Christmas At The Johnsons – Zero Potential

I remembered how Ade always spoke to you facing away so his left eye would be out of view, how he always sat in the extreme corner of any room to hide his left eye, how it was uncomfortable to be around him simply because of how uncomfortable he was in his own skin. Perhaps, this was why his wife divorced him and disappeared with his two children.

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We sat in stunned silence at Papa’s words. He was one of those old men who looked like they would give you a tough time at arm’s wrestling. He was eighty-four but looked sixty. His hair was jet black—probably dyed—and I had seen him walk briskly around the estate in the morning for exercise. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, and never really womanized in his day. For all intents and purposes, he was full of life. Now, this—

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” my wife said.

“This must be a joke, sir,” Cathy piped and laughed uneasily. She was the youngest at the table, Bami’s hot, twenty-something-year-old wife. She had breasts the size of watermelons and had an obvious aversion to bras. I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time keeping my eyes off. I caught Ade looking once or twice, or rather, we caught each other. Her breasts were like a sleazy club you visited and didn’t want to run into anyone you knew.

“I’m sure it’s a joke,” Cathy repeated, sipping her guava puree.

The men were silent. They knew their father well enough to know he never joked. If he said it was raining cats and dogs, then be ready to sweep cat and dog carcasses from your driveway the next morning.

“Let me get this straight.” It was Laurent. He paced as he spoke. “You want one of us to end your life?”

“Yes,” Papa said.

“And whoever does gets to inherit everything?”

“Yes. Akpan here would see to it that whosoever helps me achieve this gets everything. He’s the legal custodian of my estate now.”

Akpan, Papa’s butler of donkey years, bowed. He reminded me of Batman’s Alfred.

“You need a psychiatric evaluation!” Ayodele, my wife, cried.

Laurent continued, “And you won’t do it yourself because?”

“Because I don’t have the guts to,” Papa stood up. “There’s nothing more for me here on earth. Your mother was everything to me and she’s been gone twenty years. I can’t wait any longer. Every day is the same monotonous hell without her.” He shook, steadied himself with a chair, his eyes brimming suddenly with tears.

Papa had it all figured out. He showed us a freshly dug grave next to Mama’s. In it was an open casket. He didn’t want a burial ceremony. There would be no autopsy or persecution for the winner. All legal matters had been prearranged.

“What of me? Does it matter that I’m not your son? Will I get it all?” Laurent asked, laughing, but we all knew he wasn’t joking. Laurent was Papa’s gay son-in-law. His hair was dyed blond. Laurent and Akin had a beautiful adopted Asian child called Airy.

Akin glared at his partner, snatched his hand away.

“I was only joking!” Laurent laughed.

“You have three days to do it,” Papa addressed us. “I do not want to be here come Christmas. There are documents for you to sign. Akpan will present them to your rooms.”

“I won’t be here for this nonsense,” my wife said, shaking her head.

Papa looked at her, his only daughter, grabbed her cheeks and kneaded it. “You look so much like her. I’m sorry I wasn’t the father I should have been, but you can’t leave, my dear girl. Your cars have been confiscated. All the gates are locked. Nothing comes in or out unless I say so.”

Indeed, the estate was a fortress. It was a 420-acre land just after Ijebu-ilese, a long way behind the cocoa plantations and chocolate factories. Papa had gotten it as a retirement present from his Esusu group at Shell. The mansion was a small dot in this expanse of wild, uncultivated land. It was an hour’s drive from the estate gates with their roaring lion statues to the front door.

I looked at Papa’s sons: Ade, Bami, and Akin. They all hated him. Papa was one of those men who had been a doting husband but a brutal father.

Ade was the first. A stoic faced brute who had lost all his money in the stock market crash of 2009 and had never really recovered. When he was nine, he’d begged for a sip of Coke from a guest’s drink and Papa had flogged him mercilessly afterwards. The belt buckle struck his left eye and ruptured it. The family told the ophthalmologist who eviscerated the ruptured globe that Ade had fallen down the stairs.

Bami was doing well, an engineer like his father. But the old man had forced him to read engineering instead of music. Ayo once said, “A piece of Bami died when Daddy tore his Jamb form for music.” Also, Papa had him arrested once when he was in Unilag and dabbling in Yahoo-Yahoo. It is common knowledge that he was sodomized that night at the Police cell at Sabo, Yaba.

Akin, the youngest, used to be Papa’s favorite. A son from a single moment of indiscretion. Mama never seemed to get over the shock of Papa cheating, and when the woman, a secretary at the office, dumped the boy at her doorsteps, he became a constant reminder of her husband’s betrayal. When Akin turned out to be gay, many years later, Papa took this as Karma, another punishment for that single moment of imprudence, and promptly cut off all communication with the boy.

Till now.

***

Papa was worth 426 million. Dollars. Of course, I wasn’t thinking about the money. My wife would have killed me if I was thinking about killing her father. I knew the others were, though. Ade definitely looked like he would love to wring the old man’s neck like a washcloth. The documents were airtight. I leafed through pages and pages of legalese. Someone could do this and get away with it without a murder charge.

“Laurent will do it,” I said to Ayodele. We were in our room. It was 12 midnight. Smells of processed cocoa from the plantations far away wafted in through the open window. It was a sweet smell that made you want to take deep breaths. She sat on the chair and unhooked her bra. I stared at her body. Multiple childbirths had run her over like speeding cars on a deserted back road. I thought about Cathy’s nubile body and felt guilty for doing that.

“He will not dare. I will kill Laurent if he tries anything with my dad.” She said, yanking a brooch from her head.

There was a knock on the door.

“Can we come in?” It was Ade and Bami.

They piled into the room and slung over the furniture like tossed garments.

Shey baba yii o ti yawere bai?”Ayodele asked.

“You’ve always liked the man,” Bami said, toying with his wedding ring.

“What does that even mean? He’s our father,” she snapped.

“I think this is very disrespectful of him. It’s our inheritance and he’s making a mockery of us. Maybe we should give him what he wants, and share our inheritance equally.” Bami said.

“What? I can’t believe we are even having this conversation!” Ayodele looked at her oldest brother. “Broda Ade?”

He stared at her, mute.

Suddenly Akin burst into the room. He was sweaty, panting. “It’s Laurent! He has a pistol. He has gone after Dad!”

A gunshot rang.

“What?!” We all cried and ran out.

***

The first bullet grazed Papa’s neck. He had been sitting outside in the deck chair, Akpan reading to him from John Cheever’s The Brigadier and the Golf Widow. He was right when he said he didn’t have the guts to die. Akpan said one look at the bright red blood spilling from his neck and Papa bolted for the trees, Laurent hard on his tail, firing.

We ran after them into the woods. Ade was ahead. We came upon a clearing, with Laurent pointing his pistol at Papa. Papa leaned against a tree, panting, one palm on his bleeding neck. He looked positively mortified.

Ade jumped between them, his hands up.

“Laurent, are you crazy?!” He barked.

“You hate this man as much as I do,” Laurent hissed.

“He is not yours to hate,” Ade replied.

“For all the heartache and grief he brought Akin because of his sexuality, he deserves to bite this bullet. How do you say you wish your own son was never born because he’s gay?” Laurent corked the pistol, pointed it at Ade’s face. “How can you shield this man with your body? After all he did to you! To all of you!”

“Gimme the gun,” Ade commanded.

Laurent hesitated. Ade lunged forward, grabbed the pistol. For a second we half expected the gun to go off in Ade’s hand but Laurent yielded. In the ensuing silence, we heard someone chuckle. It was Papa Johnson.

“And what’s so funny?” Ade asked.

“I knew none of you would have been able to do it. I had my money on Laurent, literally. I knew Laurent would. He’s not my blood. I wanted him to get everything.”

“And leave us with nothing…” Bami said.

“Yes! With inherited money, you would never achieve your true potential.” Papa truly believed this. His voice dripped with a sort of twisted love. “It’s all for your own good really. When you don’t have anything, it builds your character!”

Ade was heaving, suddenly livid. He pointed the gun at Papa’s head. “Character?! Character!? Is that what you call what you did to me when I was a boy?!”

“Are you still hung up over that?” Papa said flippantly. He hissed, brushed the pistol away and started making his way to the house.

“Where’s Akpan. I’ll be needing stitch—”

Ade grabbed him and slammed him into the tree. He stuck the gun into the old man’s mouth, shattering a few teeth. For the first time, I saw that Papa was truly afraid.

“They called me cyclops, the one-eyed monster, in primary five!” Ade whispered. Tears streamed down his cheeks. And in that moment, I saw how his entire life had been altered by that singular event when he was nine years old.

I remembered how Ade always spoke to you facing away so his left eye would be out of view, how he always sat in the extreme corner of any room to hide his left eye, how it was uncomfortable to be around him simply because of how uncomfortable he was in his own skin. Perhaps, this was why his wife divorced him and disappeared with his two children. Perhaps this was why he was never able to keep a job, have true friends, be truly happy. It felt like a tedious existence. Somewhere inside me, I wanted him to get his revenge. His 426 million dollar revenge.

“They called me a one-eyed monster. Me.” He cried. “Because of what you did to me. Do you think it built my character, Dad? Do you?”

“Then if I hurt you so much,” Papa said with a mouthful of pistol. “Do it. Pull the trigger and kill your own father. All I did for you was build you up so you could achieve your maximum potential. All I did for all of you was for your own damn good.”

“What?” Ade gasped.

“Shoot me and get it over with, Ade!”

Ade stood up straight, “Okay, this is my maximum potential, Daddy.”

It happened so fast. He pulled the gun out of Papa’s mouth and tucked the nozzle into his. With both hands, he pulled the trigger, tearing a hole out the back of his head, bathing us in blood and brain tissue.

Papa screamed like a little girl as his first son fell backwards, all that potential suddenly dialed to zero.

Responses

  1. Aggie
    How do you guys even come up with these stories, I don’t know if I’m to give credit to an overactive imagination or a psychopathic mind. Kudos though, great twist. and funmi way to bring out the cheer for this season. Always giving us the unexpected.

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