I can still hear mother’s screams in my head you know. Thanks to Paapa, each time I close my eyes to sleep I see her curled up on the staircase sobbing silently for fear of being heard by any of us. I still see her made-up face, to cover those blisters; and her smile that never reached her eyes to make us think everything was alright.
The time I dread has come again. The mere thought of waking up drenched in sweat from those nightmares has me gripped by fear and always on edge. I wish I could call them mere dreams but no, they are very real; a part of my life I dare not speak of.
I have something to share; the story of the deepest and darkest part of my life. The story that can properly describe us; why we have become like we are.
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The early days of my childhood had mother as a beautiful soul, filled with so much life. Mother’s spark was what lit our family together; there was never a dull moment with her, and I daresay, she was life itself. Mother’s marriage to Paapa was the talk of town; none went anywhere without the company of the other.
I remember her, always humming to the tune, “it is well with my soul” with Paapa whistling along whenever she dressed us for school and church. As the eldest of the children, I had the privilege of enjoying those beautiful moments with them the most.
The Little Foxes……
Paapa was a prim and proper man; the favourite of society, and role model all young men wanted to be like. He was a high profile member; a church elder. The first to arrive at weekday and Sunday service clad in batik shirt and trousers or Kente cloth to begin Bible discussions; the one to spearhead all church evangelism projects and fundraisers. Everybody called him “Elder”. If you wanted the perfect gentleman to open the car’s door for his wife and hold her purse wherever they went, it was Elder. He would hold her hand affectionately and kiss it with so much passion, making other women gush with jealousy. They always gossiped about her, wondering what kind of woman could receive so much attention from a man. I idolized my dad and wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
At age 11, different winds began to blow in our home. It commenced with name-calling and yelling at mother in front of my siblings and me. Then the “accidental slaps” as a result of a ‘slip of the hand’ like he called it, accompanied by nasty bruises. In the morning, we would find father cleaning mother’s face every other week.
The melodious humming stopped; mum lost weight, her church attendance became irregular and we barely saw her at home. If and when we did, she looked disheveled and afraid, always looking behind her, as if the boogeyman would suddenly show up and stab her to death. The usual glow in mother was fast deteriorating.
It wasn’t long till people began noticing the changes and started asking questions but, the answer was always the same. “You know how Akua is…” he would say. “…She is always losing her footing and bumping into things.” And they believed him too! No one ever had a cause to question him because he was the “Elder”, who would ever doubt him? The Elder never lied; he was a demi-god in their sight.
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Moreover, mother was known to be a clumsy fellow, sometimes forgetting people’s names, where she put things and tripping over her own shoes. I remember a time when she was cooking dinner. I don’t know what happened to her that day but her thoughts took her so far away she slept off and the food got burnt. That evening, the other side of Elder showed up. Not even bothered by our presence, Mother had the worst beatings ever. She could hardly see using her left eye and I recall having to massage her body with “akobam” to reduce the swellings.
Paapa travelled on missions for a year and a half and everything returned to normal. Mother was back to her happy self, full of life. We had the time of our lives. I was fourteen and a half by then.
Our joy was short lived though, when Elder came back soon enough. There was peace and quiet for a couple of months then the gloom resumed. I realised he had started hitting her again because the bruises resurfaced. I was worried for her, I was afraid we would wake up one day and she would be nothing but a corpse.
Family And Friends Indeed
I strongly believe our neighbours knew exactly what was going on. I doubt they ever prayed for us; maybe they did, but I guess they did not pray hard enough. They could have at least made an effort to counsel or seek counsel for us, but they did not. Maybe they wanted to mind their own business, but I think keeping silent sometimes is the worst decision we can ever make in certain instances. They claimed we were like sons and a daughter to them but I knew it was all lies! They meant not a single word of it. It could be likened to how a lot of people walk off to the altar and say, “for better or worse, in good times and bad, until death do them part…” Oh the lies we speak!
Home felt like hell during those times. I remember us being so afraid to go home at the close of day because the church and the school seemed to be our only safe haven. We wished to grow up in anywhere else, maybe in our neighbour’s house just so we could have some peace of mind and feel safe.
I tried drawing my grandmother and uncles’ attention to the situation but no one would hear the words of a fourteen-year-old boy who was believed to be full of teenage exuberance. No, I highly doubt that was the true reason. They simply refused to listen!
I was sick of it, angry and bitter; I could not find the right words to describe the exact feeling. My siblings and I just needed answers! I needed to know why he hit her; why she was never allowed to fight back. I was going to confront him. This was equivalent to embarking on a suicide mission but what did I care.
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Paapa Made Hell Real
Mother and I barely spoke in those times but you know what they say; a mother always knows. She knew of my intentions but turned a blind eye. I remember the day I manned up to speak my mind. Boy, she did slap me! Mother’s slap made such a resounding sound I could swear I felt the ground vibrate underneath me; I could not even remember my name for a good 30 seconds. You know the funny thing? She never said a word but I sure knew that was a strong warning to not attempt it.
One night, he beat her so much I could hear her screams right across my room. We feared for our lives, no one dared step out. I strongly believe he kicked her down the stairs because Fiifi and Efe, my siblings, found her unconscious at the foot of the staircase the next day.
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Paapa was not on drugs; neither was he a drunkard. He was never “high” or however you want to put it. In actual sense, he never ever went near alcohol to talk of drinking it. Each night when I laid down, I would hear his loud laughter behind every punch, kick, slap… I remember it all as if it was yesterday. He was always in his right mind every single time he did those things. In short, that man was a sadist, a monster.
Till Death Do Us Part
I guess mother did not know the hands of death will come in the form of Elder; clutching her throat and sucking the very breath out of her. Well, I could say she knew but just chose to turn a blind eye to it. I blame myself for her death you know.
Day after day, I have had to live with the torture that I could not fight for her; that I did not try enough. I blame myself because instead of fighting for her or finding her help, I was foolish enough to go by her wishes. Sometimes I wonder why I did it; whether it was because I loved her too much or I was too afraid. At the time I felt I was old enough to fight for her.
The day she died, I lost it! I was in for blood and I know he must have sensed it because he totally disappeared from my sight never to appear again. Maybe it was for my own good else I would have killed him with my bare hands.
I always ask myself why mother chose to remain silent. Why she decided to stay in an abusive marriage and be beaten to her death.
I just wonder how people were so blind not to notice the pain behind those smiles and grimace from every fake hug he gave her in public! I am so stunned that no one could see the facade he put up at each and every public function. Why couldn’t they see beyond all those? Was it that they were too afraid of him to say anything? Or is it that he looked too good to do any of those?
I have wondered time and again, what kind of barbaric culture allows a man to use his wife as a punching bag and not have her tell anyone about it! What kind of culture would make a woman dare not mention how she feels because she knows the ridicule and harassment she would face would be worse off than what she is already experiencing? I still wonder what at all mother’s aim was by covering a deed as chauvinistic and evil as this! All in the name of love!
Mother should have just let me confront him when I could but I guess she was out to protect me because she felt I was too young to defend myself, my siblings and her. If only she knew of the pocket knife I always kept in my shirt during the day or clutched to myself at night in my bed, just to protect myself in case he found his crazy self in my room to harm my siblings. I even remember the countless number of times I prayed he would trip down the stairs and break his neck or accidentally jab himself in the heart with a dagger!
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I know I would be called malicious for thinking all these things but can you blame me. You have no idea how her pain was too much for me to bear. I was not the one being beaten or humiliated but I felt worse; worse because I could not protect my own mother from her evil husband who manages to keep up a front in public! I could not protect her from her own family who kept telling her to stay and work out her marriage, no matter what it cost her.
I am still shocked at my grandmother and uncles who were so much blinded by the gifts and attention they were receiving as the “Elder’s in laws” that they refused to come to mother’s aid despite her silent pleas for help!
Mother suffered abuse in her own home like many are. In the eyes of others, she presented herself as having everything under control, like a first lady. She had every Tom, Dick and Harry bowing at her feet but all one needed to do was take a deep look in her eyes and see that inside her was a person who shivered from the slightest touch; a person who feared to stand out in the open and still feared to be in the dark; a person who dreaded nursing the very thought of going to her own home and sharing a bed with the one person who eventually became her murderer.
Sadly, I think my siblings and I are bound by our past. The person we idolized in our childhood turned out to be a monster that has broken us beyond repair. When the truth was exposed, people mocked us for years, calling us “Abonsam Bii”. I could not fight back because a part of me agreed with them. Just like a bee, the devil was in my clothes and stung every part of my body. The effect of those stings, I still am feeling.
My siblings became like hand grenades filled with Greek fire; surrounded by caltrops. I still guard them with my life for I know what they are capable of. Since the day Fiifi found mother passed out at the foot of the stairs, he has remained dumb. I dared not let him out of my sight for fear of him attempting to take his life like he’d done severally. Efe lived in terror of men which translated into deep seated hatred. She would have nothing to do with them no matter what and even if she did, she treated them with such callousness it made me, even me, fear her.
A couple of years ago, I chanced on a dairy in tattered leather casing containing writings of mother. According to her, Paapa was a very calm fellow during his younger days but his father, my grandfather, was a very mean man. He would always order Paapa to smack my aunts in the face whenever they spoke back at him; an act that did not sit well with Paapa. If he refused, the old man would spit on the ground and tell him he would never raise a fool and a weakling; my father had to do it!
To grandfather, a man had the right to hit a woman and not be questioned about it because that, was the only means to enforce order, show masculinity and superiority and that, was the only means to show a woman her place, beneath the man; a fallacy Paapa was forced to accept.
That one-year mission’s trip” Elder supposedly embarked on was not to spread the gospel like we were made to believe. He checked into a rehabilitation center to get treated; I am very sure his conscience haunted him that bad. But I guess the treatment failed because the devil inside of him never really left.
A question still lingers at the back of my mind. One that I wish to ask should I see him face to face. Must a person’s bitter childhood be an excuse to abuse others? And most painful life experiences be a reason to make life unbearable for everyone else? Well…
I met a girl the other day, under very strange circumstances, I must add. I was in the neighbourhood to get my regular “Waakye” from Auntie Khadija, the Hajia at the “big-gutter” junction. My aim was to purchase the food and return home as quickly as I got there but I guess fate had other plans for me that day.
A black range stopped across the road from Auntie Khadija. It caught my attention because, well, I like cars. I saw a young lady alight and walk towards us. She was light-skinned and had a slender body with curves in all the right places. I wanted to look some more but mother’s words came ringing in my ears, “Staring at people is impolite, Ekow!” I quickly turned my head to look the other way.
With my attention back to my meal, I heard shouts behind me, “fight Oooh, fight Oooh”. I turned my head to feast my curious eyes and feed my itchy ears. And oh, was I amazed! I saw this same pretty lady I laid my eyes on early on, holding a man by the shirt and strangling him so hard he could hardly breathe. In Teshie-Rasta, my neighbourhood, the best moments are when you see people throwing blows from different angles; you could find the entire town seriously watching for the outcome; who would be the new local champion and reigning king?
Others ran to get a closer view, even Hajia left her vending. Though I was itchy to join the train, I chose to be diplomatic and stood my ground. I knew the town criers would soon pass by.
It wasn’t long and they did come. The quarrel was because the young lady wanted to teach the man a lesson for defrauding her, something he was fond of doing to people in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong person to pick a bone with.
I was intrigued because unlike what I was used to, this was a rare sight. In my case, the man always did the manhandling, not the other way round. It made me wonder what would possess a 5.5ft woman to face a six-foot body-built man by herself when she could have called the police.
I could hear people around suggest that to her, but she refused, “Daabi, Daabi, Daabi… Ma face l3 ….” She spoke in her native language, Ga, meaning, ‘No, no, no, I will face him head on” Her voice was so small yet it boomed with so much authority. “…You don’t mess with a Ga lady and get away with it” she added.
She was a crazy lady but refined and I like the fact that she could stand up for herself and not let a man bully her. I admired her strength and courage and it made me think to myself, if only mother had an ounce of the courage this woman portrayed, she may not have lived so shortly.
Something not know what possessed me but right after buying my meal, I walked right up to the crazy lady who was by her car now, poised, as if nothing happened before.
“I like your courage.” That was all I could say and then I was on my way.
“Hey, wait!” she called to me “Can I give you a ride?”
Before I could reason clearly I spluttered, “Yes”.
Till date, I cannot tell if it was charm from her daring nature or the charm of seeing a Ranger Rover Sport.
That day, I felt my soul revived. I found she was actually a very well brought up young lady whose parents, according to her, taught her not to let anyone bully her in life. We spoke for some time then exchanged contacts.
Denise; the mere mention of her name feels like honey dripping on the lips with her presence commanding a sense of calm and refreshing. As for her laughter, it fills my skin pores with a strange feeling; a feeling I have not felt in a very long time. She cares for me, she prays for me, she loves me and she is a strong woman. Unlike mother, she is one that would fight for what she wants till the last drop of her blood.
I am beginning to accept that I have a soft spot for her and I want to pursue this considering the fact that she has been a blessing to me but fear has me caged like a tamed lion. Right now, I think I need to learn to trust myself and love right. I need to trust myself to be a better person and never hurt her but CAN I. WILL I EVER?
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My siblings and I have a sad story, a very sad one, possibly irreparable. I need everyone to understand that abuse is real and it is happening everywhere; sadly, even in religious homes—Christian, Muslim, Traditional, you name it. I know religious people would have my head for sharing this but this needs to be heard; people are hurting.
I have had the chance to share my story but how about those others who do not have a voice. How about those women who are battered by their husbands, children, colleagues, et al? Those who are used as everyday punching bags, door mats etc. Those who are spoken down to, spat on, mentally tortured.
Denise has a good heart, and I know she is someone I want to raise a family with but can I be good to her like she is to me. Can I reciprocate close to half the love and affection she has shown me? Could I actually be nothing like him? Could I be nothing like the devil in my clothes?
Waakye – a Ghanaian dish of cooked rice and beans
Kente – a brightly coloured cloth consisting of separate strips sewn together, made in Ghana
Akobam – locally made heat balm in Ghana
Abonsam bii– A child of the devil
Teshie-Rasta – a part of Teshie, a suburb of Accra
Hajia – a title given to a Muslim woman who has successfully completed the Hajj to Mecca
Giving people a reason to want to go on living has always been a passion; to give life, to right wrongs, to teach something new or to put smiles on the faces of people.
Having been through her fair share of life’s intricacies, the writer is poised with real life experiences conjoined with her explicit creative writing skills which she presents in various pieces of writing.
Naema is a Ghanaian Christian storyteller, singer, and songwriter. She’s an old girl of Mfantsiman Girls, as well as an alumnus of Pentecost University College.
Silent Pleas Story By: Kasim Amanda Naematu
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