The Storyteller

Endwell was always picking at a scabbing wound on his knee. He either fell a lot or bruised easily; I was not sure. He was telling one of his stories, one of those ones that always included a song and us the younger children repeating a chant in response to his part of the song. Tonight’s story was about Adaobi who was crossing seven seas to find a calabash that would save her mother’s life. As I grew older, I would realize that Endwell made up his stories as he went along and he somehow always managed to keep us all unconsciously leaning forward, our mouths almost gaping as we squinted to see his mouth in the faint light of the kerosene lantern. His stories were always winding, with a thousand twists in the plot and by the time he would declare “That is the end of my story”, we would all be exhausted, almost as though as we had crossed the seven seas with characters like Adaobi. When I asked Endwell about his name and he would say his mother called him that because he was the last child and only son. “I end everything well” he would say with a cheeky grin.

My mother treated ‘Endy’ very well and she was very fond of him. She always spoke well of him. He went to the same school we did and he ate with us on the dining table, so when my mother woke me up one morning to say that Endy had run away, I could not understand why. I thought she was playing a game with Endy and I expected him to jump out of somewhere and bark like a scary dog. I looked for him in school that day and asked his friends if they had seen him just as my mother asked me to. No one had seen Endwell. His people had come to the city by the end of the week and were spreading stories that my parents had used their child for rituals. It didn’t help that my father had just bought a car the week before; our first car. I used to ask my mother many times a day “Mummy, are you sure you don’t know where Endy is?” She would hiss and say “Don’t ask me such questions before I beat you, this girl! You hear?!” My father was always warmer “Chidera baby, we don’t know. But we are praying he comes home soon”

In my dreams, I would see my mother chasing Endwell with our pestle. She broke his head in two every time. When Endwell did not return after one month, his uncle brought the police to our house to arrest my father. My mother protested, asking to be shown an arrest warrant which the police did not have but they took my father anyway. They said the case was under investigation and until it was over my father would be behind bars. My mother cried almost every day until my father was released two years after. They did not have enough evidence and Endwell’s uncle didn’t have any more money to keep paying to maintain my father’s “prisoner status”. I was nine when my father was released and so much had been lost in his absence, especially my relationship with my mother. My mother now wore a steel exterior towards everyone, even me and although my dreams had stopped, I still felt an eeriness that only nightmares could create every time I heard her pounding anything or when she handed me the pestle to pound yam for her.

I would see Endwell two more times in my life. One time selling windscreen wipers in traffic and another time when he would come to beg forgiveness. He would be picking at a scabbing wound on his elbow and he would smell like Lagos sun and sweat and shame when I would hug him. Endwell had left because he hadn’t seen the point of living in Lagos and not making any money, he said. He had wanted to make life better for his family, he had wanted a job. And so he had left with my mother’s jewelry which he claims to have made some money off of and sent to his uncle in Aba. I had felt my body shake with rage and spat at him, hoping it would somehow make up for the years I’d lost with my mother. I would remember her frail hand in mine, her body beaten into submission by disappointment and cancer and her hoarse voice as she tried to rebuild a semblance of a relationship with me before she died and I would sit still and wonder if Endwell had simply made up a new story this time.