The Boy's Revenge By Uche Peter Umez
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange
The Boy's Revenge
By Uche Peter Umez
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
One night the 14-year-old boy lay on the bed. Tears were dropping down his cheeks. He thought he could shut out memories of her, by telling himself she wasn’t his real mother. He would get over her absence, never feel hurt, he had told himself. Now, he realised how futile it was to rub out a scar. Like cashew juice on a shirt. She would always remain in his head, and hold on to a part of his life. He wondered if she would ever return.
For the past two weeks nobody could tell her exact whereabouts, not even his father. Whenever women saw the boy, they shook their heads at him. Some would wring their hands, others would grit their teeth.
"No proper wife abandons her husband, even if he goes about naked."
"That woman is really thoughtless…"
"I know her strangeness would get the better of her someday."
"Yes, I agree. How else can one explain her deed?"
His mother kept to herself and spoke very little, only said greetings to people depending on the time of day. She never sat on the veranda, as other women would do, and hold idle talks. Even when she went to the Umuada (elder daughters) meetings, which was not often, she acted withdrawn. She was not proud, or shy. She simply found it worrisome to relate to women who pried into other people’s business.
Since she disappeared, the boy had tried to hate her for what he himself was going through. The two of them did not really enjoy the special kind of bond a parent and a child should have. His father was troublesome, so maybe she had placed herself in an impenetrable case, opened from inside, only by her.
Some days ago he was passing by, some old men drinking palm wine under a gmelina tree, raised their heads at him in a slow, drunken way, like overfed street dogs.
"May God guide your path," tones, deep and solemn, like a witch doctor’s stirred.
There was one evening the boy had stopped at a shop to buy bread and overhead a woman and her husband sitting on a bench.
"Look at him, the runaway’s poor son," said the woman. "Who will take care of him now?"
"His father, of course," said the man.
As he walked back home he began blaming his father, who seldom talked without screaming! He always spoiled for a fight with his wife, or hurled complaints at her.
…His mother was fanning the lighted charcoal in the grate-like stove, when her husband stormed, like an angry soldier, out of the room into their thatched kitchen. An iron pot sat on the stove. The smell of smoked mackerels, peppers, onion and crayfish tickled the air. She was preparing ukwa, breadfruit porridge.
"Let the devil eat up their shares!" said his father. "See what those vultures gave me!" He threw a green, stunted bunch of plantain, some dried tubers, and some sallow pineapples on the ground.
She dropped the matted fan, crouched beside the stove, and blew at the glowing coal. Tiny flames lit up and smoke dispersed. She coughed, fanning the smoke away from her eyes with her hand.
"I’m talking to you! Did you see what your in-laws gave me again?"
When she would not reply to him, he called her cold-hearted, slow poison. He told her to plot against his downfall for she would be exposed some day.
"Meanwhile, if you like put all the salt on earth into – whatever it is you’re cooking!" He poked her forearm; she still ignored him.
When she finally stood up, she tightened her wrapper around her waist. He grabbed her arm and pulled her, like a tethered goat.
"I just don’t want any trouble," said she.
"I thought I was talking to a statue!"
"I’m cooking, please."
"Cooking chicken-shit! Woman, I’ve warned you time and time again not to use that tone when speaking to me! I am not your child!"
"You should have shown your manliness in their presence."
"Are you insulting me?"
It seemed he tried to yank her arm off, as he turned it behind her back. A wrenching pain shot through her, and her eyes blazed like flaming firewood. With one jerk of her shoulder, she pulled free. Pride and anger shook through him, and he lunged at her. She sidestepped him, raising her leg to hook his feet. And he tumbled to the ground.
That night nobody ate, not even their son. The husband flung the pot of porridge into a nearby scent-leaf bush. The voices of the fuming couple almost pulled down the roof of their mud-brick hut. That was the first time he had seen his parents fight. That, in fact, was the last fall out between them. Immediately after the neighbours intervened, his mother went out and sat on the veranda. Before long the boy slid next to her, wanting to snuggle into her arms. But something wet dropped on his hand. He looked up and saw tears in her eyes. The boy wanted to tell her to stop crying, but he fell hushed. Then he snuggled closer to her, wishing his father could take up sticks, hunt for his brothers, and thrash them till they cried. He would never forget this incident.
There was another day the boy crouched at the tap, trying to lift the bucket onto his head. Along came a woman with a puckered face who mentioned quite loud enough for him to hear, that no woman who had breastfed her child would abandon him. He wanted to tell the big mouth that his mother could fly to the moon if she liked, because he no longer cared. He kicked a pebble as he walked home, deciding henceforth to ignore the horde of busybodies.
"I’ll get busy with my books," said he.
Weeks later, he had abandoned school, unable to concentrate. He wasn’t tough enough to stand the eyes that bore holes on his back, or the wicked remarks that stung his ears.
There were times he longed to talk to someone. But he had nowhere to go. His mother was an only child and her parents had died in the bloody Aguleri-Umuleri Crisis. His father’s brothers, he avoided them like some dreaded disease. His father belonged to a kindred that managed a common farm where palm trees, plantain, cassava, and other crops were planted. During the harvest seasons, the younger men gathered the crops, and shared amongst themselves, on the basis of seniority, only to the married male. He was the third oldest male. His portion was the least because he had only his mouth and two others to feed (whereas his relatives had larger family members).
He never used to bother about what came to him as his portion, until he lost his job. Thus, the affairs of the farm attracted him, then ensnared his mind, like an obsession. His father used to be a staff of an indigenous construction company, which went bankrupt when they couldn’t secure contracts any more from the State Government, and even patronage from the local council. He had hoped the company would pay its staff a severance allowance. Nothing was given.
One scene would always haunt the boy’s mind. It happened on a warm, windless night, after his father had snarled at his mother. She went out to the veranda, rattling off: "…driving me crazy…the farm would ruin you soon…"
He sidled up to her, and she shoved him away like a rag. He stood there, looking bewildered.
"You can stand there for eternity and see if I care," her words like a horsewhip lashed at his heart.
And he heard "see if I care" over and over in his head. He dashed into the room, flung himself on his bed, and buried his face in the pillow.
When he woke up the next day, his father was raging around the house because his mother had run off with a stranger, who often came to see her when her husband wasn’t around. He drove a blue Volvo, second-hand, still in good condition. The boy had met him, twice or thrice –– a young man, non-Igbo, but who often dashed him money.
* * * * *
This particular night the boy was lying on the bed, his father stumbled into the room. He seemed drunk, but steady on his feet. Then he looked at the lantern on the cupboard in a strange way, like he was seeing it for the first time, then shuffled across the room, and sank into the armchair. He tore off his shirt, flung it away, unzipped his trousers, and threw his legs on to the table.
He began snoring. The sound filled the room like the croaking of frogs.
The boy thought of stuffing a piece of cloth into his father’s nostrils, then wished the roof would cave in on him. He wanted to turn on his side and rest his head on his arm when he felt a presence. He sat up and saw a shadow fall across the bed.
His eyes swelled like a clam and his mouth took the shape of a cup.
A look-alike stood in front of his father, clutching an iron rod.
The boy turned rigid as the rod swung in the air, ready to strike a blow. He let out a painful "Aagh" and the rod stilled. The look-alike spun round, then placed a hand on his hip; the other hand gripped the rod.
"I can’t have the villagers spreading lies against us," like echo, a voice rang.
The boy pulled the blanket to his chin.
His hands shook as he tried to hide his face under the blanket.
The look-alike approached him.
The boy drew up his back against the wall, like a cat.
"I can put an end to these thieving uncles, can’t I?"
The boy nodded, dumbly. The look-alike thrust out a hand to him. The boy shook his head.
The look-alike passed a hand over the boy’s face. The boy felt he had been immersed in a cold pool as he crawled out of the bed, placing one leg after the other on the floor.
The look-like parted his lips.
"The farm?" said the boy.
The look-alike turned to a mist.
* * * * *
The boy walked out of the room, unaware of the strange air like a halo around him. In the kitchen, he threw open the small cupboard and took out his father’s toolbox. Unlocked it and then slammed the lid back. He searched the cupboard, saw the can of kerosene. He shook it.
Then he went back into the room and picked up the matchbox.
He looked rapt as he trekked deep into the farms. The clouds spread splotched and overcast shapes. The trees stood like jagged haircut in the distance. The chirping sound of crickets danced in the air. Darkness formed cold misshapen shadows all around.
"The farm, the farm…" the words played like a prayer on his lips.
A dog bounded in front of him.
The boy grinned at it, still moving on. A short distance off the dog started yapping.
He reached the farmland - it seemed to merge with the horizon. The ridges of pineapples, mounds of cassava, appeared as sitting camels, while the coconut and palm trees, plantain and banana trees, stood still.
He turned the lid of the can open, splashed the kerosene over the vegetation, and struck a match. It went off. He cupped his hand around the matchbox, striking another, which flickered for a while, and then fizzled out.
The plants would not catch, so he crumpled the matchbox.
He heard a roar in the sky. Lightning shimmered. Its stark white flash slithered across the sky, over the dense heads of the trees.
"Rain," said the boy.
As though his word had some force, dust and leaves began flying about. A branch snapped and fell with a "whack" next to his feet. He glanced down, then up. A thick rope curled itself, like a snake, on the bough of a palm tree. One of his uncles must have forgotten this rope used for tapping palm wine.
The sky shuddered; another roar rang. The rain began pelting hard, drenching him through and through. The smell of leaves and wet earth stirred.
The boy took a long breath, then crept under the tree.
* * * * *
The following morning the father was still sprawled out on the armchair, when three of his brothers banged on the door. He jumped up as they forced it open.
"Have you missed your road? Oh, you’ve come to take over my house!" said he.
"We did not come here to fight over property."
"What is it you want?"
His father became aware of the dismal air around his three kinsmen, and called his son.
"He is not here," said someone.
"I suppose he has taken off, too, like his mother –"
"Careful," cut in one of the men.
"Put on some clothes," said the oldest.
They waited for him on the veranda, to get dressed.
* * * * *
The father’s brothers suggested the boy should be buried in the village cemetery. The Elders stated that Ala, the Earth Goddess, would spit his body out, unless his bones were placed beneath the exact spot where he had hanged himself. Or else his spirit would ‘play’ in the dreams of the other children.
Uche Peter Umez