It was in the dead of the night that the three brothers sneaked out of their rooms and crawled noiselessly outside. The night was thick with darkness, and could have been quiet but for the grumble of the tree as it grudgingly bent to the vengeance of the harsh Harmattan wind. Occasionally, rusty zinc would protest and battle to come out of rotten nails; then it will calm down having added to the ghostly mood of the night.
The brothers gathered under the pear tree. Uche was their leader. He was the second born. An albino. His face, covered with burnt spots gave him a frightening look, the look of a living mummy. He barely saw during the day but at night his eyes shone like neon light. The eyes of a veteran cat. Tonight the eyes penetrated the darkness with the ease of a powerful torchlight. Uche was their light. He was not fully 22 but he flirted with the cruelty that could shock one ten years older. He was once caught cutting open the belly of a puppy, performing a caesarian. The well in their compound was out of use because he wouldn’t stop dropping live cats and rabbits into the well and clap happily and sheepishly as they experienced ‘Noah’s flood’.
The other brothers, Mark and Prosper listened as Uche began in his cracked, undisciplined voice, recounting the story they all knew very well. Their mother was diabetic and hypertensive. She literary lived on drugs. She knew drugs so much that the entire compound consulted her before they sent for medicine from the chemist’s shop across the road. Her disease was making a pharmacist out of her. She was so thin that when she walked her bones threatened to sprout out, and the wind swore to carry her away.
But their father. He was going to kill the poor woman with his heartless fists, iron fists. He sold second-hand clothes in the market and made little profit. He made up for this by beating up his wife nearly every night. A late arrival of food, a wrong positioning of the water jug, absence of enough dry fish in the soup, a request for money, all, would fetch her a beating. He didn’t spend a lot of time beating her. A few slaps and a determined kick at the belly usually sufficed. For the moment. So the brothers decided to put a stop to this sane madness.
For nearly two hours the boys whispered among themselves. They didn’t have need for light. Uche’s eyes had never been brighter. It shone with hatred for their father and blinked with impatience for justice. Such was the grave annoyance with which he talked that his brothers refused to argue with him. They only pointed at the loopholes in some of the actions he wanted them to take. When finally they came to their decision Prosper was asked to write it down. He was 17 and an in-discriminating reader. He could be seen reading Animal Farm today and tomorrow Applied Thermodynamics! He had once read about the Emancipation of the American slaves so tonight, after the meeting, he sat on the bed and with the aid of his mobile phone torchlight, stepped into the shoes of Abraham Lincoln and wrote the Emancipation of Mother.
‘That mother,’ he wrote, ‘held captive by her rebellious husband’s merciless hands shall thenceforward and forever be free from his abuses. And that the comity of Sons will maintain her freedom with as much force as they deem necessary. And that any attempt by any be it her husband or otherwise to temper with this freedom will be considered a declaration of war on the sons.’ He smiled happily at this intellectual accomplishment then added: ‘For God and family. Signed. Sons.’
At breakfast, as their father munched through his akara and helped himself of steaming pap, Mark read the Emancipation of Mother to his hearing. He was 24, a fat coward. His voice quaked and his hands shifted involuntarily as he read the historic paper. He was barely through with reading the paper when their mother, with a strange agility they didn’t know she possessed grabbed the paper and tore it into shreds. ‘I have nullified the emancipation,’ she declared dramatically, ‘what nonsense emancipation? When I got married to my husband I didn’t consult any of you so stay out of our marriage! Who ever saw children mediate in their parents marriage. Abomination!’ Turning gently to her husband she asked, ‘Darling, do I get you more pap?’ The man nodded his axe-head, ‘a moment.’ His mouth was full of pap and mischievous grin but his eyes were unsmiling and wicked.
The boys were rooted to the floor, defeated. The room stood still, even the clock stopped ticking. Uche was the first to recover. ‘Mother is right,’ he said mechanically. ‘We are wrong to challenge papa,’ he said. ‘Please forgive us father.’
The father shrugged,‘Do I have time for crazy children?’
Uche came forward, picked up his father’s empty bowl and left for the kitchen to get more pap for the man he couldn’t find reason to love. Crushed, Prosper and Mark dragged themselves outside. Uche took his time getting the pap that when he came back with the refill his father had lost his temper. ‘Fool,’ he cursed the boy. ‘Bastard.’
The boy didn’t utter a word as he joined his co-law-makers outside. ‘You let us down,’ Prosper accused him. ‘Why did you abandon a project you sponsored?’ Mark demanded.
‘It is over,’ Uche said, ‘I put two raps of rat poisons into his pap.’
‘What!’ Mark shouted. ‘You poisoned papa!’
‘No. I saved mama.’
Prosper was lost of word. ‘We have to stop papa from taking the poison,’ Prosper cried. ‘He has already taken it,’ Uche said, ‘so let’s not raise unnecessary alarm. Let’s wait; soon he will cry for help then we can go help him.’
Unruffled, Uche took his seat on the step as they waited for their father to shout.
This story was first published in The Bambara Magazine (vol.1) of the English Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; 2012/2013 session.