The Lullaby

 

I used to watch him, knees pressed into the red rug, trying to diligently catch the words that fell off his mouth. His face was like that of a cat, fierce and wicked with an underlying innocence. Sometimes he was sane, drawing us fine sketches, buying late night suya, spooking us with village tales and soothing us with folk songs. Other times he was like a poltergeist, swallowing his words leaving a path of vicious destruction. The night he struck, It was raining and we sat in the living room passing our fingers through candle flames breathing in the acrid smell of burnt hair. The windows were rattling, the gate swung open and there were three sharp knocks on the door. My mother adjusted her wrapper, sweat glistening on her chest against the light. She sighed deeply; the man was not dead, thank God? She unlocked the door and her smile timidly stretched to its elastic limit. “Thank God you’re back; hope the rain didn’t beat you too much. Let me help you with your bag.” He suddenly retreated when she grabbed the bag and it fell, its yellow lacey contents spilling out. “Such a lovely fabric, where’d you get it? Who got it for you?” He was trembling, not in fear, more like the way hot oil reacts when water touches it. “It was a gift” he said. “From who?” she asked. He walked past her, oozing with a sickly sweet smell of rain, cologne, sweat and woman. My mother paused for a bit and as if emboldened by some unseen force caught up with him and repeated the question, defiantly, daring him to answer it. They engaged in a 5 second staring match and he raised his arm, swiftly, wiping her face with the bag. We watched them from a distance, glued to the floors, unable to avert our eyes and unable to intervene. He dragged her into their room and shut the door. For the first few minutes, the room was filled with the sound of wood and something else. Bone?  All five us ran to the door and peeped through. He stood half naked above her. She was mumbling incomprehensible words and he grabbed by the nape of her neck and slammed her face into the bed frame. “Daddy stop that, don’t do that!”  I was pointing at him, giving him a warning sign. He stared at me and for a moment wore the look of a child that had been caught stealing. The others stood behind me, visibly relieved. It was over, again. I took hesitant steps towards him. He was breathing hard and I watched the hair on his chest rise and fall. “Get out! Get out!” He contorted his face and shoved me. My younger brother ran towards him and jumped on his leg, hugging it tight. He resembled a monkey and maybe it would have been funny to look at under different circumstances but it was sad to see him in his red sweater and “parachute” pants barely hanging on, lingering in the lowest percentile of successful assists. A few hours later, my mother was gone. He dragged her unconscious body, grunting and panting as he struggled with the weight. “Don’t even think of dying this woman, don’t!”  We strained our ears against the window to listen to the sound of his car sputtering to life. When he returned, he asked us to lay with him on their bed. All five of us arranged ourselves like kitchen utensils on hooks. Somehow I ended up beside him. I moved closer and hugged him tight. The sound of his breathing was heavy on my neck. It lulled me to sleep, and then goaded me, violently pushing me into somberness. I did not think of my mother.

*Raydon Blackstone*

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