We stared with our mouths wide open; Opeke lay helpless on the wet dirty floor, wriggling like a hen.
We all had our eyes glued to the television set, ‘Tales by Moonlight’ was on the local channel, when father burst into the sitting room like a man chased by a thousand demons. Mother was busy picking the local rice on the dining table, and once in a while, she paid us little or no attention.
The instant father interrupted the show; fifteen minutes to its end, we all knew there was trouble hiding somewhere. We all jumped to our feet, the four of us, and threw our eyes into his. Father searched our faces, one after the other.
At that point, we knew that the demon lurked in one of us. And certainly, the black ugly belt that looked like the tail of an alligator which dangled by his side, was the cross that would do the deliverance. With a thunderous voice, father asked:
“Who stole the money I kept in my car!”
It was not actually a direct question, because he searched our faces as the question descended upon us, enclosed in millions of aggravated saliva. Actually, the bark descended upon us like a heavy rain, amidst thunder and lightning. One could hear a pin drop, in the midst of the storm. None of us dared to breathe or even move an inch from where we stood.
The fear of the ugly black belt was the beginning of wisdom; it left one with an unforgettable mark, and a huge fear at the very thought of the torture it could render. The show on the television obviously went on without us –the actors too, were scared for us.
Before we could say ‘Jack’, Opeke, our eldest brother, threw his legs up, and flew to the back door. Mother jumped from where she sat along with the tray of local rice which came crashing. She stood in father’s way. With her last breath, mother shouted:
“Leave that boy alone! He has done nothing!”
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We watched as mother and father struggled like market women. As soon as we heard the back door open and close, mother left father and went to tend to the local rice which was all over the floor. We knew that dinner was not forth coming that day. Father was breathing like a defeated rhino; he looked at our mother as she had her back to him and said:
“I have told you to stop supporting evil! That child is evil! He stole the money I left in my car!”
Our mother left what she was doing, and faced our father. She had two hands to her slim waist. We were surprised at her reaction.
“Haba! Have you asked the harlots you sleep with? What of your beer friends? Foolish man!”
At this, a dark shadow descended over father’s face. Mother didn’t wait to get a reply. She left and made her way to the kitchen.
“That boy would come to no good, I promise you.”
His bark was more like a statement; his voice was more like that of a defeated lion. He left us, went straight to his car and drove off.
Father made it clear that he didn’t want Opeke under his roof, but often times, when father was away, Opeke would steal into the house. It was difficult to have a brother and at the same time, not have one. He barely noticed us. He grew beard, and whenever he came around to the house, I noticed that he rarely stood at a place, and his eyes were always bloodshot.
He always left behind a kind of smell; the big boys who usually hung on the trees used to smell like that too. Mother would always tell us to look away whenever we saw them, because they were dangerous. One day, we saw Opeke on the tree with the boys. We didn’t know if we were expected to look away too.
One night, while we all slept, I was woken by a noise. Opeke moved in the dark towards our mother’s purse. I couldn’t shout because I knew father was at home, and his gun was always by his side. Opeke stole out the same way he came.
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The following morning, I came out to meet mother going through all her purses; she had a long frown on her face as she searched for something. Father came out too to meet her, but she paid us little attention. She was all dressed up for a meeting.
Mother was their treasurer and we knew she was running late. Father asked her what she was looking for, and she looked at him, not knowing if it was to answer his question or not. She barely talked to him because of Opeke.
“The money I kept in my purse is gone! I am sure I kept it here? It was the money we all gathered for the year, and I can’t find it.”
My eyes nearly bulged out in their sockets. I threw my mind to the previous night, and the image of Opeke going through our mother’s purse haunted me. I was too scared to talk. Opeke stole from our mother.
It was our turn to fetch water when the fight broke out. Everyone ran for their dear life, not knowing what actually started up the fight. I saw how it started, through the corners of my eyes, but I could not stay to know how it ended.
It was not safe to stick around when the boys that hung on the trees were at it, one could get stabbed or worse. We had all ran for cover when we saw something that looked familiar from a distance. We waited for the last gang member to leave before we rushed back. We didn’t like what we met. Father always said it. Opeke lay in a pool of his own blood.
Written by Oluoma Udemezue.