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Yes, death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost
For years, I’d wondered why my father loved and adored that poem. Every morning, he would look at the plaque, his fingers lightly touching the inscriptions with reverence and care like you would a baby. Till his death, Abba recited that poem daily, unfailingly, it seemed he gave him peace and perhaps strength.
Today 11th May 2016, I would say I grasped a bit if not entirely the precise meaning of that poem. For the first time in my life, I could share in the wiseness of Abba and this happened to be the worst day of my life. On this day, it was exactly four years since Abba passed and I was held helpless in the clutches of a woman. Or should I say a beast? On this day, I remembered all the fond memories I had with my family, Abba’s warm hands, the delicious aroma of my mum soup that would be eaten with tuwon masara, the cries of my two-year-old sister Fatima, and the many houses that helps that lived in our house going about their daily activities.
As a child, I enjoyed the love and affection I was showered upon as a child, but today I realized that I may have taken it for granted. No Abba’s warm hands and Umma’s food, no smiles and kinds words and my heart hurt deeply. Today I understood the expression “the pain slice through the heart like a hot knife through butter” and more than ever, I missed Abba.
Was I just incapable of being loves? To have what others enjoyed?
Did one just get a single lone shot at happiness?
Her loud voice bellowed in the huge estate that the birds lodged in the tall coconut tree were frightened and flew away. The bitterness that encompassed my name was great and sounded like bile. Somehow, I felt she hated calling my name and all she wanted to do was spit it out with scorn.
“The dishes won’t clean themselves. Get to it”
The single command was enough. She paraded and passed me on her way out like a peacock with its gander. Her two children following her like a soldier would follow their commander. They were yet going to another wedding despite her husband’s warning. But I was amiss, something was wrong. An odd feeling hung in the air, I couldn’t pinpoint it, but I was sure it wasn’t a hunch. I was sure as hell that something bad would happen. Besides, I felt a twitch in my popliteal region; behind my knee. 11th May 2016, I felt the same intuition, six hours later, my dad died.
Was it happening again? I hoped not.
“But..” I faltered. “Can the kids stay home with me today?” Despite her mean attitude, the kids were angels who loved and adored me.
“No, get to work”. Was the curt reply. Their eyes lingered on mine as they watched me with longing. I had a bad premonition. Something would go wrong. It had been two days since Freda left, and Aunty Larai’s attitude had gone from bad to worse. She had been furious to discover Freda was missing. For hours she raved and bickered that even the twins looked at her warily. I was already convinced that Aunty Larai was mad, she truly looked it.
“What do you mean she left?”
“I was in my room and she told me she had to go”. I said quietly, it was the only explanation I could give her. The fear was evident in her expression. Obviously, she wouldn’t know how to explain to Uncle Habib what had happened to Freda.
“She would come back, I’m sure of it. There’s no way she can survive out there”. Aunty Larai said as if she was trying to convince herself. One day later, Freda wasn’t back. I knew she wouldn’t. Freda was gone for good. Aunty larai beat me till I started to bleed behind my ear. She claimed I was the one who had convinced Freda to leave.
“You this boy, have always been cursed. My husband was just too blind to have seen it. You asked Freda to leave right? You just want to come in between my husband and me. Well, I’ll make sure I destroy you first before you destroy my home”.
It’s been a long time since I wept, but that night my eye ducts allowed the tears to fall profusely. I recalled the beautiful moments I spent with my parents and sister, that life seemed so far away from me now. I felt like I was a stranger in those memories. Somehow, the pain I now felt overshadowed the love I ever felt in my life. Perhaps, Freda was right. This wasn’t the place for me. Only death and sorrow awaited me. And so I had to make a painful decision that night. I looked around the old storeroom that I had been my haven for three years, I’d gotten so used to it that it was fairly normal for me. The old lampstand, the bed by the wall and my little collection of books. There was just a piece of an item I treasured, the book I was writing. It was a memoir of my feeling and how life had treated me. I believed my story would be worth it. Someone needed to hear it, just anyone. With an old faded blue jeans trouser and a shirt that was torn around the neck, I was a sight for sore eyes. The blood continued to drip from behind my ears to my shirt, gently I pressed an old rag around it. I gave the house one painful look and made one of the hardest decisions of my life. Gently tiptoeing to the gate, I unbolted the lock and ran away with my book safely guarded in my hands.
However, the twitch wouldn’t stop.
Driving back to Abuja felt like I was driving out of the country. I was exhausted and my neck felt like there was a heavy bag placed on it. Occasionally I would try to massage my neck with my right hand and occasionally I would find a little relief. What I needed was a good sleep and assurance; Assurance that all was well at home, and I’d highly doubt that. All through my stay in Abuja, I talked to Larai a few times to ask about the twins and house helps. Conversations had been in monotone but I got what I needed, they were fine.
Last night, however, the conversation was different. There was always a coldness to Larai’s voice, even more since she told me about her past, last night it had been missing. What was happening? Was she turning a new leaf? I couldn’t wait to get home to see if everything was alright. I’d demanded to talk to Sameer or Freda, “they’re both not close”. She’d said. I didn’t believe her one bit. Sameer was always in his room. Perhaps something was wrong. As I steered the car wheel, I silently prayed she hadn’t hurt them. I was also beginning to realize a lot of things, that I’d been mostly unfair with the way I handled my wife. Yes, she had her issues and shortcomings and mostly selfish but Larai sincerely loved me even with a troubled and abusive past. It couldn’t have been easy dealing with abortion at sixteen, and even if I was angry because she kept the truth away from me, my responsibility was to love and comfort her. God help me, I would do better when I got home.
Listening was going to be top of my list and together we’ll find a way to protect and love my family, Sameer and Freda included.
Once I saw the grey colour of Habib’s car take the right turn, my heart lodged in my throat. I’d rehearsed over a thousand times the explanation I would offer, but one sighting at his car made everything disappear. For the first time in a long time since I got married, I was scared, scared of Habib, afraid of what he would do once he found out what Having would do once he found out Sameer and Freda were gone. I clutched the twins tightly to my side, Habib would never be violent in their process. That was how much he respected the kids.
Unconsciously, I wiped the tears that trickled from my eyes. This was all my fault. How could you heal by pulling down someone else? I was stupid enough to hurt the two people who had nothing to do with my past. How could I have been so blinded? It was at this instant I completely understood all that Habib had been trying to tell me. I was so foolish. Now we had two runaway children with no idea how to find them.
“Larai is everything okay. What are you doing outside”? Having asked immediately he gave me a look. The twins had run to welcome him, but he was looking at me, there was fear in his eyes. I couldn’t stop the tears that ran down my cheeks, trying to wipe them away caused more tears to fall. Habib would kill me.
“Hassana, Hussain take my bag and go into the house. I need to talk to mummy”. The twins gave us a strange look. Hussain lingered for a while before he ran in after Hassana. Once the kids were out of sight, Habib quickly moved to my side and dragged me into the car. Shutting the doors tight he turned to me.
“What’s the wrong Larai? Is anything wrong? Where’s Sameer and Freda?”
Even at this point, it made me angry that he was asking of them. What about me and what I’ve been through?. “I don’t know”. I muttered quietly using my hands to cover my eyes.
“What’s that supposed to mean Larai? I left them here with you last week. Where are they?” His voice was slightly raised. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was furious.
The sobs racked my body incessantly. How could I explain that I was the reason both kids took off. “They ran away Habib, I don’t know to where. Freda first, then Sameer”.
I heard a loud gasp from Habib, and silence for a while. “What did you do to them?”
“Habib I didn’t do anything, I just…”
“Don’t you dare lie to me? Your wickedness caused those kids to run away. You must have pushed Sameer to the wall because he’s one of the most patient children I know and only a few could have stand what he endured with you in this house”. He paused for a while, his breathing laboured. Habib was really mad at me. “You just pray I find those kids.” His voice dropped. “Larai you need help yourself. While at Abuja, I tried to talk to a therapist. He told me how it was a tendency for people who had been raped or abused, to practice the same thing on others. I know I’ve been too tough with you, but I’m ready to walk this with you. I am”.
As he talked, Habib smoothes my hair and caressed my cheeks wiping away my tears. I was moved by his love, he was right. I needed help.
“Let’s go into the house okay? The twins have been there for a while now alone”. He whispered to my ears sending tingles all through my body. Despite the situation, my body was aware of him, in a male way. Habib had always been a handshake man.
I nodded and opened the door only to see police officers approach me. Startled, I was suddenly afraid. Their black uniform spoke of doom and instantly made me sick. One was tall and looked like he was ready to strangle me. The other had the same expression on his face. What did they want? Habib in his usual protective way stepped in front.
“Gentlemen, how can I help you?”.
The tall one was quick to speak. “We’re here to arrest Mrs Larai Ola Habib in question to the runaway and rape of Miss Freda”. I let out a scream, it was not I was about to be arrested. No, it was for another girl that had lost her virtue. The very same demon I was trying to fight.
The only time I’d been in a police station was years back when I followed Abba who was to administer treatment to some prisoners. Even at that, I only sat at the reception and watched the activities of the policemen. Today I was here as a criminal. A criminal of the law. Guilt and fear clouded my heart, all I could think of was my twins. Who would take care of them when I get locked up? Surely it would be painful growing without a mother or worse to know your mother was in prison for a price she’d committed. I was in an empty cell for over an hour and all I could hear was the movement of the policemen two and fro.
What would happen to me? I began to cry again as I remembered Freda, such a sweet fourteen years old girl. Raped. I hope she was still alive.
The two officers who had brought me in refused to share any vital information about her. Somehow, all of this still felt like a dream for me.
“Mrs Larai, we need to take you out of here”. A different officer came in and announced, he looked like he was tired and couldn’t wait to hit the bed.
“Alright”. I answered, readjusted my veil and followed him. I passed through the reception to see other officers dealing with various other cases, a woman was rolling on the floor lamenting about her money. This was an entirely different world from the one I lived in. In the next life, I would be grateful for every child placed under my care. The officer led me to an office, it was spacious and pristine. The chairs were old and rugged, Habib was sitting on one of them. As soon as he saw me, I burst out of tears and he moved to console me.
“It’s alright Larai, it’s okay. We’ll get through this okay”.
“I’m not sure about that Habib, what’s going to happen to me? What about the twins?”
“They’re okay Larai, I dropped them with my mother. It’s alright. Everything’s going to be okay. We just have to talk with the officer here okay?”
I looked up to see a huge fair officer sitting behind the black mahogany table. Even when sitting, he looked like he filled the entire space. On the other side of the room, there was a man and woman dressed corporately looking like lawyers. Who were these people?
“Sit down Madam”. The officer’s voice was surprisingly small for his stature. He extended his hand to a chair close to me. Habib led me as I sat down gingerly awaiting my fate.
“Mrs Larai, I’m inspector Julius Ofaga, you’ve been brought here for serious charges and you do not deserve this meeting, but we need your help towards finding where the other boy might have gone”. He placed his two hands on the table. His eyes spoke of someone who held his work in high self-esteem. “Fortunately, passersby were able to save the young Freda. She was found along a street in Kaduna, raped and severely beaten and bruised. They were able to rush her to the general hospital where the doctors desperately fought to save her life. Young Freda is tough and she survived. She gave us your name and contact address and we were able to contact the agency that employed her through the purple device we found in her bag. And then she also told us about Sameer”.
My heart was beating in my chest, I was glad she was okay. Oh Sameer, where ever you are, please be safe. And uncomfortable silence filled the room. So, what was next was I going to jail?
“The goal now is to find Sameer, the young boy who lived with you. But we have no clue to where we might find him. By the way, you’ve been charged for battering and physical assault against two children. This is because when your husband brought Freda, both of you signed the papers that allowed her to stay with you as a house help, this covers her right against any form of domestic violence. The agency is serious about these charges and is intent on pushing this case to court. I would advise you to get a lawyer. Any clues with regards to finding Sameer?”.
It took a while for me to answer for I was processing all that he said. So yes, that was it. I was going to jail. Habib squeezed my hands prodding me to answer Inspectors Julius Ofaga’s question.
“I don’t… don’t know where he might be. I’ve checked with all his friends when he went missing but none of them could tell me about his whereabouts”.
“Alright”. The officer curtly replied as he began to take note. His hands fast making quick strokes across the large notebook. “Did you think of reports to the police that he was missing?”
I was filled with shame. “No, I didn’t. I thought of telling my husband, but I was scared about how he would react. We have been having some issues about how I treated Sameer. But my husband was right, he had been right, I was just so wicked”. Tears erupted from my eyes. The young man and woman on the other side of the office looked at me with scorn and contempt. They must think I was shedding crocodile tears. Could I blame them? I didn’t believe Talatus tears when she had told me she was sorry just before she’d die three years ago.
“Larai, will you please stop crying? I’m here”. Habib tried to console me, but it didn’t make a difference. What if Sameer was hurt? Or better still dead? I couldn’t be able to live with myself afterwards.
“Does Sameer have any friends?” The officer asked, oblivious to my tears.
“Well, he has always been quiet, but he has very few friends at school. Hakeem and Grace, oh and his teacher Mr Okoro, they’re very close”. Habib answered this time, I was grateful for it.
“Can we have the address of this Mr Okoro?”.
“Yes”. Habib promptly brought out his Android phone and passed of the number.
One hour later, Mr Okoro was sitting on the chair beside me. Surprisingly, he didn’t look stunned or surprised that he had been invited to a police station. His face held no expression.
“Mr Okoro we learnt that you were very close with Sameer, one of your pupils”. Inspector Julius Ofaga continued with his questioning, emphasizing the “very close”.
“Yes, we were. Sameer helped to script a play while he was in primary three and I recognize talent when I see it. Immediately, I knew the boy had something for writing, writing plays especially. So I tried to get closer to him and I found out that Sameer was an orphan whose father had died in a bomb blast years ago in Maiduguri. It saddened me to see the same people who adopted this boy, who promised to take care of him abandoning him. It got to a point that Sameer wasn’t talking. The brain of a child works strangely, the pain, hurt and trauma was hard for him to bear”.
As I heard the pain and anger in his voice I began to cry, however, my eyes were dry and the tears refused to flow. I was tired, tired of life. Wouldn’t death be a good option?
“Sameer would always sleep in class because he was overworking. It was a horrible life for him”. He ended putting two hands on his temples.
“When I heard that Sameer was missing, I kept hoping that someone would come to me, but he didn’t. It’s obvious that he wanted to leave his life behind”.
For the first time, I caught a glimpse of emotion on the inspectors face. He gave me a sideward glance, sighed and continued to write on his notebook.
“Thank you Mr Okoro for coming in. We’ll contact you for any more information we might need or if you remember anything, don’t hesitate to let us know”. Mr Okoro nodded and walked out of the office.
“I guess that will be enough for now Mrs Larai. We’ll take you back to your cell till you find a lawyer to arraign bail for you”.
“The process has started outside already. I got a lawyer twenty minutes ago”. Having chipped in. I was glad to hear his voice.
Twenty minutes later, I was in the car going home. It was my haven, my home where my kids were. What about Sameer? Had he eaten? Where was he going to sleep tonight? I’m pleased to see Freda but the hospital had not granted my request. I longed to see and hold her hands and apologized for the things I did to her.
To Sameer, I was ready to make him my son.
Do you think Sameer will be found? What about Freda? Do you think she will survive? Do you think Larai is truly remorseful? Tell us in the comments section.