 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, 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 away.
Everybody said it was the gods who punished you for neglecting your family and being irresponsible.
Now that I know it was alcohol poisoning, I feel after all that the gods indeed had a hand. Alcohol was your god.
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. When the period of mourning was over, mama began to see uncle Maduibike the idol carver.
I used to lay awake at night while pretending to be asleep when I would hear him come into the room as mama giggled. 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.
I hated those moments, but the moments I hated the most were the ones that usually followed, when for some reasons, they would argue and suddenly uncle would strike mama with the same energy that you used to strike firewood. Those were the points I usually snapped out of fear.
No longer able to pretend to be asleep, I 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 my fault and yours. 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, that she had enough confidence in herself to pick a man worthy of her. I stopped when I realized it meant 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? One day he did the same thing to me. He moaned the same way, and I felt the urge to squeal just like mama did; the pain I felt between my legs was unbearable.
That night, uncle came around and when he and mama were done, 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.. 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 it was two years later, while I was begging and giving up on life simultaneously that 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 never felt the same after uncle Maduibike, so what was the point? Besides this time I felt it was my little way of repaying 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 a big girl now Papa, I’m twenty two now, and doing well in the music industry. You might not be having any grandchildren though, considering that I don’t like men, but I’m very rich now if that’s any consolation.
This is not even the real story that made me wake you up from your sleep; 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, very 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 my driver to pull over, and together with my manager, the three of us ran over to the other side of the road to help.
Papa, guess who the taxi driver in the taxi was?
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, I don’t think I will ever ask.
I miss you Papa, I love you.