Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Day The World Ended Episode 11

5: THE FIRST TEAR
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I woke up with a sense of foreboding. In fact, I couldn’t remember when last I felt so generally sad. The events of the previous night had left me feeling depressed and anxious.
I looked at the time, it was 7 o’clock. I had forgotten to set my alarm clock and yet I had woken up early by my standards. Sleep didn’t seem to carry as much interest for me these days. I struggled out of bed, catching my flowing pink nightie on the door handle as I shuffled out of the room like a zombie.
I walked to the bathroom and opened the door without knocking. Deji was the only one inside, brushing his teeth although the smell of iodine in the room told me Ayo had just left. I shuffled to the bathroom mirror, collected my toothbrush as Deji handed me the toothpaste, poured some of the gooey red stuff on the bristles of the toothbrush and went to work on my teeth.
“No snide remarks today?” Deji said jovially although his face remained strained.
“You have to tell me what’s going on.” I said, spitting out some of the foamy toothpaste from my mouth to make myself more comprehensible.
“I’m his sister, too. I’m not a little kid.”
“You really want to know what’s going on, you greet me first.” Deji replied with a smirk.
“Good morning bro Deji.” I said and he jumped back in mock fear.
“Ah! No fight from you this morning? So tey you add bro inside!”
“Stop it Deji, I’m serious.” I paused, “and also scared. Why is Ayo covered in machete cuts and bruises?”
Deji finally stopped his feeble attempt at playful banter. He sighed and went back to vigourously brushing his mouth. It looked like he was going to brush out his teeth with the way he was going.
“Ayo is in trouble.” Deji said, between mouthfuls of toothpaste. He spat out and rinsed his mouth and sat on the bathroom sink. I continued to brush my mouth as I paid attention to what he was saying.
“He was approached by a cult group in school some time ago. I’m not sure when but I will hazard a guess of about 3months ago. “
“That was about the same time he started skipping classes!” I exclaimed and Deji nodded.
“I noticed his change in behavior too,” he said. “I tried to ask him what was wrong but he refused to tell me anything. Mom and dad have been so busy they don’t seem to have noticed the changes in Ayo. The silent retreat into himself and away from family discussions, the constant physical activity as if he is training for something, the skipping of classes…I was thinking of reporting him to dad but decided it would be better if he did it himself. I wasn’t very sure it was what I was thinking it was, you know?”
I nodded. I had also noticed these changes but initially felt it was a passing phase, maybe academics were getting to him, or maybe even a girl at school since I had caught him once or twice making midnight calls in secret. It wasn’t until a few days ago I had started becoming worried.
“Well, after the bruise on his stomach the day before, I got worried. I told a friend of mine in campus to have him followed, to know where he went, if he was still going to classes.” Deji sighed. “He told me Ayo had walked into one of the notorious student halls and come out less than an hour later holding his stomach. And then he came home and said he had been clearing the bushes.”
“Your friend waited for him until he came out?” I gasped. “Are you paying for his services?”
Deji grinned. “You don’t know Bolaji. He considers himself to be Nigeria’s Sherlock Holmes, always talking about how he will go into crime fighting and detective work. It was all fun and games to him. Anyway, I confronted Ayo about it when he got home but he refused to say anything so I had to let it go. Now I wish I hadn’t.”
I noted the sadness in his voice and a chill ran down my spine. Had Ayo already been initiated? Deji looked so forlorn I reached out and touched his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, you did the best you could.” I said. “Remember, you are his junior brother. He is supposed to be the one looking out for you.”
“Yeah but, who looks out for him? Dad is just happy he’s into physical activity and I can imagine him dreaming of Ayo becoming a soldier. And you know how mum is, too sweet to notice the ills in others.”
“So, did they…” I held my breath.
Deji shook his head. “I don’t know. I tried talking to him last night but he wouldn’t say a word. He didn’t even acknowledge my greeting this morning.”
“You should tell Dad,” I said. “It’s the only thing to do.”
“Dad is travelling today, don’t you remember? What’s the point of telling him if he isn’t around to enforce anything?”
We stood there in silence for some time before Deji got up without a word and left the bathroom. I finished up and had my bath and went to my room to get dressed. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to going to school today after yesterday’s incident but it seemed stayig at home wasn’t that condusive either. I got dressed and went into the parlour for my breakfast.
Mum was seated at the table, thoughtfully eating baked beans and bread. Deji was at the table too, picking through his breakfast aimlessly. Dad kept bustling in and out of the parlour carrying some documents, fixing his tie, wearing his uniform and mumbling under his breath. I couldn't see Ayo anywhere and assumed he was either still in the boys’ room or had dashed out before any of our parents could see his wounds.
I went to the kitchen, served myself breakfast and came to join my mum at the table. She looked somehow worried.
“What’s the matter mum?” I asked
“Eh?” She looked up at me and smiled, “Oh, nothing. Eat your food, I want us to get to your school on time so I can speak with the principal. I tired calling his number yesterday but it kept saying ‘busy’”.
I gasped. I had totally forgotten about our school principal. I went on to tell mom about his accident.
“What? What’s happening? What kind of accident is that?” Mom exclaimed. She genuinely looked like she was going to cry now and I immediately
regretted sharing the story of the incident with her.
“First your father is being called for an emergency meeting for goodness knows what; Ayo is stuck in his room with a fever…” She shook her head,
“And now I can’t even feel safe that you are going to school with accidents happening left and right…what is all this?”
“Take it easy mom,” I said, trying to encourage her with a reassurance I hardly felt. “I’m sure it’s all right.”
“Let’s put on the television,” Deji suggested, getting up and walking to the TV.
“No, not CNN again,” Mum groaned. “I tell you, those people know how to give somebody high blood pressure. I want to relax.”
‘Who’s putting CNN?” Deji said with a smile as he surfed though the channels. He finally stopped at a channel showing something on fashion and left it there. It was mom’s favorite show and she laughed when Deji came to the dinner table and forced her out of the chair.
“Watch this for a few minutes, I know how you like Debra lane,” He said with a grin. “This slowpoke of a sister will need another fifteen minutes before she finishes her breakfast, at least you would have relaxed a bit by then.
Mom gave the slightest hint of a protest but obviously liked the idea as she sat down with a smile and Deji grinned. I mentally made up my mind to slow down my eating as much as possible so as to allow her enjoy herself before we left. Deji came and sat beside me.
“Ayo is in bed sick?” I whispered, alarmed.
“He just said that to have an excuse to stay in bed until they both leave.” Deji whispered back. “He’s fine. Refused mom checking him out and pulled the bedsheet covers over him to cover his wounds.”
Dad came out, looking very smart in his uniform.
“I have to leave now.” He said. “We are all to gather at headquarters and then we’ll take a flight down to Abuja. Everything is being paid for by the government. It must really be something important.”
“When are we expecting you back, Dad?” Deji asked trying hard not to look anxious.
“Oh, they said the meeting will just be for a day.” He said, “I should be back by tomorrow evening latest.”
“Alright then,” Deji said, and went back to picking at his breakfast.
“Is anything the matter,” Dad asked. His eagle eyes had caught Deji’s uneasiness.
“It can wait, Sir.” Deji replied. “When you come back.”
“I hope it’s not another handout?” Dad replied, his eyes narrowing. “The way schools demand for money these days is something else…”
“It isn’t handouts dad. I just want to discuss something with you.” Deji replied and glanced at me meaningfully. “Man stuff.”
I glared at him indignantly and dad chuckled. “Oh. Okay, no problem, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
There was a honk outside and dad nodded.
“That’s my transport. You people be responsible while I’m gone. Deji, where is Ayo? You all should look after yourselves and mum…”
“Honey, you are only travelling for a day!” Mum said, getting up to hug him. “We’ll be alright.”
“Okay o.” dad smiled and mum escorted him out of the house.
“Why’d you say manstuff?” I said, facing Deji squarely.
“I didn’t want dad to suspect anything, you know how he can get if he feels there is any unresolved issue in the house. Don’t worry, I’ll tell him when he comes back.”
“Tell him what?” Ayo said as he suddenly entered the room.
He was wearing a light blue jeans and a cotton long stripped long sleeved shirt that covered his skin completely and effectively. No one who looked would be able to see a single cut. He walked with an effort but generally kept a straight gait and his face was blank.
“Tell Dad what, Deji?” Ayo repeated.
“Nothing much, just that his son is being cut to pieces under his very nose.” Deji replied.
“And what will you gain from telling him that?” Ayo said, coming closer. “Do you think I’m still a kid that will start to cry if he shouts on me? This is a matter I can handle myself, I’ve told you already…”
“Listen bro…” Deji began,
“No, YOU LISTEN! ” Ayo shouted suddenly. His voice rang out so loudly that I thought I heard the windows rattle. “My business is my business! What do you think he’ll do, huh? He’ll probably get me transferred to another school! Or maybe you think he’ll send armed security men to follow me to school everyday? Do you realize how that will affect my reputation, my schooling? I’ll be viewed as an outcast!”
“If you join them then you are already an outcast!” Deji yelled back. “You are an outcast to your family! And family should always come first!”
“You better keep your mouth shut, brother..!” Ayo shouted, coming even closer. I stood up from my chair in alarm.
“Or else what ‘brother’!” Deji said, also getting up, his fists clenched .
“What’s going on here?”
We all turned and saw mum at the door.

“What’s all this, what is Deji saying?” Mom shrieked looking very alarmed. “Who are you joining Ayo?”
“Good question!” Deji said, turning back to Ayo.
And then it happened.
Ayo’s fist came out flying so fast all I saw was a blur and Deji’s head snapping backward. Mom and I screamed simultaneously as Deji recovered and charged Ayo, knocking him to the floor. As they scuffled on the ground Ayo’s shirt came loose and his skin exposed to show multiple ugly linear scarifications, like the type our Further Maths’ teacher inflicted on students with his whip, only a hundred times more horrible looking. Mom went down into the melee and dragged Deji off Ayo, while I continued to scream at the both of them to stop fighting. Deji finally got to his feet, firmly held on to by mom, Ayo was on his knees and rose slowly, a devilish grin on his face.
“First blood, brother.” He said.
“Bleep you!” Deji shouted, “I don’t care if you are my elder brother, I’m not letting you join any stupid cult! I’ll fight you all day if I have to!”
“Fine words from a man whose mouth has been cut open.” Ayo said quietly.
It was then we noticed Deji’s upper lip. A deep gash beneath his nose oozed blood slowly and Deji wiped it off.
“First blood indeed,” he said smiling although his whole body was still trembling from rage. “I’ll definitely pay you back…”
A resounding slap from mom almost knocked him down again. We were all so stunned even Ayo took a step back. Mom looked at both of them her eyes blazing, I didn’t think I had ever seen her so angry.
“What the hell did I do?” Deji cried in protest.
“Shut up!” What do you want to pay back? Is it your elder brother you are talking to like that? Come’on go and sit down!” Mom screamed.
Deji stared at her in shock for a moment, then quietly obeyed.
“Mom, you shouldn’t have slapped him, I was the one who…” Ayo began. It was as if mom had been waiting for him to say something, anything. Her hand came down again hard but this time on Ayo’s cheek. The sound was so loud I knew it must have stung badly but Ayo hardly flinched. He just stood to his full height, which was a head above mom’s and remained silent.
“If you like grow to the size of an Iroko tree, I’m still your mother!” Mom was still shouting. It was quite upsetting for me seeing her in such a mood, it seemed so…not her. “Now you stand there and explain to us what has been going on with you! Temi…”
“I want to stay mom!” I said quickly.
“Who is driving you? You think I want to send you off to that your school where people are dying anyhow? I intend to follow you and talk to your principal so don’t worry about lateness! Go and sit down beside Deji. I’m sure your elder brother whom you used to look up to as a mentor would be proud to tell you about his plans of being an armed robber or cultist. Sit down, Let’s all listen to him!”
And so saying, she sat down on the chair closest to Ayo who was still standing tall and unmoving. There was silence in the parlour for some time.
“Temi, go to the kitchen and get the first-aid kit.” Mom said, her voice calmer than it had been a few seconds ago. I jumped up and rushed off, brought the first- aid kit from the kitchen cabinet and rushed back. I didn’t want to miss anything.
“Mom I’m not a cultist and…” Ayo began but mom cut him short.
“So what are all these cuts and bruises on your body? Is that belt-mark? Has your father started flogging you with belt? Or were you flogged in a dream as a kind of spiritual attack? Tell me let me hear! I may not be of your generation but that doesn’t make me stupid! Now talk true or beat me up since you are now ready to fight everybody!”
She turned her attention to Deji, cleaning up the wound on his upper lip
“And you, Deji, instead of you to see how you can support him, it’s to start threatening him with ‘First blood’? Tears started streaming down her cheeks. “I thought I raised you boys better. What will your father say?”
“You did, Mom!” Ayo said suddenly coming out of his still-life posture and kneeling at our mother’s feet.
“These aren’t initiation marks,” He cried, tears welling up in his eyes now, “They are punishment marks! They flogged me because I refused to join their group! I just wanted to handle things my way, prove to them that I’m a man without having father interfere. Don’t you understand? They’ll respect me more!”
“Bullsh-ow!” Deji yelled as mom pressed hard on the wound. “Mom, wait let me talk! Is this something he should be keeping a secret, even from me? I’m supposed to be the closest person to you bro, and you couldn’t confide in me?”
“So that you’ll do what?” Ayo interjected,glancing at him.
“So that I can support you! I would have sent them a strict warning, I would have used my fellowship head, he has experience with such things.
Or we would have told father so he can send some soldiers out to deal with them. We would have made them all know you are untouchable!”
Ayo smiled ruefully. “And that, dear bros, is the reason why I didn’t confide in you. Who wants all that attention? I want these guys to know it’s my decision not to join!”
“You have been watching too much of Spartacus!” Deji shouted but mom shushed him and turned to Ayo.
“My son, are you telling us the truth that you haven’t been initiated?” She asked him quietly.
Ayo looked at the ground. “Yes ma.”
“Alright then. I understand your wanting to handle this like a man and I applaud your effort. But now that I know you don’t expect me to keep out of it. I’ll tell your father as soon as he returns tomorrow. In the meantime, you are not setting a foot outside this house today.”
Tbc

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