On Christmas day, Papa woke up at Five O’clock in the morning, prepared boiled rice and goat meat stew, it was the best I had eaten. He instructed me to stay back at home as he will be taking our neighbour, Mr. Mathew on his motorcycle to church. I did not even want to go to church, I wanted to stay back and watch The Sound of Music on the TV; he only allowed me switch on the TV on Christmas days. I went to my Hausa neighbour’s house and invited my friends over to my place, they were so excited; Papa never allowed my friends into the house, he always complained that they would mess up the house. Being in our living room was a great experience for them, they looked round and noticed the new furniture that were well arranged and whispered to one another in Hausa; I went to the kitchen and brought a tray filled with rice and stew.
We ate, danced and laughed and said funny things to each other. We got too comfortable that we began to play around the house, some of my friends were jumping on the couch while I was busy showing off my new red suit and sandals to the ones that cared to listen. It was the moment I saw Papa open the door that I realized it was going to be the worst day of my life
Papa: “Shiber! What is happening here? I have been knocking on that door for God knows how many times” he looked at me, frowning
I looked at him, not knowing what to say. Then behind me, I saw that one of my friends had already broken Papa’s cherished aquarium and was playing with the small fish in his hands.
“Sanusi, stop it!. Oh my God. Papa I didn’t know, I am sorry!” I began to cry, getting ready for the beating from Papa
I could see from his eyes that he was angry and disappointed in me. I was sure he wished he had taken me to church instead. One by one, my friends began to shiver and exchange glances, the little boy, Sanusi, was about to run out of the house when Papa stopped him
Papa: “Sanusi, where are you going to? Come here!”
Little boy: “Wallahi Uncle, I no do anything. D pish e lock am po house, d pish I cry well well. Me, I open d pish house, me I give d pish preedom” he said as he cried and rolled on the floor
Papa: “Hahaha Sanusi, I am not planning to use a cane on you. I was about to praise you for your bravery. I will tell your father that I am impressed, for you to think of giving these fish freedom, you must be a smart kid, I am proud of you. Now stand up” he smiled and picked the boy up. “Shiber, have you all eaten?” he asked as he started fixing the mess we made.
I stood there still, trying to recover from the shock. I had always known Papa to be very strict; if a child misbehaved, he would make sure he beat the child to his satisfaction. Papa’s ideaology was that sparing the rod amounts to spoiling the child. Was Papa too angry to beat Sanusi and decided to pretend that everything was ok? What was so special about the boy that stopped Papa from beating him? These thoughts ran through my mind. I gave my friends signal that it was time to go home and they all understood. I watched Papa as he slowly turned the living room back to how he left it, he acted so quiet and that scared me more; I knew I deserved whatever he was planning to do to me.
Maybe the pastor had preached in church about beating children, or Mama’s spirit decided to protect me and leave me to enjoy the Christmas celebration, I did not know. He never talked about my actions and he never judged me, he just became too gentle the whole of the holidays.
Years had passed and Papa remained the person he had become since that Christmas holiday. I had written my common entrance from primary five and failed, it was now time for me to write from primary six. All my friends had passed the entrance examination from primary five, I was left with no choice than to mingle with the grownups in primary six. I liked my form teacher, but despised my class mates; they all had big breasts, and mine was not even ready to grow. They would mock me during group discussions and each day, during my morning prayers, I would pray to God to bless me with such features to stop me from feeling inferior in school.
One Wednesday morning, I woke up after a terrible nightmare. I was sweating like I was involved in a war or a serious fight, but I could not remember any part of the dream. Prayer was the first step I took to conquer my fears, I then had my bath and rushed to school; Papa’s motorcycle had been bad the whole week so I trekked to school. As soon as I got to school, I brought out the common entrance past questions and began to solve them; I was scared the dream was about my examinations. Luckily, I understood everything I was taught the whole day at school. I got home, feeling like I had made a great change in my life.
That night, at about 2.00am, I was woken up from another nightmare by the noise in the compound; I was about to move to the other side of the bed when I felt a hand firmly covering my mouth. My attempt to scream was a waste of time, I began to sweat, there was power failure, I could not see who was stopping me from screaming.
Papa: “It’s me, Papa. Don’t be afraid, I want you to keep quiet and don’t say a word” Papa advised
I obeyed his orders, even when unsure of whom it really was. Papa took me into his room and asked me to hide behind his clothes in the wardrobe; instructed me not to say a word till the next morning, no matter what I saw or heard.
“I will protect you with my life, Shiber. Be brave, do not cry, and we are going to be fine” Papa had promised
From where I hid in the wardrobe, my breath filled with the smell of camphor, I saw Papa holding the lantern and looking through the window. I heard several gun shots, the more the gun shots, the lesser the voices I heard. Some minutes later, I saw Papa opening the wardrobe wide, picking his den gun and putting his hand on my head
“My little angel, just like I told you, do not come out no matter what. I am ready to protect you” he stood up and turned towards the window. Then I whispered his name
Me: “Papa, Papa, where are you going to? Who are those people out there by this time? Are they killing people? I’m scared Papa…Please do not leave me alone, stay with me, Papa!” I began to cry quietly
Papa: “Shiber” he whispered, “These people out there are very wicked people, they are about to kill everyone in this compound, including your friend, Sanusi. Go back and hide in there, Go! Go!” he instructed and I ran back to the wardrobe
I saw my father pointing the gun at someone, or some people through the window, he fired several shots and then there was silence in the compound again. I could only hear heavy footsteps here and there; then birds crying for their lives. Mosquitoes feasted on my body till day break; it was like they had been hungry for decades.
The following morning, I could hear voices from different persons, each talking at the same time, I could not really hear what they were talking about, but I knew something bad had happened in our compound. Slowly, I crept out of Papa’s wardrobe and ran to Papa, who was lying down on the floor. His skin felt so hard like the sponge Mama used on my body, he looked just like Mama on the day she was buried.
Me: “Papa, they have gone, the wicked men have gone, wake up, it is morning already.” Papa laid there, not moving at all.
I could not really identify what was going on, but I knew Papa was hurt and he was not breathing, he still had his gun in his hand and his shorts were soaked in dark blood. I looked through the window and saw my friend, Sanusi, his siblings and parents lying on the ground just like Papa; I ran outside to wake them up too, but the man in black uniform told Mr. Mathew’s wife to hold me and stop me from touching them. Confused, I stood still and watched them put Papa and our other neighbours who were still sleeping into the ambulance. Mrs. Mathew, whose eyes were red and swollen, assured me that Papa, her husband and the others in the ambulance were going on a journey for the government and would be back soon. I stood there, wondering why the other neighbours were crying, when they knew that their family would be back.
Is Shiber’s father still alive? What really happened in that compound? Why was Mrs. Mathew crying?
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