I waited a long time.
My wait seemingly never-ending as I listened keenly. It had been long since I heard Mama’s footsteps echo in the corridor. Now a still serene blanketed the whole house and I could no longer see the orange shade of candle light creeping in under my room door. It had burned out.
I sat up in bed, quivering with excitement. My little brother was laying next to me, I could still feel his small mass pressed into my side. I contemplated rousing him from sleep to join me on my expedition.
We would bring back plunder from the kitchen! But then again, my brother was not a true shipmate. He would sell me out on the first chance. No, I would sail without him.
I sprung from our little hay bed and crept to the door. I remained still for a moment and pried my ears, listening cautiously. There was still no sound. Surely, Mama and Papa were asleep.
I groped the upper length of the door, feeling for the bolt that kept it shut. I found it and pulled to unlock it.
The knob yelled a metallic CLANG!
My heart wailed and my being hung in space.
Nothing moved in the silence that followed. I let out a breath I had unconsciously been holding.
I drew the door open, grateful that I had oiled the hinges earlier in the previous day, setting out the route for my expedition. It soundlessly opened to my utmost joy.
I looked back as if I would be able to see in the dark. There was no movement from my bed. I sighed and stepped out into the corridor. I could make out the way because moonlight beamed in through the open windows.
At the end of the hallway was my parent’s room. I and my brother stayed in one of the two rooms along the corridor. The other was used as the store but on the other end of the corridor was the kitchen. The lonely island bearing my treasure.
The tiles were cold against my feet, like numbing ice but I crept towards the kitchen, perpetually glancing over my shoulder, fearful my father’s towering form would emerge from nowhere.
I stopped in front of the kitchen door. It was the largest and heaviest door in our house, I suspected Papa made it so to thwart my efforts of stealing from the pot…
but that was when I was younger.
Now, I was much older and stronger.
I felt for the door knob and easily found it. I smiled widely to myself in the dark, tasting triumph! I turned the knob and pulled…but the door would not budge. I frowned, feeling heat rise to my face.
I pulled again and again but the door remained defiant.
I gasped in frustration and frantically groped the length of the door searching for an answer to my newfound dilemma…
And I felt it. It had to be the heaviest padlock I had ever held, bigger than the one papa used in his shop!
I sagged against the door and slunk to the floor, enduring the first throes of defeat…But then, a new idea dinged in my head!
My father was an obstinate man, and people remarked that I had inherited that trait, and they were right!
I got back up on my feet and reasoned the key would be in my parent’s room, amongst the other keys father kept in a bunch on the table next to the matrimonial bed.
I would get it!
I turned to size up the door at the other end of the corridor. The door to my Father’s room, the lion’s den.
I took my first bold steps towards the room with my shoulders high and my resolve firm…My father was a sound sleeper and Mother was no better. I was as nimble as a monkey and as quiet as the mouse, they would not catch me, I always outsmart them.
Nine days for the thief and one day for the owner of the house…
The words surfaced from nowhere and germinated in the back of my mind like unwanted weed. I wasn’t sure where I had heard them but it was surprising how it emerged when it was least needed. I even mentally began to count how many times I had stolen from the kitchen to be sure I had not exhausted my nine lives.
Then virtual images of my father laying me down in his pepper under the sun swindled in after its predecessor, making me slow my pace and rethink this expedition.
My back would burn for one week if Papa punished me again in that manner. Now my steps were unsure and heavy. I stood trembling before my father’s door and contemplated creeping back to my room.͞
"What are you waiting for?͟͟ " a voice scolded behind me.
I nearly jumped out of my body.
I spun on my heel to find my younger brother, he was bare except for his knickers, watching me with big hopeful eyes.
"What do you think I’m doing", I asked, trying to sound indifferent, but instead I squeaked like a frightened mouse.
"I know you want to steal goat meat from the pot. I want too!" He beamed, licking his lips.
"Okay. YouYou only follow me on one condition!" I whispered, cradling his face, conveying hope with my eyes.͞͞͞͞͞͞͞͞ "You must go in there and get the house keys.͟"
I watched his small innocent face contort into a frown.
͞"Why me?͟" He grumbled.
"͞Because you are small. If papa catches you, just say you cannot sleep and he will let you sleep with him and mama.͟" I urged.
Besides, papa never punished him like me. He was everyone’s favorite. The innocent one, the holy of hollies.
"͞But I don’t like sleeping with them. Papa and Mama snore!͟" His eyes darted from left to right with horrid fear.
"͞Shhh! Your voice is loud. Okay, if you do this, I will give you my portion of meat tomorrow morning.͟" I wagered.
"͞Yes, and you will give me your portion of meat even if I fail? Do we have a deal?͟" He grinned wickedly.
I was faced with the crossroads of turning my back on him and returning to my room…but I did not.
͞͞"Yes, we have a deal." I nodded.
He jumped happily and pulled the door slightly open, before creeping in.
He vanished into the darkness…
I waited there by the door anxiously…
The corridor seemed to grow bigger by the second and I shrunk as it grew. The only two pictures in the corridor was that of Mama and Papa. I always thought
those photos had a soul of their own, big placid eyes stared down at me, watching me, scorning me, as if they would reveal my deeds in the morning.
I was scared and tried to ignore their haunting stare, praying that the good Lord would quicken my brother’s steps and make him successful.
The bedroom door creaked, my brother was coming out. He had been successful! The doorway widened and I came face to face with a protruding stomach, bearing a brush of hair than ran from the navel downwards and disappeared under the big buckle of a belt. I knew that stomach very well and fear would not let me look up to meet its owner. So, I kept staring at it.
"Ali!" My father boomed, knocking the air clean from my lungs. I shuddered but I did not answer. I managed to look up.
A scowl sat on his face and indignant eyes bared down on me. In his arms, cradled against his shoulder…was my little brother, Obi.
The Traitor! Why are you not in bed? My father grunted.
͞͞"Ob couldn’t sleep, so I brought him here to sleep in your room."
The words came tumbling out as if practiced, my brain racking to save me from impending punishment.
"Hmmm" He hummed and my groin tightened. Papa only hummed like that when he knew I was lying.͞͞
"Follow me.͟" He ordered and I stepped out of the way for him to pass.
Waves of helplessness washed over me as I followed meekly.
I saw the disappointment in Ali’s face. I made a mental note not to share the same room with him for at least one week, he would beat me tirelessly. But even though, I would still be punished…
Sleeping with my parents for one week is punishment on its own. It meant sleepless nights for me. I sighed and snuggled into Papa’s neck, averting my eyes from Ali’s glare.
What did he expect me to do? Papa caught me as soon as I walked in. I could never lie to papa so I told him everything.
Papa opened the front door and stepped out into the moonlight. The cool sea breeze from Ibeno beech whistled past my ear and lulled me to sleep, but I would not sleep. I wanted to see what papa had planned out for Ali.
Papa set me down on his lap as he sat on an old tree stump in the backyard. He motioned to Ali to sit on the other stump close it. These stumps had once belonged to our mango trees. Papa had cut it down to stop the neighbor’s children from scaling our fence to steal our fruits.
"͞I’m only going to ask you one more time Obi and if you lie to me, I will set you to work on the farm for one whole week on your own!" Papa threatened.
Ali remained silent, looking at his hands, frightful.
"How old are you now, Ali?" Pap asked.
"͞͞Twelveyears old, pa.͟" Ali mumbled, looking down at his feet, shuddering.
"When will you be going off to secondary school?"
"͞Next week, pa.͟"
"Do you know how many other children you will meet when you go there? There will be at least a thousand. You will see new faces and make new friends. Wouldn’t you like that?͟"
͞"Y-yes!͟ Ali looked up, brightening for a moment.
"͞So when you go there, is this what you will be doing every night? Sneaking off to steal what’s not yours? Disgracing your family name?!͟" Papa roared.
Ali paled and returned his attention to his feet.͞"No, pa. I only do it here at home.͟"
͞͞"Shu up!͟" Papa snapped and we both jerked.
͞͞"Charit begins at home, If you don’t learn self-discipline at home, what makes you think you will behave yourself in a different environment, where I am not there to scold and keep you in check!͟" Papa yelled. ͞͞
"I am a decent trader, Ali. I do what I can to give you and your brother the best. Your uncles wanted you to stay in the village and learn trading but instead I sent you off to school. Is this how you will repay I and your mother when you go off to school?͟" Papa asked.
Ali and I remained silent. I wondered what would be going on in Ali’s head.
"͞͞Doyou know what they do to thieves caught in the market places?͟" Papa leaned in, his beady eyes gazing down on Ali.
͞"They brand them, sometimes they burn them but if you’re lucky, you get saved by the police and you go to jail. There are no beds in jail, Ali. Only hard cement floors.͟"
Ali looked up with fear.
"͞͞Thereare also no toilets there. Prisoners sleep in their own excrement. I think I will send you there tomorrow!͟" Papa growled.
͞͞Papa͞͞ no! Papa please?͟" Ali trembled.
͞͞"Bu even all of that pales in comparison to the greatest punishment of all. You bring shame to this family.͟" Papa hissed.
"͞͞Iwill not steal again, papa.͟" Ali promised.
Papa said nothing for a moment before waving Ali off to bed and ordering me to follow.
I was scared to go back with Ali and I reluctantly followed. Once we had gone back into the house, I expected him to bash me against a wall…
But he paid no attention to me, his shoulders sagged and his head hung. Papa’s words must have hurt him. I felt bad for him.
But I also remembered something.
"͞͞Rememberyou said you will give me your portion of meat for breakfast in the morning!" I yipped cheerily…
And he bashed me against a wall.
Much love from the Author: Rachael Asikpo!
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