I tiptoed into my bedroom from the kitchen. It was past midnight. Mother and father were asleep in their bedroom down the hall. I rubbed my freshly washed hands on my pyjama bottoms. I’d just cooked a pack of the instant noodles I’d bought from mama Sule. Mummy had put me on a no food diet for two days. It was punishment for shouting when daddy beat us. I was nine years old. Daddy had been beating mummy for as long as I could remember, he had only started to hit me two years ago. I had made him angry by crying for him to stop hitting my mother. I had also made mother angry and she had beat me after daddy had been done with me.
”Don’t you know that he is my husband?! It’s our life!! Not your business!!” she had said
I remember feeling very confused. I had been trying to help her and now I had become the common enemy to them. Daddy beat me a lot more nowadays. Last week he hit me across my face with the buckle of his belt and I’d had such a large, deep wound that they’d prevented me from going to school for two weeks and told my teachers when I resumed that I’d been in an accident. Of course daddy is very nice to all my teachers and he brings them wine and small gifts from all the places he travels to. I overheard two of my teachers talking about how lucky I am to have such a father. I felt a little confused, but then I thought this is the way most fathers should be.
As I settled into bed for the second time that night sated by my full stomach, I was beginning to drift into sleep when I heard my parents shouting at each other. Their voices were initially muffled and so I assumed it was like every other quarrel and I tried to go back to sleep. But daddy’s voice was becoming louder and then I heard it;
”Don’t call that bastard daughter of yours my daughter! She is not my child!”
I sat up in bed immediately. My heart was beating fast and my head was spinning. Daddy wasn’t my daddy? Who was my daddy then? Was I the reason why he had always beat mummy?
I tiptoed to the door joining my room to my parents’ and pressed my right ear to it. My left ear did not really work anymore because daddy had destroyed my eardrum one time when he beat me and I heard the doctor saying I would probably not regain total use of that ear. Daddy said I had fallen in the bath.
”Dave! Please lower your voice! How can you say that?? She is your daughter and you know it” I heard my mother say, her voice breaking.
”Do you think Charles did not tell me of your affair with him?? Daddy bellowed. ”And don’t tell me how to use my voice in my own house!” he said slapping mummy across her face.
”My affair with him ended a year before I became pregnant, before I even married you!” Mummy said pleadingly.
”You betrayed me! We were engaged!!” Daddy was saying.
”I’m sorry David, I’m sorry, what else do you want me to say?” mummy shouted.
I heard another slap echo in the room and then sounds of a struggle. Daddy was beating mummy again. And it was my fault. All my fault. I bounded into their room and tried to help mummy again. It didn’t matter if she would hit me again. I had to help her, because it was my fault that daddy was angry with her. My fault that he beat her everyday.
”Nkem! Get out of here now!” mummy screamed.
”No, mummy. Daddy please stop beating mummy” I begged.
The man I’d known as my father who maybe wasn’t hit me across my face and shouted
”Get out of my house you bastard!”
I was crying now. Mummy was crying, but she did not defend me. She stood and watched her husband pull me by my arm and out of his house wearing only my pyjamas. He left me outside the gate where I cried and knocked and screamed all night long. I was terrified. Our neighbour, Ms Bola saw me there the next morning, too shaken to explain, cold and decorated with mosquito bites.
”Nkem, what happened? Where are your parents? Why are you here? Have you been here all night?” she asked.
I would answer her questions about ten hours later and she would be horrified at my parents behavior. She’d try to send me home but David, who still said he was not my father would not have it and my mother would side him, garnished with her new black eye. She would just look at me with tears in her eyes and do nothing to help.
Ms Bola would raise me as hers, we would change neighbourhoods and she would come to be known as my mother. Even when she married Jide, he would love and protect me as his. I never saw my parents after we moved and I would always wonder why my own mother could not love me enough to protect me. Or had she loved me too much to watch me suffer her fate? I still wonder if mummy was still alive, maybe daddy had finally killed her and she could be at peace now.
I would never know.