The much-told story of the prodigal son bears some similarities to the long years of my adolescence lived on the busy streets of Aba, a popular town in Eastern Nigeria.
I look back at that time with so much sobriety and often times, wonder how I made it through the nights of robbery, the daytime of constant pocket picking and noisy factory work as well as the weekends gulping liquor with bus drivers, wheel barrow pushers and upcoming music artistes who capitalize on such times to showcase their musical talent.
When I was finally done with that life, I returned home but sooner than later, I figured that my life wouldn’t make much sense with my mother -a middle aged woman who sold smoked fish in the slum we lived in- breathing curse words down my neck every morning and my father, a quiet man about the same age as my mother, steadily snuffing the ‘white powder’ that provided an escape from the tragedy that befell him eight years after my sister was hastily married off to an Ijaw merchant.
One cold Tuesday morning, I was woken up by the sound of water collecting into a plastic bowl that lay in the center of my room from a wide patch in the zinc roof that covered the portion of the bedroom where I slept.
It was my turn to light the morning fire and warm the house but I could barely move my rigid body out of my room. The springs of my bed had rusted into oblivion and despite thin sheets of carton that were carefully piled on the iron frame of the bed to provide some support for my back at night, the red prints of the bed were quite visible on my skin.
I dragged myself outside, clenching my teeth and wrapping my slender hands around my tiny body. The firewoods stacked in the kitchen were almost finished and I had to supplement them with the wet ones, which had been beaten by the rain that fell the night before.
It took me a long time to make the fire but when I was finally done, I heard a crashing sound in my parent’s bedroom. This was quickly followed by cussing and the sound of more things crashing to the floor and I couldn’t help but wonder what the matter was with them that early in the morning.
I stuck more firewood into the fire and passed through the corner of my parent’s bedroom on my way in to find out why they were fighting, only to hear my father pleading with my mother to allow him sleep for a few more hours. Ah! Ah! 😱
Was my father not the man of the house? Why would my mother want to kick him out of the house after 21 years, three months and 5 days of staying married? I reached for the door and opened it slightly enough for my left eye to catch images of the situation in the room.
There she stood, like a tree in the middle of the room with her nails digging into my father’s neck as she choked him to death. His legs went from violent kicking to slow motions until they dangled like broken branches from his body. Her body was covered in white paste, except for the face which was painted in red.
Suddenly, four fat rats appeared from nowhere and began to tear at my toes. At first, I shook them off but they would fall and come back to bite me even harder. I did not want to scream so that my mother wouldn’t notice my presence but immediately one of the rats tore out my big toe, I screamed and her cat eyes locked with mine.
I ran. I kept running until I found myself somewhere in the streets of Port-Harcourt. Everyone looked at me with fear but I was too grateful for life to bother about what any of them thought of me. I sat on a slab in front of a mansion and tried to tie the bleeding area with pieces of rags but my strength failed me.
I struggled with it for sometime until a gangly man walked out of a red gate and tapped my back. I suddenly stopped feeling pain and followed him inside and the locks of the gate shut itself immediately we went inside. I was swept with fear as the tall trees in the compound bent their necks and the granite stones rolled into pyramids as we walked past them, with drops of my blood leaving a trail.
The minute our feet touched the tile floor of the man’s house, I found myself inside a house in Canada. He turned to me and said, ‘welcome home, my son.’ The shock of being in a new clime did not allow me notice the little children who were all over me until I was thrown to the floor.
A certain woman who looked so much like my biological mother walked out of the kitchen with hot pancakes in a ceramic plate and asked me to join them in the well-laid table for breakfast. I turned again to look at the man who brought me in and his face was exactly like that of my father. 😱
I searched the faces of those children for my sister, but she was not there. I checked every room, closet and cabinet for her but did not find her. My mother (the woman who looked like her) softly called out to me and I walked back to the dining table and had one of the tastiest pancakes in my entire life. It tasted nothing like the wicked akara balls and curdy pap I usually had for breakfast back in Nigeria.
That was the start of a new life of bliss outside the shores of Nigeria and I haven’t been any happier.