The room was brightly lit so that I could see about three silhouettes behind the window blind of our dining cum study. Coupled with the inaudible sounds of wrestlers and their crazy fans that welcomed me into the house was the savoury aroma of well seasoned egusi soup and amala that caught me salivating immediately I entered. This made me forget that my early homecoming from prep at the school hostel was unplanned, because the boarding house mistress had suddenly entered the hall and screamed my name over the public address system to inform me that I was needed at home.
I had ignored dad’s stern look at the table. It was the kind of look that reminded me that something related to doom was awaiting me. However, I couldn’t think of anything bad I did that might have earned me the proper correction that dad’s pankere was believed to make to any erring child. More so, the instructional material wasn’t on the table so I chose to devour the dish awaiting my judgement.
In less than five minutes, what were left of the dish were crushed bones of ogunfe. I looked at the empty plate and wished the food would resurface. Mother was such a good cook. The meal caught each of my five fingers taking its turn under the laundry expertise of my tongue. I was allowing my tongue to explore every corner of my mouth for any remaining taste and particle of the food when my dad’s throat-clearing sound snatched me from my pleasure.
“Tell me Dolapo, who wrote that letter in your bag?” His voice drowned the sound over the TV and panic took over me completely. For once, I prayed under my breath that the chair on which I sat should sink into the floor under it. I shut my eyes so tight hoping that it was a dream from which I would wake up.
“Answer me now!” Dad growled again and I didn’t need to be told of the weight of his lividness, I had experienced it before. I immediately started picturing myself soaking my bed sheet with salty tears and crying my way into dreamland or worse still, a place of nightmare.
In my moment of unspoken litany, dad pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and because my hand was so shivering that I could not take it from him, he flung it across the table and over my head. I had to stand up and pick it where the dining room curtain had terminated its flight.
“Now, sit there”. Dad said, pointing to the chair I had vacated to fetch the paper airborne by the anger-induced force of his hand. He stood and firmly banged his clenched fist on the table so that my empty plate jumped and landed back on the table.
“Read it to me, Read it!” he ordered then brought out the popular instructional material; the pankere from under the table. He had hidden it there so well that even the bright lights from our chandelier couldn’t reveal it to me. Even if it had been revealed, what would I have done? Nothing!
On other occasions, if it was my younger brother who was to be punished for anything, I would have stayed at a corner of the house and be singing “Jeun k’oto j’egba”. “Eat before you receive cane”. It was a song that suggested that it was better to first, eat and then be beaten as this would help you to sleep. Now however, I was the theme victim of the song.
My voice broke into pieces the moment I started to read the letter. I wanted to look up at dad but I dared not, for I may be welcomed by a round of hot slaps. More so, I had the advantage of studying dad’s shadow on the table and monitoring his movement, perhaps, if I calculated well, I would be able to dodge some of his too-many-for-a-fifteen-year-old blows.
“Continue or do you want me to land this on your back? Do you?”
“I pick my golden pen from the basket of love to write this letter…”
My voice faded into a loud wail. I drew back, into my head, the mucus that was already moving down my nose. Few minutes ago, I had been relishing the pleasant taste of food, now, what I was going through made it seem like I last tasted salt over a century ago.
“This is what you do with my money” dad’s voice raised in the same tempo with his cane that would have left my back with a mark like the trace of an earthworm on the ground after rain if it had not been suspended by the fan blade rotating above the two of us. It seemed to weaken dad. I was glad the moment he said we would sort it out the next day and he dashed out of the dining into his room mumbling some inaudible words that faded into the air; something like he would not allow the devil to take over him the same way he (the devil) had made me disobedient. That night, I had the ceiling fan to thank for my escape.
Dad went with me to school the other day and explained everything to the principal who also expressed his disappointment with me. And because I couldn’t tell a lie, I had to produce Segun, my to-be ex boyfriend. We got the beatings of our life that day. I don’t know about Segun, for boys had a way of wearing jeans under their school uniform to reduce the effect of flogging, but I sure had three days before I could sit properly on my buttocks. Segun was suspended for two weeks. His parents were summoned and he had to write “I will never write a love letter again” five hundred times before he was readmitted to school.
That was about fourteen years ago. And I should go home to thank my parents for many reasons. One, I was not the girl who got impregnated by Segun six months after the incident. Two, I have become a practising medical doctor and owner of a specialist hospital in Abuja. Three, this man on his knees, holding a ring will get a ‘yes’ from me and I would be a woman, married, untouched and undefiled. This should not be a sad love story. It should be a happy one.