Amidst the tintinnabulation of door bolts and keys opening up to surface a new farming morning, was a sharp-pitched voice waking up the entire household, dragging us from the comforting arms of Morpheus (the land or god of sleep or dreams). That was my father, popularly called ‘Ekpen’ (which translated to mean ‘The lion’) in Bini language amongst his peers usually when they were skydiving in bottles. What happened that morning was not very understandable. I kept my cool because it had nothing to do with me. It was about dad and mum, they were quarrelling again. You know that moment you just recline in a chair and watch things go awry? Yeah, that is the moment right now. It was time for the usual drama, watching dad beat her to a pulp.
My mum was the first of four (4) wives; nine (9) children from her sleepy stomach, twenty-one (21) children all together. Mum with incomplete set of teeth, my father’s handiwork though, I did not really like her. She was not the most beautiful of the wives, add to it, she always quarrelled with my dad. She always botched things up, I thought. She was a virago. Yes, that is the word; a truculent virago. I think I preferred mama Peter. She was the 2nd wife of my father, a very beautiful woman. When I was young, I usually had a fair view of her bosom when she took me to bathe in the absence of my mother. At age ten (10), mama Peter still thought I was a baby so she would take me to her bathroom; more reason I liked her. She was easier on my father’s eyes than any other of his wives. Back to the story…
No sooner had my father started beating her up than my elder brother showed up from his room. Arthur was the first son and first of us all. “Father, by fighting with mum in the glare of onlookers and other members of the family, you are brewing sentiments” He said dauntlessly yet calm. Oh my God! Who dares tell our father such with an air of gusto? Well, Arthur did. My dad was the very much authoritative type. He would not have you bruise his ego. He would crush You. We all were gobsmacked when he cautioned father before all. More surprising was the fact that dad never said a word, he too was mortified. Mum’s eyes were already gooey. The next thing was a paroxysm of tears. Dad just left her and stopped fighting. I was not sure if he was heeding Arthur or just suddenly became calm about his egotistical eccentricities. He got ready for the farm. ‘Arthur!, Peter!, Egbedin!, Egbebalor!’ he called us; the first four boys. Did I mention my name is Egbedin? Funny name which meant ‘ a big drum’. Why they decided to call me a drum was unintelligible to me. Words had it that my mum named me Egbedin, more reason I did not like her.
On the farm, Father was sharpening his machete for clearing. This he usually did by forging its ends with fire. As the four sons lazied about the farm, he beckoned on Arthur and I. When we got very close to him, he pointed to one of the trees nearby. We looked away in curiosity trying to see what could have tickled his fancy as he was smiling rather benignly. Arthur was very close to him. As we kept on looking out, father drew out one of the cutlass in the fire and stamped it red-hot in Arthur’s bare back. Arthur screamed heavily as his skin followed the blade. He wept hard, the pain was so excruciating. I could only imagine. “Do not ever question my actions or authority in my house. I shall place you where you belong” father said. We all were already miffed as to why my father scarred Arthur with a red-hot machete. Oh! It was because of what happened at home that precipitated father’s action. We all learned that my father would never tolerate a challenge from any of his children. Arthur nursed his sour wound for months without father’s care. “Will you challenge me next time in this house?” he would ask him whenever he yelled out beside the kitchen walls, pining over the harrowing pains of the hot compress he used in causterizing his ache.
And then there was July 5th 1984. Yes, it was just that day. A day I would not forget in my life. My dad in his usual habit, raced towards the thatched little mud hut from which my mother echoed back her displeasure with the insults father rained on her. Indeed, my father wanted to beat her again. “Kpa… Kpa.. Kpa” father introduced the fight by registering three slaps generously on her stocky cheeks. At the settlement of every slap on her face, the cadence of her voice would present a high-pitched crescendo giving out a sharp “Iye ooooo” to show that she was hurting. We all usually watched in confusion as there was nothing we could do. My father subdued my mum, bent her over his knees, grabbed her both hands and twisted them to a side making her face open for another slap. Just then I heard “Egbedin!”. My father called out on me and I quickly ran to him. “Give her a slap on her face” he ordered. For the first time I felt like resisting the urge of displaying my hatred for my mother. Indeed, blood is thicker than water. “Slap her now” my father shouted again, this time twisting her hand harder. Just then I saw my hands move in fiery strength and then I slapped my mother. Yes, I slapped her so much that she let out a loud fit of pain. After I slapped her, father let go off her hands and she fell down to continue her wailings. I had a feeling, I knew something rushed through my veins. It was the physics of compunction for filial wrongs. A sense of shame beckoned on my robust eyes as I stared at my mum’s squishy sobs. Damn! What feeling was this? I did not understand it. Good riddance to bad rubbish! I said to myself.
It was 1992 now; 8 years since I left home. I was now an apprentice to a local bicycle repairer. This was where I eked out my living. Before I left home, I never forgot 1984. After what I did to my mum, I never was happy each time I thought of home; my mum. She would always employ the local school teacher to write a letter to me in the city. She loves me so dearly, I wondered. Years adding up got me matured to know that what I did to mum was the biggest mistake I could ever make. Arthur resisted my father and now he lives happily with a scar to show while I spent years in regret, smouldering up in the penitence of my indiscretion. I decided to make it right. As an apprentice, I was able to make up a brand new bicycle for my mum with my paltry earnings. In my village, the only persons who usually used a bicycle were fathers and sons who have reached Olympian heights enough to cater for themselves. Women hardly bought except their husbands extended such munificence. So, I decided to get mum a bicycle. I conveyed the bicycle with a taxi all the way to my village. When I got home, the first person I met was my father. He was seated outside the house cooling off. He was surprised to see his son from the city. Let us say he was happy. “My son, what is this you bring with you?” he asked after exchanging pleasantries. “I brought this bicycle for my mum. Dad, ever since you told me to slap my Mum years ago, I have not been happy with myself. It may have been a long time ago but I think I have to make it right this time” I told my dad. He got up nimbly from his reclining chair and ran towards me. Father hugged me so tightly. He held me hard unto himself. “My son, you have done the right thing. You were a boy when I made you do that, I am happy you have grown to be a man” he said in penitence. I could feel the old man being sober for the days of yore. So much for being a disciplinarian, I teasingly told myself.
I went inside the house to meet my mum. I saw her sit on her bed knitting an old safari material. Old passion never dies. It was her forte to knit at her leisure. Mum was getting old yet I could still see the beauty and warmth in her smiles. When she saw me, she ran to hug me. Lol! She disregarded her cold breasts and flagged them on me in happiness. Since I left home, she had not seen me. She was very happy. I greeted her endlessly but then I realized that hearing was not so easy for her anymore. Old age coupled with beatings at her prime ages had caused her that. She kept dancing round the room and singing several bini songs to bolster my gracious presence. When she finally settled down, I told her why I had come home. “Ever since father made me slap you, I was never happy with myself each time I thought of it” I said. The funny thing was that she had forgotten. She was struggling to remember when that happened. That even touched me the more. When I told her I bought her a bicycle, she prayed for me and then said, “As your mother, I would forgive and never remember your wrongs. But, as you go further in life, always know that sometimes, being sorry is not enough, you have to change that which makes you sorry and never go back to them. Never take the love that people had for you as the license to hurt them. They may not only forget your wrongs, they will forget you in time”.. And then she smiled at me.