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My senior brothers and sisters were being sucked into the vagueness along with Papa.

The oldest one, my twenty-one-year old brother at the time, was usually nowhere to be found, and his name was always mentioned in things that had to do with the theft of people’s yams and goats. Sometimes I wondered why he didn’t put his criminal mind to better use. If he wanted to steal for a living, at least he should be doing it with a bit of prestige and worth—what exactly would the thievery of goats and yams add to his miserable life?

The twin sisters, who came after the food-thieving brother, now talked about nothing but marriage. It was clear that they had both lain to rest the passion and hope they had had of studying Medicine. It had always been their waking desire and sleeping dreams—I know it. I recall those times when we were younger and they played “Nurse” in all those childish dramas we put up that had no defined script or directing, just like the life we lived. But we didn’t know that then. We were only children, innocent and naive, and were permitted to dream dreams bigger than our head; somehow, we managed to carry them without our necks squashing and our bodies crashing down…Until we didn’t anymore.

Timi, the boy after the twins, got a bit of sense to start learning the art of shoe making, and before long, he had carried Tari—the boy before me—along with him. So the two of them seemed to be doing something with their lives; something very useful, at least. But they lived in this same place we all lived in, where dreams are born to die, and so the spirit of the place caught up with them. Soon, they also reeked of alcohol and started to abandon their dreams.

So things were falling apart. Everyone was trying to hold the pieces of their lives together the best way their weary bodies and souls allowed them to.

With Papa hardly around, and Mama caught up with her bouts of crying and sickness and fatigue, and my older siblings being short of giving up on life altogether, my junior sister and I were mainly forgotten and left to our own devices, or to those of our personal angels—if they too hadn’t turned their backs on us, that is. My sister was five years younger than me, and so I took responsibility for her life.

Episode 4

Seeing the way things were going and how we were all being sucked in by the filth and rot and poverty in the place our ancestors had come to settle, I slept at night not knowing what was in this life for me. But I knew I wanted more. I wanted to be better, to be different; different from the rest. I wanted to be better than what I had seen unfolding before my very eyes daily. So I began to read harder and to listen to the woman on the radio with keener ears. Above all, I thought deeper, asking myself questions I didn’t have answers to yet.

I knew I couldn’t sit and wait for chance to find me in this home where everything was falling apart and no one expected anything good anymore, but one particular day made the knowledge come like an awakening. It was one night after I had listened to my woman crush on the radio, and my hand had travelled down and my body had jerked and spilled, and I had gotten up to go wash my hand in our unsophisticated toilet. Somehow, I had come back to the sleeping mat angry, very angry. And I knew why—I was tired, very tired!

And then, there was also that thing I had caught Mama’s pastor doing to my eleven-year-old sister when she had gone to him to ask for money for food. She was hungry and there was no one at home—no one was ever home again because there was no home to call home. I had been taking extra classes at school because my final examinations were just days away.

When I got to the house, she wasn’t there; she wasn’t at neighbours’ houses either, so I went looking for her. My legs somehow led me to my mother’s pastor’s church; why, I might never know.

I had never liked mama’s Pastor. There was always something about his eyes and speech that annoyed my spirit. So I didn’t go to her church even though she always tried to turn my not going into a cold war with emotional blackmail as her major weapon.

He talked too much too—that was another thing I realized about him. I hated people who believed they had all the answers for things based on just what they knew. Pastor James was fond of condemning people to hell on the pulpit in the name of preaching, probably because he felt he was the only “holy” one.

But my mother adored him as if he were the love of her life, the kind of love she sought from her husband, most definitely. She adored him too much; she was blind to the invisible thing I didn’t know how to define but felt within me against him. But her loving and trusting him so much, so that she cried her problems out to him weekly, did nothing to change the ‘shiftiness’ in his eyes and awkwardness in his mannerisms that I never missed.

So when I walked into the sight of him at his small church, lifting the skirt of my perplexed-looking sister, trying to put his hand in, somewhere, my heart didn’t stop for too long. A roar escaped my mouth after the first shock, and he froze and jerked up from the chair he was seated on with my sister on his lap. I wondered, as I saw fear and shame intertwine and dart around in his eyes, how stupid and hungry and shameless he was to not have found a more concealed place to demonstrate his madness. But then, he must have believed that nobody would visit the church since it was a weekday; or he had simply been possessed by one of the demons he constantly yelled at and cast out from members of his church.

He stepped back, one foot after the other, scared witless, as I advanced towards him. But, I really had no time for him and his stupid self at the time; I just took the hand of my sulking, silent sister and led her to the door.

He seemed like he wanted to say something to me before we went. I saw his lips move, but I had stared hard at him with eyes that must have spoken volumes, and his mouth clamped shut. I wondered, on the way to the house, what his words would have been—A plea? An excuse? A bargain? A spiritual threat, perhaps? But, his words didn’t matter, just as he himself didn’t. I just wished Mama would see it and know it.

On the day my exams finished, I packed a small bag and left the dilapidated place that had been my home for all the days of my life hitherto. I left and never looked back, except to turn into Pastor James’ parsonage to threaten the living lights out of him. He must have seen seriousness in my eyes and felt guilt in his heart such that he nodded his head, rather quickly, to my truce: he would keep his bug-ridden hands off my sister, and I would not tell the whole village that he fingered little girls for a hobby.

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