A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 7, read it Here
……was the second-in-command of Faith Tabernacle Church of Nigeria. He was also one of the station pastors of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, Aba, the national headquarters in Nigeria. My hope was that my uncle and his wife would be excommunicated from the church. However, I did not get a favorable response from the pastor. It turned out that my uncle was one of the three richest men in the church, and also happened to be the architect who had designed and built the church’s national headquarters. I had completely underestimated my uncle’s influence—as well as the power of money—on the church.
The tables were turned on me, and I became the evil miscreant for reporting my uncle and his wife. Everyone was against me, and my uncle and his family increased their brutality toward me. I learned that no one, not even a pastor, could be trusted, and that there was no respite for the poor, especially not from a church in Nigeria.
Added to my troubles at Uncle John’s house was Charity, his wife’s sister, who moved in with us. She seemed to take great pleasure in beating me, and I had no one to complain to. It would be her word against mine. My uncle’s wife started a teaching job soon after she moved in, so I would often find myself alone with Charity. At such times she would beat me up, wrestle me to the floor, and rape me. Before this time I had little or no knowledge of s*x. This abuse went on for a long time.
Eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer tolerate the bad treatment from my uncle, his wife, and Charity. Fortunately, around this time, my father came to visit so he could attend the Faith Tabernacle Congregation’s annual meeting, which all pastors and deacons were required to attend. By this time, Emmanuel, the man who had introduced my father to Faith Tabernacle, had passed on, and by default my father became the head of the church while retaining his position as a deacon. My father usually stayed at my uncle’s house when he visited Aba on such occasions. When I told him of all that had been happening to me, he was furious. He immediately confronted my uncle’s wife and warned her never to abuse me again. I watched the whole thing from a window, and the look on her face was priceless. She was fully aware of my father’s reputation and knew not to cross him. After my father left at the end of the three-day meeting, there was a significant improvement in the way I was treated.
After my last term in primary four, while school was on vacation, a friend of my uncle’s came to visit from London. He stayed at my uncle’s house and made a big impression on me. I liked him a lot and would run errands for him. This impressed him and made him like me more. Every evening he would tell me beautiful stories about London, after which he would play country music and we would listen together. I even saw him as a possible way of getting to England and realizing my dream of marrying a white girl someday.
My uncle’s wife naturally became jealous of the relationship I had with the London man. He was not only a friend—he was also my protector. While he was living with us, neither my uncle nor his wife was allowed to touch or maltreat me.
One evening, after our routine, the London man promised that he would take me with him to England. I was overjoyed and could neither eat nor sleep that night. I borrowed his tape player and listened to music by Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, and Skeeter Davis all night long. The next morning, the London man informed my uncle and the rest of the family that he would be taking me along when he returned to England.
Over the next few days, I begged the London man to visit my family in Owerri Nkworji, and he, my uncle, and I traveled to the village in my uncle’s Volkswagen. We were greeted by the villagers when we arrived. My two younger brothers, James and John, were now all grown up and my mother had just had another baby boy, Andrew. My father welcomed us, ordering his maids to prepare the best traditional meal. They killed a goat for pepper soup, and prepared yam porridge, pounded yam, rice and stew, homemade peanut butter, ugba (oil bean seed), and the traditional egwusi soup with okporoko (stockfish), dried fish and nama (dried meat).
After the meal, I revealed the good news about London to my family. My father’s reaction was typical. Not one to express emotions, he didn’t respond positively or negatively. My mother laughed as though she didn’t believe it, and I tried to convince everyone that the London man was serious about taking me with him. I wondered if they knew something I did not know. After the visit, the London man, my uncle, and I traveled back to Aba.
Two weeks later, I returned from running an errand and the London man was nowhere to be found. When I asked where he was, I was told that he had gone back to London. I was angry and devastated, and could not comprehend why my trusted friend would leave me after promising to take me to England. Nobody could tell me why he had left. I felt betrayed.
My attitude got worse. I ran away from my uncle’s house and went to the motor park, where I began hustling. I helped drivers load their vehicles in exchange for a little money for food. I slept on the streets, preferring that to returning to my uncle’s house. After two weeks of hustling and sleeping on the streets, I ran into a gentleman from Owerri Nkworji. He was shocked to see me looking like a bum and asked what was happening. I explained everything, and he begged me to return to the village, but I refused because I was afraid my father would beat the living daylights out of me. When he got back to the village, he told my parents what I was doing in Aba. Anticipating this, I changed my location.
After two days at my new spot, I met my father’s stepbrother Emmanuel. Upon seeing me, he thought he had seen a ghost. He couldn’t understand why I was living on the streets and begged me to return to the village with him. I refused, so he bribed me with a lot of money, telling me to buy whatever I wanted. I was thrilled. I took the money and bought a camera first (I had always wanted one—I had an almost unnatural fascination with taking pictures), and then I bought some new clothes, a bag, and shoes. Finally, I agreed to return to my village with Emmanuel, but knowing my father’s temper, I stayed in the market, refusing to continue on to my house. Emmanuel left and told my parents that he had brought me back, but that I was too afraid to come home for fear of my father’s wrath. My mother immediately hurried to the market and brought me home with her. To my greatest surprise, my father was very delighted to see me. He embraced me and called me Enyinnaya (“my father’s friend”) and his “lion.”
I spent the rest of the holiday in my village, and it was the happiest holiday I’d had in a long time. I played with more than twenty other cousins who lived in our compound. In our free time, we would play football and go fishing in the river. Grandmother Nwanyi Burunnu didn’t approve of the fishing because she thought that something bad would happen to me. My father never approved, either, preferring that I stay at home or do some farm work. But whenever he went to the market to sell his products, I would follow my friends wherever they decided to go, including fishing.
Normally, I would return home just before my father got back from the market. These fishing expeditions usually took about eight hours, and after casting our baits, we’d run around the bush. When we got hungry, we would crack and eat nuts from the palm trees or eat wild berries. Sometimes we would lose track of time and return home late, getting in trouble and earning a good beating from my father. After this had happened a few times, whenever we thought we would be late going home, we would perform a traditional ritual that was supposed to prevent anyone from beating or saying any harsh words to us. It involved tying a knot with palm tree leaves, saying the name of the person we thought might punish us. We would say, over and over again: “I am tying your mouth so that you cannot talk to me or yell at me. I am tying your legs so that you cannot kick me. I am tying your hands so that you cannot hit, touch, or slap me with them.” For some reason, it worked like magic. Whenever we got home after doing the ritual, no one would say anything to us or beat us. Instead, there would be food waiting for us.
One of the things my father encouraged me to do was attend all church services. After everything that I went through at my uncle’s house, I thought pleasing my father was the best thing to do. Besides, I had no choice. I could either attend church services or get a good beating. Nonetheless, I would always find a way to sneak out of church during the sermon, which I found very repetitive and boring. I would go into the bush to look for fruit and to climb trees. I was truly happy in the bush, climbing fruit trees.
My father also encouraged me to set traps for rabbits and other bush animals. So, for the rest of my vacation in the village, I followed my cousins into the bush at night to set traps. We would dig holes, activate the traps, cover them with fine sand and camouflage them with dry leaves, then sprinkle dry corn and fresh cassava to bait the rabbits. We did this for many weeks, and though all of my cousins were lucky to catch some big rabbits, I never caught anything.
One day, my father’s brother gave me a bigger trap, and we set it as usual. The next morning I went to see if my trap had caught anything. Going into the bush, I saw one of my cousins come out with a big, wild cat. I was amazed at its size and thought how lucky he was to have caught such a big animal. Looking closely, I realized that the cat’s leg was caught in my trap. My cousin explained that his trap had caught the cat first, but the animal was so strong that it escaped and started to run, until my trap caught it. He removed the animal’s foot from my trap and gave the trap back to me. As I arrived home, my grandmother and parents saw the blood on the trap and started laughing at me; they knew that each time I had managed to catch an animal, it would escape by removing its foot from my trap, leaving specs of blood behind.
This time I told them what had happened with my trap and my cousin’s. My grandmother became angry. She stood up, beat her chest, took off her head scarf, and tied it around her waist, a sure sign that she was ready for war. She took off before anybody could say a word, heading straight to my cousin’s house. At my cousin’s house, they spotted my grandmother from afar and, knowing her reputation, my cousin immediately started to confess his wrongdoing to his family, admitting that the wild cat was my catch. They apologized to my grandmother and gave her the cat.
When the holiday came to an end, I did not want to return to my uncle’s house in Aba. My parents decided it was best to put me back in Owerri Nkworji Primary School, where I had been before going to Aba. However, I could not go on to the next class (grade level); I would have to repeat primary four because I had failed the final exams in Aba. I tried falsifying my results to make it look like I had passed, but my uncle’s wife, being a teacher herself, was able to put two and two together quickly and saw the forgery.
I didn’t care. Repeating a class was a small price to pay for my freedom.
I was delighted to be back at school in Owerri Nkworji. Though I was repeating primary four, my cousins were now in the same class with me, and this made me happy.
One morning, the second week after school started, I woke up weak because of a nightmare. It was the usual one, with ghosts trying to kill me. As always, I knew that I was sleeping in my bed and was conscious of what was going on. In this dream I was taken to a river and all the ghosts were suspended above it. I also saw my father arguing with the ghosts. One of them, a huge, strong man, was holding me by the neck with his left hand and holding a machete in his right. My feet and arms were bound together. I saw my father yelling something at them, and I suspected he was telling them to release me, but they refused. Then I told my father not to worry, that I could handle it since I was only dreaming. I also told him that I knew what to do to get back in bed; instead, he should try to get home himself. I looked straight into the eyes of the man who was holding me and said I didn’t care what he did to me because I was only dreaming. I told him to chop me into pieces if he liked because I would surely wake up in my bed. Then I yelled, “The Blood of Jesus!” and woke up.
The next morning, my grandmother could sense the battle that I had fought in the nightmare and encouraged me not to go to school, but I went anyway. At school I started to feel chills all over my body, even though the classroom was warm. It got worse during the break period and I was unable to get out of my chair. I eventually succeeded in getting up, and went outdoors to sit on the grass and be warmed by the sun. It felt like a thousand invisible hands were raining blows on me. I fell on the ground and lost consciousness. I would later learn that somebody called my grandmother after I passed out, and she and my father came and took me home. While I was unconscious, the same huge man from my earlier dream grabbed me and carried me to the same river. This time the ghosts tied me to one of the tallest trees by the river and had five pythons wrapped around the tree to prevent me from escaping. From the tree I was able to observe their activities.
Once again, the ghosts were gathered together, hovering above the river. This time they were having some kind of ceremony. There was a stage, and in the center was a slab of rock. On the slab were my two best friends from Owerri Nkworji Primary School. The boys were tied down, and I saw the huge man lift a machete and cut off the head of one of my friends. As the head came off, the huge man lifted the body, turned it upside down, and drained my friend’s blood into a container. My other friend started to scream, pleading with them not to kill him. They told him to shut his mouth, but he wouldn’t. A light-skinned female appeared, and with her bare hands grabbed the head of my friend and plucked it from his body, then turned him upside down and drained his blood into the same container. As the blood filled the container, they started to chant, escalating into a frenzy. At that point, someone I recognized as their leader joined the group. Then they all approached the container, each holding a calabash, and proceeded to scoop blood from it to drink. I started shaking and screaming, “The Blood of Jesus!” Instantly, thunder and lightning struck the group and they all scattered in different directions.
After that, I became conscious again. The first thing I realized was that I was at home, on my bed, and as my eyes opened, my vision still blurry, I saw my mother, father, and grandmother sitting by me. I asked them what had happened, and they told me that I had been unconscious for about two days, and on the third day I had died. I had woken up just as they had started to cry. Sadly, I was told that my friends had died in their sleep the previous night. My parents thought that we had eaten something at school that killed my friends, and that I would be next to go. They were overjoyed to see me come back from the dead.
Life went on and I passed my final exams in primary four. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and start primary five (fifth grade), but at the same time, I didn’t want the holidays to end. My father’s best friend, Monday Nnabugwu, who lived in Onitsha, had come with his family to visit us in the village. They had brought their beautiful daughter, Chioma, who was a few years older than me. We were very fond of each other and liked to play together. Matter of fact, we called each other “husband” and “wife.” I told myself that if for some reason I was unable to marry a white girl, I would console myself by marrying Chioma. Better yet, I would marry more than one woman, like my grandfather—a white girl first, and then Chioma. Every day I would take her out into the bushes where I set my traps. I would climb all the fruit trees in my village and get all the best fruits for her. I walked hand in hand with her to church, and at every meal I made sure she had a portion of my food. Everyone was amazed at my total devotion to her. Whenever Chioma’s mother went to the market, she would take both of us with her, and whatever she bought for Chioma, she bought for me as well. We were like twins. At the end of the holidays I was sad to see Chioma and her family leave.
School resumed and I started primary five. Things were not going well in my family. My father was constantly fighting with his stepbrothers over land. Before my grandfather died, he had distributed his property and land among his wives and children, and because he loved my grandmother so much, he had given her and her children more land than the others—to the displeasure of his other children. They wanted the property redistributed.
Suddenly my father became sick. He lost a lot of weight, often vomited blood, and had a constant toothache, yet he wouldn’t go to the hospital because it was against the doctrine of Faith Tabernacle Congregation. Even in his poor health, my father continued to go to the market and bake his cookies. At some point, everyone started to urge him to go to the hospital, at least for a diagnosis. Even his friends and his sister who lived in Aba visited to take him to the hospital, but my father refused. He remained true to the Faith Tabernacle doctrine.
At one point he went to Aba and had twelve of his teeth surgically removed without any anesthesia or medication. When he returned home, blood was still gushing from his mouth. For about seven days he had to have cotton wool in his mouth to absorb the blood. I was devastated to see my father in that state, a shadow of his former self. For once I didn’t mind the thought of getting beaten by my father—like he had beaten me and my cousin Daniel after we had tortured and killed a chicken that belonged to someone else—if it would make him better. When the sickness got bad, his coughing also got worse, and he would cough up more blood and mucus.
This was when I realized just how much I loved my father. Strong as he was, nobody could really tell how much he suffered, but those who knew him could see the dramatic change in his body. I only admitted to myself how serious his illness was when he came home from the market one day and told us how he had been slapped by someone who had an argument with him. Unlike the father I knew, he did not fight back.
After that incident, my father got even worse. Even though he didn’t say it, he knew he was going to die. He started to teach my mother how to bake the cookies he made. He showed her all of our properties, which included farmland, and all of their boundaries. At that time he could hardly move. He no longer went to the market; all he did was lie in his bed or on his recliner.
My whole life was turned upside down. I couldn’t bear to see my father dying slowly and could no longer pray for him to live. I just wished he would die so his suffering could end. At the same time, I kept hoping that he could see me as a man and give me his last words—maybe tell me to take care of the family, give me advice that would guide me in life, but he never did. He kept talking to my mother instead.
To Be Continued…