The boy saw the imminent death of his parents’ union through a crack he imagined on his bedroom wall. It started when he heard sounds, voices and movements that seemed to enhance his night vision where he lay, hugging a pillow drenched with sweat.
So, every night, he gained more knowledge, felt pulled to a future he would fight to understand, all because of what he heard, imagined. He was a boy, forced to become a man, all because of this behind the wall drama.
Sometimes the sounds kept the boy upright for long. Like, for example, the banging of a door, most times at midnight, and he visualised Daddy staggering into the bedroom; followed by the creaking of wardrobe doors, the rustle of clothing. And the boy imagined Daddy hanging his clothes reeking of alcohol; and finally, when a bed creaked, the boy knew Daddy was ready to sleep.
But then, one night, after Daddy’s return, the boy heard Mummy’s voice and knew she was awakened from sleep. Daddy’s voice was slurred, commanding, demanding, and the boy heard, for the first time–Smack!
“Jatau, you hit me, you hit me! You promised it wouldn’t happen again,” Mummy cried.
The boy bolted up, heartbeat ramming against his chest, the cracks he imagined in the wall becoming giant holes through until he saw Mummy’s tear-streaked face, and Daddy, wearing a drunken scowl.
Some nights the smacking sound filtered through the wall, repeatedly. Smack! Smack! Smack! And the boy squeezed his eyes shut until they bled tears, clamped sweaty palms over his ears until they shut out all sound, and wished he was on the other end of the room like his brother, where he could lose his telescopic night vision.
So, many nights, he considered going to sleep beside his younger brother, but feared this would introduce him too to the nightmare. By the way, the spring bed was too narrow, he convinced himself, knowing full well his brother slept like a log of firewood.
But it was not always the boy had such a bad night. At times his parents’ chatty voices simply coursed through the wall until he fell asleep. Other times, it was the rustling of sheets, sounds he learned to interpret when he grew older.
Anyway, several times, when Daddy made Mummy cry, she left for Granny’s house with the boy and his sibling. Daddy would come the very next day to get his family and the picture was almost always the same. Grandfather would sit, Daddy before him, head bowed. Daddy would speak soberly and Grandfather would yell Mummy’s pet name, Mma! after which she magically appeared from behind the curtain. There was always reluctance on her face, but the boy had seen her once, hurriedly apply make-up upon Daddy’s arrival. So Grandfather would speak to her in a low tone and she in turn, nod again and again. Once, she seemed to shake her jerry-coiled head. But the boy had seen this play out often, and picked his football, the one sport he never left behind, ready for the journey back home.
Years later, they made fewer trips to their grandparents when Daddy hurt Mummy, and gradually, the awkward visits stopped. But the boy still heard the smacking sound.
At dawn one day, he saw a familiar car pull up before their house. He heard Daddy say “so you called the man of God, eh?” before dashing to the door. “Ahh pastor, you’re welcome…” But the pastor was not smiling. He also did not sound jovial like Daddy. There were no pleasantries, no, not even a handshake. The boy noticed how Daddy nodded, even when he was sure he did not agree with what was being said. Mummy, her hair stuffed in a hair net, just mumbled something now and then. Minutes later, the boy spotted Daddy’s sigh of relief when the pastor stood to leave. Daddy walked him to his car and nodded several times with a smile. He even held the driver’s door for the pastor and stood by until the man drove off.
But it didn’t end.