Owl From The Dark (1)
They are all sneering and jeering—they do not understand. These people that call themselves my family know absolutely nothing about the me they create conferences for, and table for talk. All of them are blabbing now, and I am just sitting and watching them, thinking thoughts initiated by the happenings of yesterday.
It was last year I packed my small kaya and moved out of the house I had been living in with my parents and seven siblings—the house that had been the entirety of my existence. It was like I was choking in that place, crowded daily by family looking just as hopeless as I felt, and going to bed just as hungry as I was. I was living with my family, but it had felt like being incarcerated with inmates, all of us guilty of some horrendous crime or other.
Now, these people are saying it is not right to leave one’s home no matter what, but where do I begin explaining it to them? I do not know how to let them see that it was not the lack of space, or hunger, that drove me away, but something deeper than that; something that surpassed the needs of my body; something that had looked into my soul and seen that my spirit would soon die if I had to keep living my life like I did, no other way but like that.
The thing is Papa, who is shouting his lungs out now, has no clue. Mama who has cried till her throat is now grating with dryness, does not understand. For Pastor James, he knows better than to look me in the eye with this his talk of God knows how to care for those who ask of Him, if they can just be patient. He is murmuring his plenty words because Mama invited him to the meeting, but I am glad he knows that he is an idiot, and deserves to be burnt the way the Sodom and Gomorrah he often scares people with had been. He knows, and because I am the only one present here that knows with him, he can’t talk past his throat as I deride him with my stares. For the uncles and aunties that were invited, I care less for their speeches; neither do I give a moment’s thought to the amebo family friends and neighbours that are honouring an uninvited invitation to come and hear stories—my story, that is.
I long to tell them, to make them feel what I had felt, what had been running through my mind that day last year, when I was only sixteen, and had finally made the decision that I would leave. Oh, I want to shout back at them and tell them, all of them, to shut their mouths and cover their faces in shame for us even having a cause to be holding this kind of meeting in the first place. I mean…Why are we here? Why ever should we be here, talking of these things?
There is so much to say, but I won’t say so much as even a little. But my thoughts go back to yesterday, and I indulge my mind’s flight back to it, leaving these people in my present to continue with their theories and criticisms about something they know nothing about.
Papa was never at home when we woke up to Mama’s swipes with a wrapper, indicating our day had started. And we seldom were awake when he came back at night from wherever it was that he worked, bringing nothing home, nothing but a worn-out face, stress-induced irritation, and mounting complaints about how he could die soon from having so much to do and so little to eat. When he complained like that, my sisters and brothers, the five of them older than me, would turn their faces away, indicating that they had shut the ears of their minds from his words, and were nursing the anger in their hearts at not having enough to eat themselves.
But I was different. When Papa complained, I would re-evaluate our situation, think deeply, and try to decide if I should pity Papa or not. Most times, hearing things from our battered radio that we had to hit before it worked, I would almost cry for Papa.
Times were hard and money was harder to come by. We lived in the village, and food, satisfying food, was always a luxury because the land yielded close to nothing, and the river and creeks were dead too.
It’s the oil…
Oil was destroying everything: Land, water, the air, people…it was all being sullied and swallowed up by oil. And, we were swallowed up by tales of Big Men in the city, who we knew about only through our nearest-to-death radio. The woman who usually read the seven PM news, with the sweet voice that would resound in my head all night so I wouldn’t be able to sleep till day break, made us know that people were protesting against these Big Men that stole the country’s money and sent it abroad along with their children who schooled there. She would also tell of the boys from the creeks that blew up all things blow-up-able, so as to pass on a message to these big men in the city, and to the world at large. It was a message laden with the hunger, the deprivation, the abuse, and the anger the region felt for being used and forgotten like a toothpick. But beyond that, I knew, even as I would ruminate upon the woman’s voice at night and sometimes find my hand straying to my privates, that the message also carried with it the perplexities in my heart.
With every voice that spoke out against the greed, wickedness and corruption of our leaders, was my voice, unheard, as it may seem, telling the world that I never got to see my father happy and contented because his farm yielded nothing, his nets caught only oil films on the water, and the menial jobs he did could hardly get us through the weekly feeding.
With every pipeline blown up was the angry outburst I sent to the world, telling it of the bitter things that rose to my throat as I watched my mother’s perpetually tired frame, evidence of her aging before her time, because there was so much to worry about and so little to use in fuelling the body and mind that performed the task.
With the kidnapping of foreign oil expatriates by the creek boys, I whispered to whoever was on the other side, the way I felt when I looked at my siblings and me, wondering and asking what the future held for us. None of my seniors had furthered their education beyond the free Community Secondary School they attended, and which I was now attending, and which my sister after me would attend. I often wondered what the point was in schooling at all since we would all stop at the same spot, not able to go further, simply because we had nothing, nothing at all but oil destroying Papa and Mama and all of us—destroying everything.
So I pitied Papa at times. What could a man do when it was as if all of creation was fighting against his full destiny and that of his generations unborn?
But then, at other times, I didn’t think to pity Papa. I didn’t because I knew—we all knew—that it wasn’t only his menial jobs that kept him out late at night. No one said anything, but we knew from the strong smell of alcohol that reeked in the house when we woke up in the morning. And then there was that thing of Mama crying when she thought we were asleep, asking God to kill the other her that would not leave her poor husband alone. Her husband was poor, alright, but his mistress was definitely poorer than him, because he seemed to get some from her every other day.
There were a lot of things this degraded place, this place that I call home, did to people. My father was so spent and frustrated by this place that only alcohol and rounds with a whore could save him from strolling into the river to never come out again. For me, I didn’t know, yet, what it would take for me not to run mad with the bleakness I saw before my eyes and experienced as my life as I awoke to each stretched out, depraved day.