Mr Abiodun watched, flabbergasted as the building burned before his eyes in the dead of night. Oh, how the flames engulfed the structure and licked the already black wood, ravenous for more. The flickers reflected in his dark eyes, as a couple wept bitterly next to him. These were his neighbours, and this was the moment nothing mattered and nothing stayed the same, all at the same time.
“This class is so pointless. Is it not just to knack and go?” Adetoun, holder of the esteemed title ‘Bouncer’ whispered to his ‘padi’, Chika. He was given this nickname because of the swagger in his walk and his tall, framed figure accompanied with his attractive, bearded face (which the teachers always hounded him to shave, as they said it was a ‘distraction’ to the other pupils, especially the girls).
“Omo, I don’t understand o. It’s not like half of these girls will give theirs up before they turn 40.” Chika replied. Adetoun, Chika and twenty other students were currently in sex-education class, which the school recently deemed compulsory for all undergraduates, even though it was not included in their curriculum.
“And anyway…I don’t think I’m willing to start a family of my own. It’s just too much.” Adetoun whispered. Chika, hearing this, was confused at the spontaneousness of his friend’s statement.
“Bobo, who is talking about family or marriage here? We’re only 18 years old o, abeg abeg. I hope there is no problem. Abi you don give girl bele? Ah was it Lade? She seems off these days-“
“Chika shut up. I haven’t gotten anyone pregnant. Watch what you say before you get yourself in trouble. If you like let Lade catch you”
“Toun and Chika. The usual troublemakers.” Mrs Munis said, evidently frustrated at their behaviour. “Shut up. Or face Mr David in his office. Your parents did not send you to this school to ruin your futures by talking during class instead of listening. The youth of these days. God help our nation.” She lamented
After class, Chika and Toun grabbed their bags and raced out the door. School was finally over and now it was time for Christmas holidays. Toun was engrossed in his thoughts when Chika tapped him and said “Guy, my dad said he got three tickets to Wizkid’s concert. Do you want to come?”
“Ehn?” Toun said, startled
“Ehn…yes, yes.” He mumbled.
“Toun, it’s like you didn’t hear what I said. Wiz-KID o. You that you’re wizkid’s biggest fan. ”
“Oh- yes, sorry. My mind has just been up and down today.”
“I knew it. You seemed very off during class. What happened naw?”
“Bros, if I tell you this, you can’t tell anyone o.”
“Are we not brothers for life? Come to my dorm, we’ll talk properly there.”
In Chika’s room, the two sat, Chika on the floor next to the bedpost and Adetoun on the bed itself.
“Chika, I think my parents are breaking themselves apart.” Toun began. Chika stayed silent, waiting to let Toun finish speaking.
“Three weeks ago, when my mum came to visit, she had serious injuries on her cheek and shoulder. She used makeup to try to cover them up, but if my mother is hurt, even makeup can’t hide her scars from me.”
“I asked her what happened and how she got the scars. She seemed to have strategically thought of the lies she would tell me. She told me that she had a skin reaction on her cheek and that she hit her shoulder very hard against the wall when she was carrying something heavy. ‘You know how clumsy I get’ is what she said. But I don’t believe her.”
“Even the last time I went home for holiday, I heard my dad and her arguing seriously over things they could just peacefully sort out between themselves. I don’t know if I’m being paranoid, Chika.”
“O boy, try not to get in the middle of it sha. Maybe you can ask your mum, and see if she’ll tell you the truth this time.” China advised “I think she didn’t want you to worry when she came last time, that’s why she lied to you. But maybe if you ask her when you’re at home this holiday, she will be more willing to tell you.”
“Mehn, this life is tough o,” Chika said
Adetoun nodded in agreement, his mind still not at rest.
It was dinner time, and the family of three sat at the dining table after Mrs Ibironke Abiodun had dished out the eforiro and pounded yam she had pounded herself from scratch, as well as the fruit salad she had chopped and they all said the grace. The silence made noise in the room, louder than ever, accompanied only by the sound of Tupperware against the glass plates and the chewing of food and sipping of water.
Toun, not being able to stand the awkwardness, tried to make conversation. “This is delicious mum, thank you.”
“No problem, Toun. You should start learning how to cook more o.” She teased.
Toun, his father and his mother all laughed at her statement.
“Yesterday I got my grades from my microbiology exam. I got an A with the highest scores in my entire year group.”
His mum smiled at him and said “Well done, omo mi. Keep it up o.”
“I am proud of you, my boy.” Mr Abiodun said, looking up for a second, and then the silence continued.
“Thank you, sir,” Adetoun replied, a small smile on his face. The mood had been lightened a little bit.
“How was work today, honey?” Mrs Abiodun asked her husband, with a cautious tone.
“Fine.” He said, not even looking up at her.
“Are you enjoying your meal?” She continued, obviously trying to engage her husband.
“So, honey, I was thinking about applying for a job in First Bank. My friend who works there said that they are looking for a front desk manager and I think-“
“You think what? Is my job not enough for you?”
Ibi looked at Adetoun, apology in her eyes for the commotion.
“It’s not about that, honey.” She sighed “Okay, don’t worry. We can discuss it later.” She said, trying to lighten the mood.
Adetoun’s heart raced. This was how it always started. His mum treading carefully, but never carefully enough. Mr Abiodun had to be the most unpredictable human being Adetoun had ever met- one minute he’s smiling lovingly at his wife, the next minute Toun has to excuse the both of them as they heatedly fight.
“There is nothing to discuss.” Mr Abiodun said, slamming his palm against the table.
Adetoun sat, paralysed with fear and confusion at the monster his dad had suddenly become. It was like a switch had been flipped within him.
“Adetoun dear, are you done eating?” Ibi asked her son, calmness filling her voice.
He nodded, knowing what was coming.
“Go to your room, please.”
“No. He is going to stay here and have dinner with his parents.”
Toun sat there, as it seemed as though his father’s words taped him to his chair.
After a while, Mr Abiodun spoke “I’m sorry, darling. You know I didn’t mean what I said.” He reached out to squeeze Ibi’s hand, smiling lovingly at her as though nothing had happened.
Ibi returned his smile wearily and continued to eat.
Adetoun mentally debated whether or not he should bring up the WIzkid concert Chika had told him about, to lighten the mood.
“Daddy, please can I go to a concert with Chika? His dad got three tickets and wants to know if I can go.”
“When is it?” Mr Abiodun asked
“Next week Saturday from 11pm to 2am.”
“I’ll have to think about it.”
Silence. Suddenly, Mr Abiodun dropped his cutlery, looked at Ibironke and broke out
“Why would you want a job, anyway?”
Confused, Mrs Abiodun said, “Honey, it’s okay.”
He slammed his fists on the table and stood up, his giant frame lurking over his wife.
All at once, he swept his mighty hand across her face which sent her flying to the ground.
“Dad!” Toun’s voice boomed around the room as he yelled, petrified.
It was like his father was a different man- in a trance, oblivious to the world.
Mr Abiodun took the almost empty glass cup which sat innocently on the table and smashed it on Ibi’s head, yelling “What more do you want from me?!”
Storming up the stairs, he got to his room and slammed the door, the sound reiterating around the house.
As blood trickled down her head, Ibi lay there, unable to move nor speak, silent tears streaming down her face.
Toun ran to her side with a phone, about to call the emergencies when Mrs Abiodun grabbed his hand and shook her head.
“I’ll take care of it.” She whispered
Toun melted to the floor and began to weep by his mother’s side, frustrated at everything.
‘How could she go through all of this and not do something about it?’ He thought. ‘What kind of world was this, whereby a family could be so dysfunctional yet so accepting towards the fact?’
“I’m sorry.” Was all Ibi could say.
But sorry could not unsee what Toun had seen, and it certainly could not change the hardened view of marriage that had now been engraved in his mind, heart and soul.
Mr Abiodun woke up, smoke dancing into his nostrils.
Coughing, he managed to crawl out of his empty room, and tried to see where the fire was coming from.
He looked down the stairs, from the top of the balcony and saw that the fire had already engulfed most of downstairs, almost obstructing the front door.
Where was his son? Where was his wife?
“Adetoun!” He called, coughing afterwards “Ibi!” “Ibironke!” He called out.
He ran back to his room to grab his phone and called 767, reporting the fire. He was told that they were already on their way, as his neighbours called the services earlier when they noticed the immense smoke coming from his house.
Mr Abiodun ran down the hot stairs, and into the kitchen which was set alight. “Ibironke!” “Adetoun!”
He could not see nor hear anything or any sign of life. Everywhere was pitch black with smoke, and the electricity in the house had gone off.
Suddenly, the flames grew and forced him out of the kitchen. The ceiling had begun to fall down, and he knew had to leave the house. But he couldn’t leave without his family.
*Thud* the front door flew open, and several men in uniform ushered him forcefully, out the front door, despite his strong resistance, and he gasped uncontrollably when he took in the fresh air.
He was then led to a rugged ambulance where he was treated for any burns or intoxication.
After what felt like years of observation by the paramedics, Mr Abiodun was free to leave the ambulance.
The fire had become an inferno which engulfed over half of his house, and he ran to the police officers by the ambulance and asked for information, but they were frustratingly vague about the details.
Moments after, in shock, he watched his wife being wheeled out of the inferno that was his house, his heart, thumping like a talking drum giving the beat to the dance of death. Suddenly, all the silence that came with the shock fled his body, and words erupted from his mouth.
“Is she okay? My wife! Is she okay?” He ran to the paramedics surrounding Ibi’s body
“She is still breathing, although she has second-degree burns, but she will be okay, sir.”
At this, he felt a moment of peace, before looking around and noticing that Toun still wasn’t outside.
“Where is my son?!!” “Where is he?! Is he dead?!”
He ran to the front of the house and pushed, like a madman, past the group of policemen barricading the door, but to no avail. All he could do was pray and wait by his wife.
After an eternity of unknowingness, a second body was wheeled out of the inferno, stark black, with only a white cloth over this body.
Mr Abiodun ran to the body, ignoring the protests of the person wheeling the stretcher, and raised the cloth.
Anybody but. Anybody but him. Anybody but him.
Alas, he raised it up, and there was his son’s hand, burnt to a crisp- like the rest of his body. His son was dead.
“I’m sorry, sir but…” he didn’t hear the rest of the pitiful words that came out of the stranger’s mouth. He didn’t hear anything anymore.
Now, Mr Abiodun felt a dark loneliness and grief wash over him. He had no family. He had no- Then he remembered- he had a wife. He had to see his wife. He had to make things right.
“Daddy?” “Daddy?” Mr Abiodun woke up to the distant sound of Adetoun’s voice.
Where was he? His eyes fluttered open and, gasping, he sat up abruptly, sweat scarcely dispersed over his forehead, and hugged his son.
“Daddy…” Toun said, his voice shaky and dried tears staining his face from the incident with his mum beforehand.
“Omo mi. I love you, my boy.”
Poor Adetoun, confused, shaken and angry replied “I love you too Dad, but… is everything okay?”
“Mmm?” Mr Abiodun asked, his mind still half in the dream and half in the present moment. “Ehn, yes I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Adetoun asked, angry at the fact that he still had to speak respectfully to his father even after what he had done.
“Mo ni I’m fine o.” Mr Abiodun replied. Suddenly, he asked, “Where is your mummy?”
Fear crept into Adetoun’s eyes, as he feared what was to come. Another incident about to repeat itself.
Mr Abiodun, confused at his son’s fearful reaction, recalled all that had happened before he slept and barely managed to get the words out because he was suddenly choked with tears.
“My boy, I am so sorry.” He broke down in tears, regret sweeping over him. Soon, the pair were both in tears, everything streaming out like the waves easing themselves onto the seashore.
“I think…” Mr Abiodun sat up, his hands on his head in shame “I think something is wrong with me, and I’ve been in denial all this time.” Mr Abiodun whispered.
“I think I have bipolar disorder and I need to get help.”
“I need to get help.” He repeated his arms around his son.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what this has done to you,” Mr Abiodun said to Toun
“I can’t lie, dad. You’ve scarred me.” Toun said sadly, his voice a mere whisper. “If this is how marriage works, I don’t want any of it.”
“I know that ‘sorry’ won’t change anything, my son. But I am truly sorry. I hurt you and your mother and I can’t change what happened, but I am going to take steps to get better.”
Silence passed, as Toun debated whether or not to ask the question that ate at him. Finally, he found the courage to ask “Do you even love mum?”
Mr Abiodun gasped, shocked at the level of damage this had had on his family. “Your mother is the most amazing woman I have ever met. I fell in love with her 22 years ago and I will never stop loving her. Yes, I love your mum. I am so sorry my actions have shown otherwise, Toun. I am so so sorry.”
“You should tell her that.” Toun replied, looking down at his hands the colour of milk chocolate.
After a while had passed, Mr Abiodun said, more softly this time “Where is your mummy?”
He had a family to mend. He had to make things right.