I became my mother’s boyfriend when I was a little over twelve.

I developed rather early and very rapidly than my mates; so I like to think it is okay. I always want to think it is okay because I always want to defend her. I’ve told myself I will defend her till death…till they all die – the discriminatory society and world and we both lay down to rest peacefully beneath the ground, holding ourselves in hand, not as “mother and son”, but as “woman and lover”.

The day the busy bodied Iya Risi took her to the hospital, because she said she was acting funny, I wanted to cut off the woman’s flat nose and use it to cook ewedu soup. I wanted to ask her how a woman recently widowed ought to behave, if not funny.

But the woman dragged us to the donkey-looking doctor all the same. I stayed outside with Iya Risi while he conversed…or, rather, talked to mama for a long time. We went home later and mama started taking some pills daily.

On nights when she screamed awake, sweating profusely and calling dad’s name, I would run to her bedside to see the pills on the table where she had left them probably after falling asleep, or simply deciding not to take them. She was like that sometimes—deciding to starve me of food, to lock me in the toilet to sleep, to push me away when she had reached heaven… She pushed me away when all I wanted to do was lie with her all night, and hold her as her husband.

I have my nightmares too, but I don’t tell her because she’s the sick one; the sick ones should get care, and not the other way round.

In my dreams, I see him – the way his eyes seemed to burn when he was set for her. I hear the thud-thud sounds as he hit her against something or hit something against her, whichever one was faster at the time. I always wake up sweating and panting like he used to, because he would be short of breath and needing his inhaler.

I would fall asleep again and, this time, I would find myself outside their bedroom peeping, and hear them make out after what had happened. She would be making ecstatic noises, already accepting his unspoken apology. And even in the dream, it would break my heart as it had broken both of us in real life.

He dealt with her, but knew how to make her keep on loving him.

And so he played her soul and body well. And…she hid her bruised face and heart excellently.

So…When I was a little over twelve, the month after she started taking the pills I felt were a huge waste of swallow, she woke from sleep screaming. She screamed and screamed and wouldn’t stop until I cradled her head in bed and soothed her with endearments he had called her in good times. She still loved him so much that it worked. She soon held my eyes and touched me in a “woman and lover” kind of way. My body responded, and she taught me how to use my fingers… Till now, it always ends with the fingers because she likes to believe she is sane enough to not do too much, too much of an abomination.

But I’m all in – I try to make her see. I am hers for the working.

I love her so much, but it seems I can’t protect her from him in death, just as I couldn’t in life.

I singlehandedly thought it would be good for her to permit both of them to be apart for once, and for all.

So…on that day when I was a few months to twelve and I heard the thud-thud behind the door, I knew what would happen next, and so I hid his inhaler, even the whole pack he had somewhere on the fridge.

I ran to my room and started counting…

By fifteen, I heard mum come out and run through the house, obviously searching for something.

I kept counting…

By fifty, she was driving crazily out of the compound.

I didn’t stop counting…

By eighty, father stopped gasping, and the house went silent.

I’m fifteen now and my love for my wife hasn’t waned a tad. I still pleasure her body and try to please her soul… But, I see the way she looks at something beyond my eyes, and I know she is seeing someone else…missing someone else.

I wonder, sometimes, how else she would want me to show I want to care, protect ad love her like she deserves.

Many nights, I cry and cry till I fall into a wistful sleep.

Sometimes, I look at her pills and wonder how much will be tantamount to overdose. But…I look at her face and ask myself who would husband her if I’m gone to the other side to kill father all over again.

I can barely live, but I remind myself that she’s sick; I need to take care if her. She needs me and my fingers.

So I sigh and keep giving her the pills and die inside because she can’t be all of mine.

I burn and wilt and pardon her for it, because sick people should be taken care of and not the other way round… Though it’s not like we aren’t both sick.

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