“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
I got home to find that things were not as I had imagined. They were much worse.
When I got in sight of the bungalow, I saw my mother sitting out on the porch, looking despondent. She stood up when she saw me and squinted. She reached for her glasses to confirm I was the one walking towards her, before she began to run towards me and embraced me in her arms.
“Kemi! Kemi! Your sister has returned home oh,” she had shouted at the top of her lungs.
Kemi came out of the house and stood at the porch looking on at me. I could tell she wasn’t happy to see me. I pulled her in my arms and hugged her. “Hey, Sweet Kay, I missed you,” I said, fondly.
“Ummm…” Kemi muttered, pulling away from me. We had been so close when we were younger. My leaving must have hurt her more than I realised.
“Is Toyin home? What about Papa?” I asked, when we entered the dark house. It was evening time, and there was no light as usual from NEPA. There was only a small kerosene lantern to enlighten the room, where we all sat.
“Toyin is dead. Not like you cared anyway,” Kemi spat out, her anger and grief blatant. “Where the hell have you been? No one has heard from you for months and you don’t even bother to pick your phone anymore!”
I swallowed hard, as I realised that my older brother was gone, and I hadn’t even spoken to him in over a year. I began to cry. “When did he pass? What happened?”
“It’s almost three months now. It was an Ocada accident, in Lagos,” Mama said. “A trailer hit him at Apapa. Nobody could save him. It was just last month that we buried him.”
I cried as my mother continued in yoruba to tell me about how they had discovered of his passing and brought him home to bury him. He had been a passenger on an Ocada (commercial motorbike), and was enroute to work. It was his girlfriend who realised that he was missing and had discovered that he had been involved in an accident, when she called his phone and the Ocada rider picked up.
I looked at Kemi who was crying and looking at me accusingly. I shook my head as I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I haven’t been with my phone for about four months now.” I looked back at my mother. “What about Papa?”
“That one is story, oh…” Mama muttered, and looked up at Kemi.
“He left Mom. He left us all, just like you did!” Kemi’s eyes were hard and accusing. “He has remarried and they are expecting their third child. That was years ago! If not for the fact that this is Mom’s paternal home, he would have thrown us out!”
I looked at my mother apologetically. “I knew he had a mistress, but I didn’t know he had left you, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
“Would it have made a difference?” Kemi challenged.
“Kemi, you need to stop with the accusations, okay? I know my leaving was wrong, but I had my reasons. You don’t even know what I’ve been through.”
“Do you know what I’ve been through?” Kemi stood up and put her hands on her waist dramatically. “Do you even care about anyone but yourself? When last did you send money to support Mama? Who do you think has been looking after her all these years? Who do you think had to cough up the money for Toyin’s burial? Do you know what I had to give up, because you were not around to help?”
“I’m sorry, Kemi. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you…for any of you.”
“Yeah, I bet you are. Mama, please, I can’t stand for this. I’m going to my room.” With that, she left us.
“She will come around, my dear…” Mama said, with a half-smile. “Have you eaten?”
“I’m fine, Mama. I’ll help myself to something later, thanks.”
“It’s good to see you, my child. When we couldn’t get through to your phone all these months, I thought the worst! What happened to you?”
“That’s a story for another day, Mama. I’m glad to be home too. I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch. I hope I can make up for lost time,” I said, reaching for my mother’s hands. Her acceptance and forgiveness of my abandonment of the family, made it easier for me to forgive what I always thought was her betrayal of me over the years. Now I knew she loved me, only that she never really knew how to show it before. “It is getting late. You should sleep.”
“I’m just so happy to see you, Teju. I hope you will be staying with us a while. Kemi needs you.” She stood up from the arm chair, and we hugged.
I escorted Mama to her bedroom, with the lantern, then proceeded to the kitchen, to see what I could put together for a quick meal. I settled for bread and egg, which I ate quietly in the kitchen, before joining Kemi in the room we had shared as children.
When I got in, it appeared she was already asleep. I changed out of my clothes quietly, and then got into bed. I was exhausted.
“So what happened to you?” she suddenly asked. “You said I don’t know what you’ve been through. So tell me. What kept you away from us?”
I turned to face her. She was sleeping in what used to be Toyin’s bed, across from me, while I slept in the bottom bunk, where she used to sleep. “It’s too late for that discussion. Let’s talk tomorrow.”
Through the light of the moon, I could see tears in her eyes. “For what it’s worth, I’m happy you’re home,” she sniffled.
“Thank you. Thanks for holding down the fort while I was gone. You always had such a big heart.”
She smiled. “Good night, Promise.”
“Good night, K.”
I woke up to a slap on my face, and found my hands and feet tied up and my mouth gagged. The room where I was was dark. I looked around frantically, wondering who had slapped me. Then a pale of water was emptied over my head, giving the sensation that I was drowning, since I couldn’t breathe through my mouth. I shivered under the downpour, realising that I had just my underwear on.
“So, you thought you could get away from me? You thought you were smart?!” I heard Tony say, but I couldn’t see him clearly, as my eyes were blurred by drops of water that lingered on my eye lids. I shook my head, and began to sob as terror gripped me anew.
I wanted to shout but I couldn’t. The gag seemed to stop my ability to mouth words or even to think of what to say. I was panicking, wondering how he had found me, and what he had done to my family. I struggled to be free, but it was no use. As I wriggled, the pins in the band used to secure my hands and feet dug into my skin, leaving small cuts on my wrists and ankles.
“God help me!” I cried in my head, for the words could not escape my lips.
“I’ve got you now… And this time, you are not getting away!”
At last Tony brought his face low and into the light and I was able to see him. But though he had Tony’s voice, my captor was far more demonic in appearance. I screamed.
Kemi shook me awake. “Promise! Promise!!! Wake up…. You’re dreaming, wake up!”
I woke up and realised that I had my hands and feet together as though they were bound, as they had been in the dream, and I had been struggling, tossing and turning in my bed. I looked up at Kemi, desperate to believe she was real, and had to use mental effort to separate my hands. She pulled me into her arms and hugged me.
“You were having a nightmare. Are you okay?” she asked, stroking me like I was a young child.
I couldn’t say anything. I was still terrified. I was confused. How could this be happening to me? I didn’t believe in demons, yet I had just seen one in my dream and felt the power of its oppression over my body. God help me, I cried again, in my mind. For if demons are real, then most certainly, God is.
I was shaking in Kemi’s arms, stuck between reality and the dream that still haunted me. I could still see the demonic face of my captor, and could hear Tony’s mocking laughter in my head. What if he found me again? What if he took my sister captive also? Will I ever be free from him? The questions and thoughts went around and around in my head like an eternal loop that I couldn’t break free from, filling me with more and more anxiety and dread.
I heard Kemi call for Mama. Her voice sounded panicked too. Mama came in and touched me. She was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t hear either of them anymore. My lids were heavy, and I closed them.
I woke up to find myself alone in my bedroom, in my mother’s house. I couldn’t tell what time it was, but it was clearly morning. I’d slept and vaguely remembered the momentary torment in the night. But I was no longer plagued by the terror. My body felt rested.
I slid out of bed, and stood up for a good stretch. When I opened the bedroom door, I saw Kemi, who came immediately to my side. “Mama, she’s awake,” she said, and then robbed my arms warmly. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. “What happened? Why shouldn’t I be?”
“You don’t remember what happened?” Kemi asked me. “You had a nightmare and then you were convulsing in my arms when I tried to wake you up from it. Mommy had to come and pray over you, before you finally settled down and slept off again.”
“Oh, really?” I raised an eyebrow. “I remember having a bad dream, but the memory of it is not so sharp anymore.”
“Sit down. I made you breakfast. We have a lot of catching up to do!” Kemi said, as she led me to the dining table, and pulled out a chair for me.
Mama came and joined us at the table. “How are you feeling this morning?” she asked.
I smiled. “I’m fine, Mom. Thanks for last night.”
“You are my child! It was my duty. Do you remember what the dream was about?”
“Vaguely.” I coughed. How was I to retell the dream? They wouldn’t know who Tony was, unless I start at the beginning. But where was the beginning…? “I don’t really know if it is that important. It was just a dream.”
“I think there is more going on here… What I saw last night wasn’t just a dream. There is a power over you. You need to tell us the truth so we can pray for you, so you can be free,” Mama said.
Kemi came and sat down beside me. She stretched out her hand and took mine in hers. “Tell us, Promise. There’s something that brought you home. Are you running from something…or someone?”
I looked at them and swallowed hard. Would they believe me if I told them that I had ran from my husband’s love into the arms of a monster? Would they be sympathetic if I told them how I had brought this on myself, cheating on my husband repeatedly, even after he gave me everything, because I was too selfish to change. I wanted to tell them what they would believe, and what would make them sympathetic towards me… That I married a monster, who had abused and used me, and who was the one I was running away from.
As I looked into their eyes and saw their genuine love and concern, I broke down in tears and told them the truth. I told them about Uncle Bill, of the selfish lifestyle I had chosen, the horrible things I had done to my husband, and the terrible life I had lived over the last few months. They listened with shock and unbelief, as I told my tale.
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