Biyi would go out in the morning and come back home at night; Mum and I would already be asleep when he would creep in. Dad was always awake sitting in the lightless living room, waiting for him. Biyi and Dad would have long and loud and stupid arguments that would wake Mum and me up.
At first, it was only Dad who shouted; he would profusely rebuke my brother; he would call him all sorts of names: stupid, idiot, ȯmȯ ale. In those days, Biyi never responded. Biyi started talking back at Dad eventually; it mostly happened on nights when he was terribly drunk; and then on one windy night in February, everything changed. It was about a quarter past two, the night was the colour of hair; there were no stars and there was no moon; black clouds had covered them. Mum was asleep. I lay next to her on the big bed in the bedroom.
I knew it was Biyi when I heard footsteps, the rustle from dry, fallen leaves crushed by shoes as if they were protesting being stepped on – Crsh! Crsh! I knew, also, that he would smell the same way he did every night–as if someone had soaked him in a pool of alcohol and had let him out to dry. He opened the entrance door and was making his way to his room when Dad confronted him from the darkness of the living room.
‘How many times will I tell you that you cannot enter my house at this time of the night?’ Dad barked. I hated the way Dad shouted, and not just at my brother, at everybody. Biyi said nothing and I imagined that it was going to be a normal night when Biyi would let Dad make all the noise and get a headache. ‘You are stupid.’ Dad continued.
‘I’m not stupid.’ I heard Biyi say.
‘Oh. You are talking back?’
‘Just let me go and sleep.’
‘And if I don’t?’ Dad asked, and began to hit Biyi. It sounded like he was slapping him on the cheek or on another part of his body that was not clothed –the sound was smooth and did not have that buffered distraction that clothing caused on skin. This went on for some time; every slap that landed on Biyi was accompanied by Dad’s voice saying: ‘Ȯmȯ ale ni é,’ and ‘Ólóribúrúkú,’ and ‘alailopolo.’
And then, I heard a thud, the sound of fist against body. I heard it again, and again. Followed by another version of Dad’s voice, one that I only rarely heard, the voice that signaled capitulation and plea: ‘My God, Biyi, you are hitting your father,’ I did not know if this was a question. This version of Dad’s voice was breaking, as if he was unsure that what was happening was actually happening. Then I heard footsteps, I was not sure at first whose they were.
I knew they were Mum’s after I heard her voice; I did not notice when she left the room to meet them; the only thing I was focused on was making sure that the beads of tears that had flooded my eyes did not flow down. ‘Biyi, jȯ ȯ nitori Ȯlorun.’ Mum was crying.
I heard Biyi call Dad a monster and then the door slammed.
Seconds passed and Mum called me, ‘Funmi.’ When I ran outside, Dad was on the ground, his cheekbones were swollen and red, and his head was on Mum’s lap.
‘Run, go and get spirit and cotton-wool from the drawer inside.’ Mum said. Dad’s face was like that of a knocked out boxer – tiny seeps of blood were oozing out of both his swollen cheeks. I did not want to believe that Biyi did that to my dad, to our dad. And why would he call him a monster? Who was the monster here? I watched as Mum dabbed at Dad’s cheek with the spirit-saturated cotton-wool.
Biyi had not always been this inebriate, father beater that he had so unfortunately become; our family was once closely knit. That was until Biola, Biyi’s twin, died. I was fourteen. She was very sick; they said she had AIDS. I don’t think it was her death that hurt Biyi the most; it was how much Biola had to suffer. She had lain on the same bed for close to six months; she had to be assisted to pee, to defecate, and her food had to be crushed into a paste for her. He could not, I sensed, bear to see his twin like that, someone with whom he had shared his childhood. He slipped away before Biola’s death. On the night she died, I was next to her. She smiled at me and held my hand and mumbled incoherent jargon – I still wonder what she was saying that night, it sounded like: ‘Banji is a mad man’, or maybe it was ‘Daddy beat a mad man’. I thought it was her illness talking so I paid no serious attention to it. I felt the weight of her hand disappear; I felt her let go. When I looked at her, her eyes were wide open and white, white in a way eyes should not be, and when I felt her forehead with the back of my palm as Mum always did, it was cold, cold in a way foreheads should not feel. I ran to call Mum. It was Mum who announced that she was dead. I thought she would cry; she didn’t – maybe she had been expecting it. Instead of crying, she went outside where Dad was listening to VOA on his handheld radio, to shout at him and then he shouted back a lot more than she did, and picked his keys and drove away. If cars could be angry, Dad’s car was mad: dust particles billowed from underneath its wheels and did not settle back down for over three minutes after he had left. I didn’t hear what they had been shouting about. But their eighteen-year-old daughter had just died, why would they shout at each other?
Dad was different from Mum. Sometimes I wonder how they could have met and fallen in love and then got married. Then again, I imagine how easy it is for one to pretend to be one thing for a long time and turn out, eventually, to be the exact opposite. Mum was a fervent Christian, Dad only went to church on some Sundays; Mum was quiet, and Dad was loud. Mum and Dad rarely spoke to each other after Biola’s death and their silence was loud, it screamed at me, screamed at Biyi; their silence screamed at everybody.
Two weeks and a few days passed before I saw Biyi again, but even then, he had not come to stay.
My bag was already hung at my back as the bell went for the close of school that Thursday afternoon. I walked out of my Senior 2 class with my friend Tinuke. Between us, Tinuke was the talkative, the one who always had the latest news: who was who’s new boyfriend or which member of staff tried to seduce the Biology teacher right there in the Biology Lab or which students were going to be suspended after the disciplinary committee met in one month’s time. I often wondered where she got all her news from and why she found it exciting to talk about people she never really talked to. Tinuke was buying sweets at Mama Glory’s shop; the shop was opposite our school gate. I was seated on a concrete slab waiting for her when I heard her shout my name. ‘Funmi,’ I looked at her and she pointed towards a nearby tree. My eyes followed her fingers and met a male figure wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt. The figure resembled Biyi. Unconsciously, I had started walking towards the figure. I realized when I got close enough that the figure indeed was Biyi, my brother. I ran to him and hugged him. I did not let go for a long time; I did not want to; he was sand in my palms in a desert; I could not let go lest I lost him again. ‘Thank you for coming back,’ I said into his ear. ‘I have missed you so much, Biyi. Ibȯ lȯ ló? Ibȯ lȯ sùn?’ I did not, at that point, think of how much I had loathed him these past two weeks and half for leaving just like that, leaving me.
He did not respond. He forced himself out of my hug and smiled at me. ‘We have to get away from here.’ His voice was the same – sonorous soprano – his words came out as though they were lyrics to a beautiful song.
‘Funmi, I have not come back.’ He said to me.
I did not understand. Was he drunk?
‘I came to take you with me. Look, Dad is…’ he shook his head, ‘I cannot leave you here with a man like that.’
Biyi had me sit down on a tree stump and told me everything. What Biola had actually said to me the night she died, I now realized, was ‘Daddy is a bad man.’ She had been trying to warn me with her last words; words that I had considered incoherent, sickness talking. Biyi explained how Dad slept around with prostitutes and contracted the HIV, and when prostitutes could no longer appease his perverse desires, he set his sight on Biola, his daughter. He got her infected with the disease. Our father killed her. That was what made mum shout at dad the night that Biola died. That was what made Biyi slip into inebriety – he did not know what the right reaction to such a prodigious sin was, much less, committed by a man who was supposed to love him unconditionally. Alcohol became his sole source of solace. Everything made sense now.
He told me that Mum knew and that he heard about it one night while he was eavesdropping during another bout of their arguments when Biola was sick.
I told Biyi that I couldn’t just leave mum behind, that it was wrong to leave her with that man. Mum was a meek soul. We often taunted her; she never nagged; she never screamed; she was a loveable human being and I had grown to love her. There was no way I was going anywhere without her. ‘I cannot leave without Mum.’ I said to him.
‘She will join us soon. I will tell her where we are, but Funmi, not now, not today.’
I shook my head. ‘No. You go, mum and I will join you.’
I saw the disappointment on Biyi’s face; he had probably had everything planned out, but I was not about to leave mum. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Let’s go home; we will tell her the plan and she will decide whether to come with us or not. Fine?’
‘Fine,’ I said, ‘Thank you.’
We headed home; there was purpose to every step we took. I could not think clearly. How could all these have happened under my nose? I did not suspect that anything was wrong. I had thought it was strange that Mum couldn’t stand Dad but I had concluded that it was one of those hurdles that married people had to scale through, that it was the ‘down’ people meant when they said ‘every marriage has its ups and downs’. How wrong I was.
Gory does not adequately define the sight that met our eyes, Biyi and I, when we got home. As Biyi opened the entrance door to the corridor, there was a pool of blood flowing towards us. I stopped breathing.
Biyi ran into the living room where the pool was coming from. He was stepping on the pool. I heard him say ‘Oh God, what happened?’ as if his question was directed at God. I did not want to go inside; I did not want to see that someone I knew had been killed; I did not want to know that the blood that was creeping towards my feet had once been contained so satisfactorily inside the body of someone that I had seen before. I was content with seeing this person’s blood rather than seeing the person dead.
Then I heard Mum’s voice and I could breathe again. She was crying. ‘I needed to. I had to. He is evil. He would have killed me if I didn’t. I am sorry.’ She said.
I finally found courage to step in the pool, and I went inside. It was Dad’s blood. His body lay by the door. There were two stab wounds; one by his side just above his waist and one below his navel where mum’s sharpest kitchen knife now stood; the sharpest edge had been thrust into his abdomen. Mum’s hands were covered in his blood. She murdered him.
‘I have called the police, they are coming. Biyi, jo o tooju aburo é, jò, se ό ti gbȯ?’ Mum said, her face glistened with tears, her voice intoned with grief.
Biyi surged out of the living room leaving bloody shoeprints at every step. Mum looked at me, her face crumpled some more as though she was more ashamed of herself, and she went and sat on one of the chairs in the dining area, faraway enough that she could not see Dad’s body. Biyi re-emerged, this time with a black towel; neither Mum nor I knew what he was doing. He walked to Mum and began to clean her hands with the towel, wiping every trace of blood from them.
I could hear sirens wailing outside. They were coming for her.
The blood had now been completely removed from Mum’s hand. ‘Biyi, what are you doing?’ she asked. The sirens were clearly audible. They were coming for her.
Biyi smiled at Mum. ‘Take care of her.’ He said pointing at me. He left Mum and came to me in the living room next to dad’s body and put a hand on my shoulder then smiled. After that, he sat on Dad’s dead lap and soaked his hands in Dad’s dead blood and withdrew the knife from Dad’s dead abdomen.
That was when we knew. ‘Biyi, rárá,’ Mum protested, her voice was now ridden in unadulterated fear. She started walking towards him, but it was too late, the police were already inside our house. They had come for him.
He was arrested amidst wailing and protests from Mum. ‘It was me. It was me. I did it. Funmi, bami bè won. Funmi, bami so fun won.’ She kept screaming but she wasn’t the one caught sitting on the dead man’s lap, holding a bloody knife with bloody hands.
Me, I was numb and my numbness was numb, too. I tried to imagine life after; it was impossible, so I waited for sorrow to envelope me.
Image: fizzy122 via Flickr