Silent Night, Bloody Night
By Ayodele Morocco-Clarke (Nigeria)
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Ayodele Morocco-Clarke is a Nigerian of mixed heritage currently living in the United Kingdom . She is a multi-award winning Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and has a Master of Laws Degree from the University of Dundee in Scotland . Ayodele is currently studying at the University of Aberdeen for the award of a Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.) and is a voracious reader. Whilst undertaking her present studies, she is working on a short story anthology and hopes to publish a novel in the not too distant future.
I am standing at the edge of the Lagos Bar Beach with the waves roughly beating at my feet, hard and fast. The sea looks stormy and I half turn to catch a glimpse of one of the warning flags - that tiny piece of clothing on a stick - which has been put up to inform people about the temperament of the sea. The flags could be the difference between life and death if heeded. White flags mean “come on in,” giving a calm, safe and inviting sign for even the not-too-good swimmers. Yellow flags say “be careful,” indicating that something might be brewing in the belly of the sea. Red flags scream “Danger! Danger! Keep away,” warning about waters boiling over with ferocious waves sometimes rising up to seventy feet high and strong undercurrents that could drag and overpower even the strongest of swimmers.
The local folk tell tales about there being a mami-water or mermaid who lived in the sea and who had lost her only daughter. It is said that when the sea was rough, it is because she was angry about not finding her daughter and determined to exert revenge for the loss of her precious child. She would drag unfortunate swimmers into a vortex she had created, leading them to their watery graves. On really bad days, the sea at the Bar Beach would overflow its banks and flood the roads which usually lay a good eight hundred metres from the edge of the sea.
Today, red flags are up. I choose a red flag day because I do not want my efforts to be thwarted. I have come to take my life at the beach and stand before the sea reflecting on what had been a perfect life until almost two weeks ago.
My name is Ameze Obaze. I was born with what some people refer to as a silver spoon. My father, Osadolor, is a wealthy cocoa merchant and my mother, Ivie, a princess from the royal house of Eweka, is a trader who owns many shops and stalls in both the Tejuosho and Balogun markets in Lagos. At just nine days shy of my sixteenth birthday, I am the eldest daughter of their four offspring. Osagie, my brother was born three years before me, and then there are the thirteen years old twins, Iyen and Idehen. Ours was a happy family filled with love and laughter. Mum always had a reason to thank God. She told us over and over again to always count our blessings and kept saying that she did not know why God had singled her out for so many blessings. She had a loving successful husband who made his family his priority, healthy children who were academically gifted and to add to these, her business was thriving. Little did she know that her numerous blessings were a prelude to a lifetime of nightmare and sorrow. Little did she know that the question on her lips would change to “God, what did I do to deserve this evil?” Little did she know that her years of laughter would be wiped away by a single night of wickedness. Little did she know that she might never have another cause to smile. My people have a saying that goes “Joy has a slender back which breaks too soon,” and when it came to my family, this saying could not ring truer.
We had gone to Benin-City from our Lagos home a few days before Christmas as we did every year. Bini Natives from all over the world converged back in Benin-City at this time of the year. It was a period I loved and enjoyed as I always got to catch up with members of my extended family who I did not get to see throughout the year. It was a period of merriment, partying and unparalleled gossiping.
Every year, as soon as the month of November ended, I looked forward to going to Benin-City and started counting down the days until we would leave. My siblings did exactly the same and we always talked of little else but the impending trip. The weeks preceding the trip to Benin-City were always hectic. Mum ensured that we all got new clothes and, everyday, different goods were delivered to the house. The goods ranged from several bags of rice, numerous tubers of yam, bunches of plantain, bags of beans, huge kegs of vegetable oil and palm oil, to bags of garri and yam flour. There were even half a dozen goats and fifty chickens delivered as well. Mum made sure that Efe, the driver, brought home bales of cloth from one of her shops. These cloths were for distribution among the clan women, many of whom made up our extended family and were less privileged than we were. Half of the foodstuff was for similar distribution among relatives and friends. The other half was usually cooked during the period we were in Benin-City, with the majority used in feeding the numerous visitors who came to the house to pay social calls on Mum and Dad.
We drove to Benin-City in two different cars and one pick-up truck, with Dad and Osagie each driving a car while Efe drove the truck which had been loaded with the foodstuff and livestock.
As had been the practice in years past, there were throngs of people who kept trooping to the house to pay homage to my Dad.
The days whizzed past and, before I knew it, Christmas had come and gone. We were supposed to return to Lagos on Saturday the 6th of January 1990. On the Thursday before we were to return to Lagos, Osagie, the twins and I had gone with our cousins to the Masquerade celebrations at Ikpoba Hill. We thoroughly enjoyed the festivities and returned to the house absolutely worn out. By 10.00PM, every one of us had gone to bed due to exhaustion. Moreover, we knew that we had to get up early the next morning to organise the cleaning of the house and to individually do our packing since we were returning to Lagos on Saturday morning.
I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and started dreaming of the masquerade celebrations. In my dream, the masqueraders came out flamboyantly dressed, dancing around the square and weaving through the crowd of people who had come to partake in the celebrations. There were drummers who dexterously beat their drums, producing rhythms which were simply ethereal. Enthralled, my cousins and I danced in tune to the beat and the drummers, spurred on by our enthusiastic dancing, beat their drums faster and faster. I loved it and started dancing like someone possessed. By this time, I was in the middle of the square and people had formed a ring around me, cheering me on and chanting in tune to the beats. The masqueraders joined me and we gyrated in unison. This continued for a while until one of the drummers started to beat his drum out of sync. Frowning, I stopped dancing to rebuke him, but he continued banging on his drum unperturbed. The other drummers stopped beating their drums as the banging from the errant drummer grew louder and louder until the square and indeed the ground reverberated with the force of his banging.
I jerked out of my bed startled. The banging was not coming from the drummer in my dream. It was real. I hastened out of bed and ran out of my room to the landing where I met Dad and Osagie. Mum was standing in the doorway of their room, her eyes wide with fear. Even before dad told us what was going on, I guessed…Armed Robbers.
Confirming my suspicions, Dad whispered that there were armed men trying to break into the house. They were making a loud racket. Dad said that he had counted over a dozen robbers who had surrounded the house and he had tried using the telephone to call the police but the telephone line had been disconnected. Iyen and Idehen had joined us on the landing by this time. Dad told all of us to go and hide as he did not know how long it would take for help to come and he did not want any harm to come to his family.
Before we could spring into action, the house gave a shudder as the front door collapsed under the barrage it had been subjected to. In poured a gang of men who were heavily armed with guns, cutlasses and machetes. They looked extremely organised as I saw them fan out in different directions. I managed to count seven of them from my position at the top of the stairs before I beat a hasty retreat to my room, locked the door and hid under my bed. Apparently everyone else had locked their bedroom doors because I heard simultaneous banging on the doors to all the bedrooms upstairs.
A voice called out and told us to open all doors immediately. “Osadolor, we know you are in there. We have your house surrounded, so there is no way for you to escape. You people should come out peacefully right now.”
When there was no response, the voice continued. “If we have to break down these doors, I can assure you that you and your wife will bury all your children with your own hands.” Mum began to wail loudly. I heard Dad murmuring something to her, but could not make out his precise words.
A moment later, I heard the loud creak of as my parents’ bedroom door was opened. There was a short exchange between Dad and one of the robbers. My heart leapt when Dad told them only he and Mum were home.
“In that case, you would not mind us taking a look for ourselves. Anyone we find in this house, apart from you and your wife, shall be killed and that should not bother you much since they will be trespassers who are here with neither your knowledge nor permission.”
I heard Mum wail louder and Dad ask, “What do you want? You can have anything. Anything at all, just please leave my family alone. I have a lot of money. You can have it all. Come, let’s go to my study. I’ll show you where the money is.”
“Sharrap,” came the reply. “We will take what we like. Tell the people in the bedrooms to come out or else blood will flow here tonight.” By this time, I had started praying fervently.
“Please…” Dad began and I heard a thud. Mum screamed hysterically and I heard Dad groaning.
“Please, I beg you.” Mum pleaded.
“Call them out. Right now,” snarled the robber. “Call them out before I count to three,” he continued. “Oneee… twoooo…”
“Osagie, Ameze, Iyen, Idehen. You children should come out now,” Mum cried. “Please hurry up before they become angry.”
I crawled out from underneath my bed and hastened to my bedroom door which I unlocked as quickly as my trembling fingers could allow. My legs felt like jelly and I was afraid that they would give way beneath me. I managed to make it out to the landing and saw my mother kneeling next to my father. He was sitting on the floor with blood pouring out of a gash on his temple.
“Daddy!” I screamed in alarm, rushing to his side.
“I am alright,” he tried to reassure me with a shaky smile.
Every one of us was on the landing by this time and the robber who had been doing all the talking and ordering, and who I assumed was their leader, ordered us downstairs. Mum helped Dad to his feet and as we proceeded down the stairs in a single file I heard the lead robber bark orders to two others to carry out a thorough check of all the rooms upstairs.
Once downstairs, we saw that the other robbers had been very busy. All Dad’s electronic gadgets had been assembled in the front hall and the robbers were still hard at work amassing their loot as we were marched into the large front sitting room which my parents used as a reception room. Mum continued to cry softly. Iyen was also weeping. I glared defiantly at the robbers. Three of them stood guarding us whilst others worked furiously gathering up possessions that my parents had worked hard for.
I felt an indescribable rage seize me. I was shaking with fury but there was nothing I could do. In this state, the true meaning of the phrase ‘impotent rage’ finally dawned on me, as that was what my rage was, impotent. I was enraged at the atrocities being carried out against my family, but was powerless to do anything about it. I seethed inwardly, hatred burning in my heart. I glanced at Osagie and saw the emotions I was feeling mirrored in his eyes. My throat felt constricted like there was a boulder lodged within it and I felt tears start to well up at the back of my eyes, but mentally tried to shoo them away. I was not going to give any of the thieving bastards the satisfaction of seeing me cry.
The lead robber started to taunt Dad. “So Mr. Big Man, who is the big shot now?” You think you are better than everybody ehn? You come to Benin-City with your useless family and think that everything must come to a halt because you are in town? You give money to people like we are all beggars waiting to scramble for some little crumbs that would fall from your table. How big do you feel now in front of your family? Useless man!”
“There is no need for any of this,” Dad said in a subdued voice.
I was mortified on his behalf. Here was my father, who was usually a man of authority, a man people respected, being taunted like bullies would taunt a wimp on a school playground. I knew my father was not a wimp. But it would have been foolhardy for him to challenge the robbers who outnumbered us and who in addition were heavily armed.
Dad looked deflated as the robber continued in a derisory tone, “Mr. Big Man, say something, or are you going to continue sitting there staring like a zombie?”
He paced from one end of the room to the other. “It is people like you who are destroying this country. Only you and your family are enjoying all this wealth. You are very greedy. Did you hear what I said Osadolor? I said you are very greedy. There are millions of people suffering in this country. Millions are crying everyday from poverty and dying of hunger, but people like you don’t care about that. You go about in your fancy clothes and flashy cars thinking you are superior to the rest of us,” the robber ranted.
“I give to the poor all the time,” Dad said in his defence.
“Sharrap,” barked the robber. “Who gave you permission to talk, ehn? You give handouts to people. Mere crumbs. How much do you pay the labourers who work on your cocoa plantation? They slave for you day in day out under the hot sun, but you rake in the cash. You just use them anyhow you like and do not care that they are human beings like you,” he continued his tirade.
“My father worked for you for seventeen years. Seventeen whole years of his life. What did he have to show for it? Absolutely nothing,” he answered his own question. “He died in penury. A pauper, with nothing to show for all the years of hard labour. You callously made him redundant when his arthritic fingers could not work fast enough. Yet you go around feeling like you are a mini-god. Look at my friend over there,” he said, pointing at one of the robbers standing by the door. “His mother who was a picker on your plantation was sacked just because she helped herself to a few measly cocoa pods to augment the beggarly wages you were paying her. Nobody cared that she was the only breadwinner of her family and had seven children to feed. Nobody cared that she had slaved diligently for you for more than twelve years. She was not given any warning. No query, no suspension, no fair-hearing; only dismissal, plain and simple,” his outburst went on.
“What have you ever done for your community?” he suddenly asked so quietly, he may as well have been talking to his friend. Dad said nothing. “Am I not talking to you Osadolor?” the robber screamed at him.
“I know what I do for my community and I know how many people I have helped,” Dad retorted angrily. “I do not have to go round broadcasting it to everyone nor do I need to beat my chest about it. You people have gotten what you came here for, so please just take your loot and leave me and my family in peace.”
“Loot? Loot?” the robber asked in an angry yet incredulous tone. “Are you calling us robbers?”
I felt this was the daftest question ever, seeing that we were being held at gunpoint after they had broken into our home and were carting away goods they had neither paid for nor had permission to take. I took a long look at the ranting robber. He had a crazed look in his eyes like he was high on something.
“Capone, make we show am how robbers dey deal with people like him and him family,” said another of his partners in Pidgin English. “Me, I like this him pikin well, well. She fine no be small,” he continued, advancing towards me. I could not believe my ears and glared furiously at him. “Fine girl, how are you?” he asked, cupping his hand beneath my chin.
“Get your stinking hand off me,” I screamed, slapping his hand away.
“Leave her alone,” Dad roared almost simultaneously. “Leave my daughter alone right now.”
The lead robber threw his head back and laughed maniacally. “Or what? What will you do Osadolor? What can you do? I can wipe out your entire family in the space of two minutes.”
Mum who had hitherto ceased crying, began wailing again. She started pleading with the robbers. “Please do not hurt us. Have mercy on us, I beg you. You can take everything, just leave us alone. You can take the cars, even the house. We won’t call the police, I swear.”
The lead robber laughed again. “Nobody wants to hurt anyone,” he said. My friend here likes your daughter, that’s all. Don’t you think he is good looking enough for her?” When no one replied, he asked further, “so you think that she is too good for him or that she is better than him?” Still there was no response. “Answer me!” he snapped at Mum.
“I did not say that O,” Mum wailed. “Please do not hurt us,” she repeated. “Sharrap” he shouted at Mum.
“Do not shout at my mother,” Osagie bellowed back at him. Immediately, one of the other robbers lunged at him and whacked him across the face with the butt of his rifle. I heard a crunch as Osagie’s nose broke and immediately saw blood stream down his face as Mum began to scream hysterically.
“You have killed my son O,” she shrieked.
“Sharrap,” the lead robber screamed.
Dad addressed the lead robber. “If you people lay another finger on any of my family, I swear to God, you will live to regret it.”
“Is that so?” came the reply. The lead robber beckoned to the robber who had said he liked me and said “Corporal, take the girl. She is yours. Do whatever you want with her, but remember that we have to leave soon.” While saying this, he pulled out a little pistol from the waistband of his trousers and slung his rifle by its strap over his shoulder. Turning back to Dad and levelling his pistol at him, he said “Now let’s see what you can do.”
The robber called Corporal looked like he could not believe his luck. “Capone, thank you,” he said gratefully as he approached me smirking and licking his lips. He was leering lasciviously as he grabbed me.
I felt like my heart had stopped beating. I was paralysed with fear. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion and suddenly I could feel my heart palpitating. Corporal grabbed my nightie at the neck in his grubby paws and yanked it downwards. The nightie tore like it was made from paper and my breasts came spilling out, on show for all and sundry to see. When this happened, the other robbers cheered while I screamed. I started kicking and fighting as hard as I could, whilst using one hand to try to cover up my shame.
‘This is not happening to me. It is just a bad dream and I will soon wake up.’ I kept telling myself over and over again. He grabbed my knickers and ripped them much the same way that he had my nightie.
“Daddy! Daddy!! Please help me,” I screamed, sobbing and still trying to fight him off. The brute picked me up and hurled me against the wall. My head ricocheted off the wall and for a brief moment, all I saw was a blank void. I was also winded and could barely put up a fight, so I crossed my legs as tightly as I could. Corporal tried to pry them apart without much success, as I crossed them tighter whilst squirming from side to side.
In desperation, he smacked me very hard across my face a good few times. One of my teeth became loose. I could taste something strange and metallic in my mouth, and I realised that it was the taste of my blood. There was a roaring noise in my ears and I felt like I was trapped, suspended in a tunnel. I was in agony, but still managed to keep my legs clamped shut by crossing them together.
“Punch her in the thigh, you moron,” I heard a voice say from somewhere that seemed very far away, and surely enough, I felt pain explode in my thighs as the brute landed a heavy blow on first one, then the other. It felt like my thigh muscles had become wasted as they went slack and refused to obey the commands that my brain was desperately and frantically passing through to them.
“Open Sesame,” Corporal guffawed with satisfaction as he used one hand and his knees to part my thighs, while he used his other hand to undo his zipper.
In that precise moment, the futility of my situation dawned on me. I felt something die inside me as I resigned myself to the fact that this was how I was going to lose my virginity. By being raped in front of my whole family as well as strangers. Tears of despondency fell heavily from my eyes and I could do nothing to stop the whimpers that escaped from my lips.
Corporal never got to complete this act because I saw Dad move swiftly. The heavy vase that had hitherto lain on the coffee table came crashing down on his head. He slumped on top of me, with blood dripping onto my bosom from a cut which had opened on his head. I was not sure if he was dead or just unconscious, but I felt like I was suffocating. He was very heavy and was cutting off my oxygen supply.
At almost exactly the same time, probably a split second after Corporal had collapsed on top of me, I heard the loud deafening boom of a gun going off. Dad came crashing down less than a foot away from me.
I heard screams ringing in my ears. Mine was one of them. Dad lay face down near me and he was not moving.
“Sharrap,” the lead robber shouted, but nobody paid him heed.
“I said Sharrap!”
Mum was beside Dad by this time and she was still screaming with tears streaming down her face. I was still screaming too as I tried to dislodge the mammoth weight that was threatening to crush me. I continued to scream through the robber’s words and my screams drowned out whatever he was saying.
Seeing that there was mass hysteria in the room, the lead robber fired his gun twice in quick succession into the ceiling. Showers of plaster rained down on us. With the second and third booms from the gun, everyone became silent, including me.
“I will not say this again. If anyone starts to make a noise here, that person shall not live to see daylight. Do you understand?” Petrified, nobody moved nor said a word. “I said do you understand?” he thundered.
“Yes,” we all chorused timidly.
“Good,” he said satisfied.
Gesturing to his comrades, he said “Take Corporal to the van.” Two of the other robbers came to me, lifted the brute off me and carried him outside. I tried to cover up my nakedness as best as I could with my tattered nightie. I saw that the fracas had brought more of the robbers into the house and they all crowded the doorway leading into the sitting-room. I was beyond any feelings of mortification.
I crawled to my father’s head and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that his eyes were open and blinking. Mum was sobbing as quietly as she could. Osagie looked ashen and grim. The twins clutched one another tightly, crying silently. I had forgotten about them throughout my ordeal. I gave silent thanks to God that Dad was still alive and that the brute had not succeeded in raping me.
My thanksgiving was however untimely, as the lead robber marched over to Dad and hurled him up by the collar of his pyjamas. Dad tottered on his legs and it was at that moment that I noticed that the first shot I had heard had hit him on his right leg. He swayed from side to side and came crashing back down to the floor. The lead robber viciously grabbed him again by the collar and yanked to his feet while putting his gun to Dad’s temple.
“Get up now you stupid bastard,” he yelled, “or I swear on my mother’s life that I will blow your brains all over your family.”
Dad stood balancing on his one good leg.
“So, you think you are a hero ehn? Do you think you are a match for me or any of my men? You are lucky that Corporal is not dead because I would have wiped out your entire family before your very eyes,” he thundered.
“You don’t want another man to fuck your daughter,” he continued crudely. “You want to fuck her yourself ehn? he asked. “And that is exactly what you shall do here tonight since you don’t want anyone else to do so.”
Time stood still.
It was at precisely that moment that I stopped believing that a God existed. I stared incredulously at the lead robber. Staring at his face with that crazed glint in his eyes, I observed the slant of his mouth turned down in a sneer. The angles of his jaw were set determinedly. To me he looked like the devil would look. I wondered at how a human being could house such evil in his heart.
I felt like I was caught up in the most awful nightmare. For the umpteenth time that night, I cursed my father’s decision to build a house in a location where the nearest neighbour was almost a mile away. The need for seclusion and privacy, which was an advantage and a top selling point when Dad bought the property, was now working against us and proving the greatest ally the robbers had. These evil acts would not have happened if we had neighbours close by. I had no doubt in my mind that no one was coming to our rescue. They would have already come if they were ever going to do so.
On hearing his words, Mum shrieked and jumped to her feet crying. She ran over to the lead robber, got on her knees in supplication and clutched at the legs of his trousers. “Please, don’t do this to my family. It is an abomination for a father to sleep with his daughter. Taboo. Please don’t ruin my family. Kill me instead.”
“Shut up Ivie!” Dad snapped at her. “Why are you pleading with the lunatic? Do you think I am going to sleep with my own daughter?” Turning to the lead robber, he said, “That is not going to happen. You will have to kill me. I am a grown man and I am not afraid to die.” Turning to each of us, he told us that he loved us and told Osagie to take care of us as he was going to be the man of the house, then he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and closed his eyes waiting for the hail of bullets that would signify the end of his life. We were all crying and I shut my eyes as I did not want to see the moment my Dad’s life was taken away.
“Capone, make we waste am?” One of the other robbers asked the lead robber in Pidgin English.
“No, no, no,” the lead robber said. “Do not kill him.” I breathed a sigh of relief and opened my eyes to see him move within inches of Dad.
Very calmly, he spoke to Dad in a quiet voice, “Osadolor, you have to get it into your thick skull that you will do as I say whether you want to or not.”
“I am not sleeping with my own daughter no matter what you do to me. You can go to hell,” Dad spat at him.
“Is that so? We shall see,” came the reply.
Turning to his men but addressing no one in particular, he barked “bring the girl here.” Two men detached themselves from the group and walked towards me as I scrambled behind Mum screaming “No!”
Osagie sprang to his feet in my defence shouting “leave my sister alone you stinking pervert.”
A loud boom sounded and Osagie went down clutching his arm and shouting with pain. Again, my ears rang from the gunfire within such close proximity.
“That is your second warning tonight, you fool,” yelled the lead robber. “You won’t live to tell the story of your folly if you should try this a third time.”
Mum, still on her knees with my arms clutched tightly around her waist once again started to plead with the lead robber. He ignored her and shouted to his two men who were standing near Mum and me.
“Did I not tell you to bring the girl here?” The two robbers grabbed me, with one prying my arms away from where they were locked around Mum’s waist. I was dragged kicking and screaming to where the lead robber stood before Dad and deposited unceremoniously at his feet.
“Do as I say right now,” the lead robber ordered Dad.
“I repeat, do as I say Osadolor.”
“You can say it as many times as you like, you maniac. I am not going to sleep with my own daughter.”
“Do not say I did not warn you Osadolor.”
Turning to his men, the lead robber ordered “Bring the little boy to me.”
The two goons who had dumped me at his feet, rushed over to the corner of the room where Iyen and Idehen were huddled together and grabbed Idehen by the arms, dragging him towards their leader. Frightened, Iyen clung to Idehen, sobbing desperately, and one of the goons landed her with a backhand slap which practically lifted her and sent her sprawling back to the corner from which she and Idehen had cowered only moments before.
Enraged, Osagie charged at the robber with his one good arm and the rest of his body. The charge took the robber entirely by surprise and the force of Osagie’s body propelled him backwards and sent him crashing into the wall where he sank to the ground.
For the fifth time that night, a gun went off. This time however, it signified the end of my big brother’s life.
Pandemonium broke out in the sitting room after that shot was fired.
I shut my eyes for a few seconds, then I opened them, hoping, praying that everything had been a figment of my imagination. The scene remained the same. It was no imagination and neither was it a nightmare. It was very real. Osagie lay slumped half on top of the robber he had charged into. There was blood, flesh and tissue all over the robber and the wall behind him. There was a huge gaping wound in what remained of Osagie’s neck where the bullet had blown almost half of the neck away. The robber pushed Osagie off him and, from my position, I could see that his eyes were wide open. There was a look of surprise or shock in them, like he had not expected to be shot from behind. His mouth was agape.
Once again, Iyen and I started screaming. I was rooted to the spot I was on. Idehen was howling with tears streaming down his face. On seeing Osagie being killed in cold blood, Mum let out an anguished cry and fainted.
Dad charged at the lead robber in anger and he was promptly shot in the arm. He went down clutching his arm in much the same manner that Osagie had done not too long before.
“Bring the little boy to me,” the robber snarled, repeating his earlier order.
Attempting to cry softly, Idehen got to his feet and walked to the lead robber who turned to one of the other robbers clustered at the door and barked “Major, go to the van and get me the industrial hammer.” The robber who was addressed as Major ran off and returned soon after with a sledge hammer.
Nodding towards Idehen, the lead robber told Major to smash his big toe with the hammer. Major seemed to hesitate to carry out the order and the leader said, “Remember your sister Onome and how she died because your father could not afford to take her to the hospital after this bastard Osadolor had sacked him. Remember also your brother Osarugwe who is a multiple amputee because he was forced to hawk wares on the express road when your father lost his job and remember your father who took his life because he felt shame when he could no longer provide for his family.”
The psychological manipulation worked perfectly, so Major forcefully brought the hammer down, not once, but twice on Idehen’s left foot, shattering the big toe. Idehen let out a blood curdling scream and crumpled to the floor clutching the foot that housed his now mangled toe.
Idehen’s anguished cry must have reached Mum somewhere in the subconscious as she came awake with a startled cry of her own. She started sobbing and babbling incoherently.
Unmoved, the lead robber addressed Dad again, “For each time you refuse to do as I order, one of your family members will lose a body part. My patience is infinite as I have waited for this day for a very long time. Your arrogance will be your undoing, Osadolor, and in the end it may cost you your entire family.”
Dad remained sitting on the floor with his head bowed to his chest. He was silent, unmoving, as if he had not heard what was said.
“You are a fool,” the lead robber said. Then dipping his hand into his pocket, he walked over to where Mum was. Upon extracting his hand from his pocket, a Stanley knife was clutched firmly in his grasp. Startled at the sight of the knife and dreading what he might do with it after his threat, I inched my way towards him on my knees and spoke up whilst grabbing the leg of his trousers as Mum had done previously in supplication.
“Please don’t hurt my mother,” I begged. “You can bring back your Corporal friend. I will sleep with him if you want. Please.”
“Don’t beg me, beg your father. He has the power to make everything stop.” Turning to Dad, “Osadolor, won’t you listen to your daughter’s pleas?”
Dad sat immobile with not a single word coming from him.
Tucking his pistol into the waistband of his trousers, the lead robber kicked me off his leg and practically pounced on Mum. In the blink of an eye, the front of Mum’s nightie had been cut away. Mum sat rooted to her spot. She was unflinching, unwavering and stared at the lead robber with tears streaming down her face. Her lips moved, but it was not to plead for mercy as she had previously done. When she spoke, a string of curses, which revealed her torture and her mental state, emanated from her mouth.
“You will never know happiness in your life. As you have torn my family apart, so shall your family be scattered before your very eyes. The hand that robbed me of my first born child shall turn upon itself in betrayal. You will know no peace. The eyes that stood by and watched this evil being perpetrated against me and my family shall be extinguished in their youth. You all shall grope in darkness as you wander the earth destitute…”
As she carried on with her curses, the lead robber whacked her across the face, prompting one of the other robbers to speak up.
“Ehi,” he called, addressing the lead robber. It was the first time anyone had addressed him by a name. The lead robber did not answer him. “Ehi, that’s enough. I think we should leave now. We have gotten what we came for. Let’s go.”
The lead robber turned around angrily, whipping out his pistol. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do or when to stop?” he yelled waving the pistol round dangerously. “We stop only when I say so, not a moment before, and I say we do not leave here until Osadolor does as he is told. Is that understood?” A few of the other robbers nodded. They looked either petrified or intimidated, I was not sure which it was.
“Osadolor, this is your last chance before I descend on your wife.”
There was no response from Dad.
In a single calculated move of savagery, the lead robber turned back to Mum and sliced off her left nipple. Mum screamed in pain, holding her deformed breast which was covered in blood and started heaping more curses on him. I prayed to wake up from the nightmare, but I was to have no respite.
The lead robber tossed Mum’s severed nipple into Dad’s lap and said that he would be moving on to Iyen next.
I knew I had to act fast, so I crawled to Dad and begged him to do as the robber had ordered. He did not move and I started to shake and hit at him. Looking into his face, I saw that my father was no longer there. The man staring back at me with tears running unchecked down his face was a stranger.
Finally, Dad moved slightly. My voice had eventually succeeded in penetrating his brain. Sobbing, he started to apologise to me, to my Mum, to Idehen, to Iyen and especially to Osagie who lay stone dead a few feet away. He apologised for being a failure as a father, for failing to protect us when we needed his protection the most. He wept and wept and begged the blood thirsty lead robber to take his life, but his pleas were ignored. The inevitability of the situation stared him starkly in the face and he resigned himself to the abomination which he must now commit.
He was a broken man.
And so it came to pass that I was disvirgined by my father. My mind has tried to block out the details of that horrible night when my family was torn apart.
The robbers led by Ehi, their leader, left the house almost quietly. There was a solemnity in their departure. In their wake, they left devastation. They left a family that was torn apart - my family, or what was left of it. Our ordeal had lasted over three long hours. Three hours that felt like three days, like a lifetime. Indeed it was a lifetime, for it was a lifetime ago when we had a perfect, happy and complete family. A lifetime ago when Mum used to wonder about her good fortune. A lifetime ago when my larger than life big brother teased me and got on my nerves. All wiped away in a single night.
In typical incompetent manner that permeates everything around here, the police have been unable to make any headway on the case despite being provided with the descriptions of the robbers and the first name of their leader.
The media had a field day turning my family’s grief into a circus. My father has withdrawn into a shell. Nothing interests him. He was once very boisterous, now he is subdued. His arm is in a sling from where he was shot and he uses a wheelchair due to the damage his leg suffered from the bullet that penetrated it. To remove both bullets, he underwent an operation which lasted hours.
Mum has taken over the running of the family since Dad lost all interest. She keeps telling him that they have to carry on for the sake of us, the children. It was Mum who made a report to the police, giving them only a modified version of the events and leaving out the part in which Dad was forced to have sex with me. She has told every one of us that we are never to mention that part of that night to anyone. She told us that, in the society we live in, we will all be ostracised if we told anyone of what Dad was made to do. The morning after the attack, she had surgery to re-attach her severed nipple.
Idehen has matured a lot since our ordeal. He had his big toe amputated as the bones were shattered and could not be salvaged. He has borne everything that has happened to him stoically and is fiercely protective of his twin sister Iyen, who has not uttered a single word since that dreadful night. Iyen is the only one of us who was not assaulted or harmed physically, but it seems that the effects of that night have gravely manifested themselves psychologically on her. She refuses to be separated from Idehen and was with him throughout the operation on his foot. The only times that anyone hears any sound come out of her mouth is when she cries or screams in her sleep. Like every one of us, she constantly has nightmares in which the horrors of that awful night are played out over and over again.
Osagie was buried in the family vault in Benin-City five days after our ordeal. In accordance with the local custom and beliefs, Dad and Mum did not attend the funeral as children are supposed to bury their parents and not vice versa. There was, however, a large crowd of mourners who came to pay their last respects. A lot of the people who came were unknown to me. Many came out of respect for my father and many more came because the attack on my family had been broadcast in the news. There were scores of Osagie’s friends and schoolmates present. My heart went out to his girlfriend, Aisha who was grief-stricken and in apparent distress. She found it hard to understand how Osagie could be dead and tried to extract specific details of the robbery from Idehen and I, but the events of that night were not things either of us were willing to relive. I felt incapable of offering or providing any comfort to her as I was so full of grief myself and I was incapable of sharing my grief with anyone else.
I tried to get on with my life as best as I could since that night, but it was too hard. The night the robbers came, they not only robbed my family of our possessions and my brother, they robbed me of my fundamental right to dignity as a human person. I could not close my eyes without seeing the horrors of that night played time after horrifying time. Above all, I could no longer look my father in the eye. I did not blame him for that night. He was a pawn and so was I.
Coming out of my rumination, I take a last look at the red flags flapping in the night breeze. It is a beautiful night with the moon shining brightly and illuminating the beach. I look around the beach as far as my eyes can see and am happy to observe that I am alone. The hitherto slight breeze which had been blowing inland off the Atlantic has picked up a bit and I shiver a little, rubbing my hands up my arms and feeling goose bumps on them.
Determinedly, I walk into the sea before my courage deserts me. It is still quite warm from the hot day that has just ended a few hours ago and I can feel the water enveloping me, comforting me, encouraging me to lay down my burden and advance deeper and deeper inside. I am not afraid; I am not scared. I know that I will be joining my big brother soon. For the first time in almost a fortnight, I feel at peace. I am calm and totally in control of my destiny.
I advance into the sea until my feet stop touching the sand below. The waves are rising higher and higher and a few times, they cover my head. I try to remember not to float instinctively and I let the powerful waves drag me further and further out to sea. I close my eyes and surrender myself to the command of the sea, knowing that all my troubles will soon be over. As I am being dragged under, my mind involuntarily and of its own accord says a prayer to a God I had stopped believing in almost two weeks before.
Father into your hands I commit my Spirit, Amen.