The weary hoarse voice yelled my name as laid quietly and slept.
“Hei, Kwaku, wake up, …”. It was 4:30 am. The loud tone shook my eardrums and I didn’t hear what followed those piercing words. I jumped out of bed with a start. She is at it again! I murmured within me.
“When at all will you learn to wake up in good time to do your chores, Kwaku?” She complained, as I drowsily folded my tattered mat into an incomplete bundle. I took the first step to hide the mat where it has always been kept until I needed it – behind the kitchen cupboard. She held my left ear and pulled, twisting it. The excruciating pain I felt sent me sprawling onto the floor. Tears gushed out of my eyes and wetted my cheeks. If only mummy was here, I wouldn’t have to suffer this way. But as my classmate Kofi had always encouraged, “Don’t worry Kwaku, God will take care of you, only trust in him”. I reflected on these words and a glimmer of hope flashed across my soul.
“At least I have God to depend on,” I concluded.
I was only six years in 1976. We were living in a compound house at Achimota, behind the Mobil filling station.
Right before my eyes daddy threw mummy’s belongings out of the house and asked her to leave the matrimonial home. The previous night mummy had visited an aunty at the Kanda Estates with daddy’s consent. But unfortunately it had rained heavily that fateful July 16th night. Mummy had no choice but to spend the night with aunty. My aunty’s neighbour opted to bring mummy home the following day as a sign of goodwill, since he was mobile. When this Good Samaritan act met daddy’s sleep evaded eyes, without caring to know he misjudged it for unfaithfulness. Mummy had to face the grim question, “What do you think you are doing to me?”. I recall daddy repeating these words several times as he sorted out the matter with her in the bedroom. Amidst sobs mummy tried in vain to explain. I stood by the door and watched the emotion filled scene with a heavy heart. Daddy raged with anger whilst mummy pleaded with childish sincerity. But it was too late. Daddy could not be convinced to change his mind once he made it. He had pronounced the verdict, mummy had to leave the home, and she had to, immediately.
Although, I appreciated daddy’s sternness and insight, most often he made serious irrevocable mistakes. Mummy finally left the home; the eight-year-old marriage had come to an abrupt end.
Determined to have his own way as he had always done, he sent word to his relatives and mummy’s and warned, “Look here, none of you people should step into my house to plead or apologies for anything – that is it.”
And believe me, daddy is not the type who eats back his words, and we all knew it. Mummy’s and his relations knew it as well. He never minced words. She had left, sobbing as she went; I remained with daddy to face life up hill all alone without the woman who loved me so much. He took me into his arms and cuddled me. Not sure of myself, I asked daddy, “Please will mummy come back soon?” He only smiled. I looked straight into his eyes and what I saw told it all. I would have paid dearly for the crime of bothering his mind with questions about mummy: the woman he would soon want to forget about in his life. Fear brewed in me and I kept quiet. No more questions.
The gloomy cloud and storm that surged over the atmosphere on this Thursday morning told in its own mysterious way a gist of what awaited me, when in 1978 Maamie Kyeiwaa became my daddy’s wife. I got to know later, they were secret lovers before mummy’s exit. But how could daddy do this?
She was in to make me taste the bitter side of life. She had two children from a previous marriage. The elderly was only a year younger than myself and the younger was two years old. Oh boy! The mere sight of her little daughter gave me nausea. Her nose kept dripping, and honestly I hated the sight. My step mother, I should say hated me. She literally made me the houseboy.
“Go quickly and sweep the compound,” the cocky woman commands. I ran quickly to begin. Whilst I worked, she added, “finish quickly and wash the dishes”. Meanwhile her children were still in bed. My heart ached, but I couldn’t protest. That would be suicidal. I might have received some cruel slaps. Worse of it all, she would simply tell daddy a lie about me. I better watch it, I cautioned myself.
Down in the pantry, washing the dishes with vigour and tight lipped, my mind wandered vaguely; suddenly, I heard her impatient voice call out my name, “Kwaku come here immediately”. Oh God not again! My heart pounded inside my chest. What on earth could have gone wrong any way? I probed.
“Did you get some bread last night for breakfast this morning?” Was all she wanted to be sure of. “Yes, yes, I did,” came my response.
“Alright, hurry up so you would be on your way to school”. I sighed deeply for relief. Nothing went wrong after all.
For the past six years she had been in the home, I have never known any joy of belonging to the family. I always felt like an outcast who had to depend on the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. Her own children were favoured above me. They ate earlier and better than I did. Yet I cleaned the house, washed my own clothes and sometimes theirs.
Daddy had grown out of character to loathe me. She always exaggerated whatever I did to daddy. She told him things I never did, ranging from pilfering to truancy both at school and at home.
“Come here, you fool”, daddy would scream at me. He would not spare the rod any time she had come to the end of her carefully told stories. I did grow timid and scary whenever daddy returned home from work. The thought of it made me weep bitterly whenever I was alone and I would miss my dear mother.
But my dear friend Kofi who is a year older than I am, seemed to have known some truth about life I haven’t had the chance to come across yet. I only hoped to grasp it one day. When I would cry and tell him my predicament, he would hold my hand, place his hand on my shoulder, look into my eyes and comfort me.
“Come, Kwaku”, he would say, “and let us pray”. At a corner on the school compound he would pray with me. He believed God heard us when we prayed in Jesus’ name.
Something about him fascinated me. The radiant confidence with which he spoke to me; “Jesus loves you”, he would counsel, “whoever you are”. He would go on and talk to me about God loving the whole world and sending his only begotten son to die for our sins. I knew this portion of scripture too well. We rattled it quite easily, but I never understood it the way he explained. He would suggest, “Pray and ask Jesus Christ to save you”, he would add, “of course that doesn’t mean your troubles would be over. But he will give you peace and the inner strength you need to endure the troubles that confront you”. His counsel always made me see light at the end of the tunnel.
One afternoon during break time, I anxiously looked for Kofi. I had nursed an idea I must tell him. I must find him immediately and let him know I have made up my mind. I knew he would be glad to hear it. Why not? He had been hoping for a day like this. When I found him, we both agreed to skip the football game so we could be alone. There, behind the craft shop, I broke the news to Kofi. I told him I wanted to ask Jesus Christ to save me. He embraced me as usual, and I saw river like tears of joy roll down his young cheeks. We prayed together and I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart. True to his word, my stepmother did not change her attitude towards me. Neither did my father become considerate, but I did have peace in my heart, the palpitation I have had when I had to go home from school ceased.
I look back, seventeen years ago when mummy left our home, till she died later of a heart ailment. Although it had not been easy to handle, by the grace of God, I have forgiven my daddy and stepmother for all these and, I love and pray for them.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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