‘Madam we go soon reach o’, the taxi driver says as he turns back to meet my eyes and gives a smile that proudly shows of his gap tooth.
I smile back at him; not just for courtesy’s sake, but also for the fact that I like him a lot. His wide gap tooth reminds me of Idris, and so does his never ending questioning.
I remember what his voice is like as I look out the window, ‘why is your hair so long? Why don’t you talk to anyone? Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Would you ever leave mum and dad? Why does Obi always hit you? Why does mum hate you? When will you come back? Would you come back for me?’ he never seemed to stop asking.
‘Madam we don reach o’, he says pulling me out of memory lane and saving me from my own tears.
‘Danjuma’, don’t leave this place till I tell you to do so’.
I walk into the huge compound trying to convince myself not to turn back and leave before anyone will notice my presence.
‘My prodigal daughter has returned!’, I can hear my mother say as she dances into the veranda. She’s grown older in the past few years, much older than I expected.
Idris runs out of the light green bungalow. He too has grown older, his chest is broader, his legs are longer and those eyes that once held excitement and innocence in them now seem to show a hidden anger…a hidden sadness.
I can’t help but cry as he begins to walk to me with tears rolling down his chiselled face.
‘Where have you been?’, he struggles to say, pulling me closer to him and holding on to me as though he wasn’t going to let me leave again.
I’ve missed you’, I respond as I place a kiss on his forehead.
‘We’ve missed you too’, another voice from behind says and my heart skips three beats as I recognise who it is.
I turn to look at him. There he is, standing with all pride, holding his head up high as though he has every authority to. Mother beckons on us to all come into the house and I can tell that she senses trouble already.
‘You look beautiful’, Obi says as we sit, waiting for father to come out.
‘Won’t you tell your brother thank you’, my mother doesn’t fail to show her irritation of my silence.
‘I’m not here to receive compliments, I came because Nwadi said Idris was in trouble’.
‘So if I or your father was dying, you wouldn’t come if we requested for you to come?’
‘Mum please’, Idris whispers, ‘she’s here now and that’s all that matters’.
‘His right woman’, my father says as he enters into the living room in the wheel chair Nwadi got him a few months ago. She had shown it to me, expressing how disappointed she was concerning my lack of communication with my family, even after my father had a stroke.
‘How have you been Ijeoma?’ he says, trying to avoid any form of eye contact.
‘I’ve been well sir’.
‘So now she doesn’t know how to greet? All respect has been thrown to the wind just because you left this house 12 years ago!’
’15 years ago actually’, I can’t help but enjoy the irritation in my mother’s voice. ‘I have a taxi waiting for me outside, I just want to know what trouble Idris is in?’
‘I’m not the one in trouble’ Idris says with his head bent towards the brown tiles, ‘he is. He’s raped another girl and got her pregnant. The family of the girl says if we give them money they’ll let the whole thing go, otherwise he’ll be locked up for good’.
‘We were hoping you could give us the money’, Obi stammers, with tears in his eyes.
I begin to stand from the brown leather settee and walk to the door. How dare they expect me to be his messiah!
‘Where are you going?’ my mother asks in shock and anger.
‘Back to where I came from’.
‘Look at this stupid child o’, she says and I’m not surprised out how she switches from a mother happy to see her child in so long, to the one who hates her only daughter. ‘Are you mad?! If you walk out of this house without getting your brother out of this mess, never come back here again. I am your mother! I breastfeed you with these two breasts don’t forget that and I can curse you!’
I look at her and start to laugh at the average heighted woman who stands holding her sagging breasts before me. ‘This is how we are going to solve this mess, call the girl that was raped and tell her how God demands that we forgive no matter what, tell her if she doesn’t forgive your precious son she will be condemned to hell’.
My father begins to cry as I say those words, the words he’s heard my mother say to me before. ‘I’m sorry’, he sobs, ‘I’m so sorry’.
‘Curse me’, I say moving closer to my mother, ‘curse me! You already cursed me the day you let him get away with everything, so go ahead curse me!’
My mother stands bewildered. I run out of the house without looking back, without answering to Idris plea to wait for him. My legs seem to be controlling my entire body. I get to the rickety blue and white taxi parked outside the gate, Danjuma isn’t there; what a stupid boy, I think to myself.
Idris finally catches up with me and gently pulls me closer to him as I cry out louder than I ever have.
‘Can I come with you, he asks as I begin to calm down, ‘I’ll be your protector this time…your messiah’, he smiles and I look at his gap tooth. I manage to giggle and nod.
As we walks through the rusting gate to get his things, I let my fingers trace the patch of wrinkled skin on my right arm. I shut my eyes as the wind carries memories of Obi’s voice threatening to kill me if I don’t spread my legs, telling me how beautiful I was as his cane flogged my thighs and I wept in pain, repeating how I was his and his alone as he took the hot iron scarring my right arm and the voice of my mother preaching to me about forgiveness so that the sins of her precious son would be covered…his sin covered but my wounds left opened.