That Night

It was 8pm. Daddy had not returned from work yet. And mum was in the kitchen making dinner. I sat in the sitting room with three of my brothers and the youngest one lay inside the bedroom napping. The sitting room was dimly illuminated by a kerosene lantern; there were a lot of those in our house. Mum had one propped against the wall on a metal container in the kitchen. The lights had gone off about twenty minutes ago and we all knew that would probably be the end of it for today. My brothers and I played cards in the living room, the words ”Check Up!” ricocheting when one of them won; so far, I’d lost all the games. I consoled myself with the fact that I was younger than all of them. I was twelve and my brothers were fourteen, seventeen and nineteen. The oldest was home from university for the short Easter break. My family was a lower middle class Nigerian family, well, we liked to think that the middle class was split in two. Our house was not flamboyantly furnished, but we had a twenty one inch SHARP television on which we watched our favorite Mexican soap operas, cartoons and the ‘award winning Superstory’. We had a good refrigerator which worked, well, whenever we had electricity, seeing as our small I pass my neighbour generator couldn’t power it. We were a very happy family nonetheless.

”Kelechi!”, my mother shouted, calling my eldest brother into the kitchen. She wanted him to do some heavy lifting apparently. We let out a collective ”Ohhh” in the sitting room as he stood up to answer our mother, putting his WHOT cards in the back pocket of his shorts.

”Wait for me oh” he ordered. So we waited. There was a timid knock on our wooden door and I ran to see who it was. These days, I enjoyed asking who it was and being the first to receive whatever goodies the visitor brought. But you see, that was about to change.

”Who is it?” I asked as loudly as was appropriate.

”It’s me, aunty Benita” A small voice replied.

”Aunty Benny?” I asked, wondering why she sounded so quiet.

”Yes, Amaka, it’s me” she responded. My older brother was at the door with me now.

”Open the door now, it’s aunty Benny!” He said in annoyance as he turned the key and opened the door. My aunty Benita was brought in to our dimly lit corridor by a very tall man whose face, I couldn’t see clearly. Another man shushed my older brother and the third man led us, pulling me by hand into the kitchen where my mother was telling my brother to slant the lantern while she poured in kerosene.

”Madam!” The man holding me shouted. My mother dropped the lantern and instinctively pushed my brother behind her simultaneously.

”Where is your husband?!” He called.

”He’s at work” my mother answered calmly. How was she calm?? I wondered. My heart was slamming into my chest ever so quickly.

”Lie on the ground all of you!!” The tall man shouted. As we all scrambled to the floor, I noticed that my brother, the seventeen year old was absent. He hadn’t been sleeping when I’d answered the door, so where was he? I shimmied between my brothers as Kelechi put his arm around me protectively. Aunty Benita was whimpering. They told my mother to stand up. We all kept our heads down while they questioned her repeatedly;

”Where is the money in this house??” Man 2 shouted, he was the one who had shushed Chibuike, my older brother.

”I don’t have any money, my husband isn’t home from work yet” my mother said bravely.

”Ah madam! Don’t play with us oh!”  The tall man said pulling out a pistol from behind his jeans.

‘Oya let us search the house, come on!” The third man said as he and the second man took my mother away while bringing out his gun. I raised my head slightly to see him exchange guns with tall man. Why would he do that? I wondered. Tall man shouted at Aunty Benita for whimpering. I could hear Kelechi’s heart beating and smell mummy’s egusi soup burning. After a few minutes, I heard crying. My little brother was awake.

Mummy came back to the kitchen carrying my baby brother. He was three and still crying. The men were getting furious now. I think it was probably because they had wasted time and effort coming here and had gained nothing. Tall man grabbed my little brother from my mother and began threatening;

”I will shoot this boy if you do not produce money right now!!” He was saying.

Mummy said ” Sir, all I have is five hundred naira, I’m a housewife and my husband isn’t around, what do you want from me?? You have scared my children and punished all of us. We have nothing! Take the TV!! Or the generator!! Even the fridge!! I have no money” She was screaming now. Empowered by my mother’s act of bravery, we all stood up and began to make noise; shouting, begging and cursing. In all the commotion, Kelechi was attempting to pry the gun away from the third man who was much shorter than he was. He rammed the man into our corridor wall and started to struggle with him. Tall man joined the fight dropping his own gun; an act which made no sense to me. Why would he drop his gun when he could just shoot, isn’t that what people did in the movies, when defending each other? Mummy and Chibuike pounced on tall man while Aunty Benny and I (mostly aunty Benita) struggled with the second man. Of course, she was no match and easily got flung to the floor while I hid in the corner and wondered where Chimenem, my other brother was. Then, a shot was fired. And then another. And our wooden door burst open.

Kelechi had been shot in the chest and was lying in his own blood now, while our neighbour, Mr Richard tried to call an ambulance. The boys in our neighbourhood were here too, bundling the three robbers out and hitting them simultaneously. Chimenem had saved us. Well, almost. Because Kelechi was not breathing. Chimenem had left almost as soon as the robbers had entered and gone to our neighbours’ who’d gotten help from some boys in the area and his old rifle. But my older brother was dead. He’d been smart enough to figure out that one of the guns had been fake, hence the exchange. He couldn’t stand and watch his mother be harassed and not do anything. My mother’s heartbreaking cries echoed in the corridor as she mourned her firstborn, shaking him, begging him to wake up. I felt hot tears run down my cheeks as I held my crying little brother. Chimenem stood, unable to move. His hero, his older brother who’d taught him everything from talking to girls, to playing cards, to throwing a good punch. My brother was our mediator. He helped us understand each other. He was the father when daddy wasn’t home. And now as daddy walked in, I saw the emotions register on his face; shock, disbelief, pain and then anger. All he could do was walk over, hold his wife and mourn his child. I couldn’t help wondering if Kelechi still had the cards in his pocket and how we’d play them if we didn’t get the cards back.