She was eight.
She stood calm as though oblivious of the chaos around her or the turmoil welling up within her. She stared bleakly at the woman who was sprawled on the floor, kicking in different directions while releasing the flood of tears from the gates that protected her eyes. She had never seen her mother look as different as she did that day. The epitome of class and composure seemed to have abandoned both traits as she loosened her wrapper and tore the blouse off her breasts in unabashed grief. Neighbors rushed in, following the wails of her mother and Mama Ngozi, her mother’s closest neighbor tried to subdue her grieving mother.
She barely noticed as her mother’s younger sister Aunty Jane, scooped her up and took her to the room that would belong to only her mother starting that day. She didn’t struggle as she was placed on the bed; she was too numb to.
“Everything would be fine Tabitha, wait for me here ehn?” or so she thought her aunt had mumbled as she slammed the door behind her in a hurry to get back to the sitting room.
She sat quietly at the edge of the bed as the statements and conversations that occurred in the sitting room filtered through the door to the room meant to be her shield.
“Mummy Tabi, please take heart, it is okay”
“God gives and God takes”
“God knows best my friend, please calm down”
“Please be strong for your children, you are all they have now”
Her eyes settled on the picture frame hanging on the wall adjacent. She had watched her mum religiously clean that frame every morning; not a day went by where she didn’t dab the glass frame with the little napkin that always sat on the table by their bedside. She treated it like her commitment to the marriage. Sometimes Tabitha would stay and watch her clean it, wondering why it was so important to her mother the frame stayed clean always.
Her gaze lingered on the images in the frame; a wedding picture of her parents with her father cupping the face of her mother in both palms attempting to kiss his shy wife who looked embarrassed. She didn’t notice her arms were sweaty and trembling till they slid off the edge of the bed and was brought to her notice. The turmoil that had been brewing within her was boiling over now as the reality of what had happened began to register in her senses. How dare he break his promise to her? He lied to her. He promised he was never going to leave.
With each question raised, the anger in her turned to rage. She stood abruptly and stomped towards the frame, every step taken fueled by the burning anger in her chest. She picked it up and with all the energy she could muster, shattered it on the tiled floor.
“You were telling a lie! You promised to never leave! You said you loved us” the walls echoed her screeching voice
“You told me lying was bad and even beat me when I did it but you lied too” she kicked the pieces of the shattered glass with her barefoot and winced a bit when a piece of glass made a cut on her delicate skin and blood slowly began to seep out.
“You left us! You died and left us! Why did you do that?” picking up the remnants of the frame, she smashed it against the wall.
“You are doing bad things! You are a bad daddy! I hate you!” the tears in her eyes were flowing freely now and she tried to wipe them off when she noticed the bloodstains on her hands too. The sight seemed to double the rage as she started screaming at the top of her lungs at the picture which was now out of the frame and was lying on the floor in the mess
“Because of you, blood is coming out of my hand! I hate you! You are bad! You lie lie! I hate you! She picked up the picture and tore out her father’s face, proceeding further to shred it into pieces.
The door to the room flung open as two elderly women rushed in, the expressions on their faces immediately turning to horror as their eyes settled on her. The eldest of the women whom every one called Mummy Church rushed towards her, tears already welling up in her eyes. The other woman ran back out.
“Tabitha! Jesus! Eh! Please it’s okay ehn, my daughter come here”
“But he lied! He said he would be here forever! You said it was bad to lie!” she fired back at the woman who was trying hard to stop her own tears.
“Yes he lied, he did.” The big woman proceeded to lift her from the mess. “… eh daddy Tabi o! see what your daughter is going through!”
For the second time that evening, Tabitha let herself be carried like she weighed close to nothing, her rage subsiding, knowing that Mummy Church agreed with her.
“It’s okay my daughter, calm down.” The older woman cooed into her ears while patting her back gently.
When she woke up later, she was still in mummy church’s arms but this time they were in the living room which was now filled with enough people to start a church. At the altar was her mother with her five-year old brother in her arms, sobbing on the longest couch in the living room with two women flanked by her sides, consoling her. Most people in the room were offering words of encouragement to her mother, others were staring at her in pity while the rest just looked like they couldn’t wait to be out of the house.
Daddy Church, the district overseer of their church walked into the house with a swagger that easily revealed his status. Not losing his gait, he walked towards the mourning woman and held her in an embrace.
“I came here as soon as I could…” He explained after settling into the space that was just left vacant by the woman who was seated by her right side. “…I am very sorry about the incident. I want you to know that God understands best and all things work for our good. He would grant you the fortitude to bear the loss ehn.”
“Thank you daddy. Thank you very much” her mother replied amidst sobs.
“Always remember that you are always welcome into our home and family. If you ever need anything, please do not hesitate to contact myself or my wife” he looked towards his wife as though seeking permission, a look that was met with several nods of affirmation.
“Thank you so much Daddy, God bless you for us” her mother repeated.
Tabitha closed her eyes, wishing over everything she could go meet her father and have him explain why he had to die when her mum had claimed it was just malaria.
For two weeks after the incident, they always had visitors in the house; women who came to cook, clean, do laundry and occasionally, have prayer meetings and with each passing day, she hated the idea of people being in her house more. She would lock herself up in her room and seldom came out except it was time for everyone to eat. The home got quieter and conversation with her mother and brother was reduced to the barest minimum which she didn’t mind as she had no interest talking to anyone.
Eight years after the death of her father, not much had changed; the home was still very quiet and conversation with her family was still reduced to the barest minimum. She woke up that evening to the voices of women talking in the living room, both of which she recognized as her mother and Mummy Church. She rolled over to the other side of her bed and plugged in her earphones. They seldom had visitors, much to her delight which was getting tampered with that evening.
“How is Tabi doing now? Mummy Church asked in her richly accented tone.
“She’s sleeping o. She’s always sleeping or locked up in her room these days.” Her mother’s voice sounded void of emotions
“ehn ehn. Don’t you think something might be wrong? She wasn’t like this as a child; she suddenly became reserved after her father went to be with the Lord. Are you sure she’s fine?”
“I don’t know o. she never talks to anyone for more than five minutes, and when I ask what is wrong with her, she gets angry, claiming to be fine. Would I now be begging her ni?”
“Don’t you think she should get help? She barely speaks a word to anybody at church too and every time I’m around, I rarely ever see her step out of her room. I am quite worried actually.”
“Ah.. okay o. Maybe if you talked to her she would listen to you because I’m tired of trying. She is not the only child I have, she can’t be giving me a headache.”
“Don’t talk that way mummy Tabi, I’m sure she is having a hard time too. Can I go see her briefly in her room?”
“I’ve heard you mummy. She is in her room there, I hope she listens to you”
Tabitha slid both her phone and earphones under her pillow and feigned sleep, hoping it would discourage the woman whose footsteps were fast approaching her room. She heard the door to her room swing open and she held her breath.
“I know you are awake Tabi, I can see your legs shaking” Tabitha heard her walk closer to her bed and sit on the edge but made no attempt to turn around. “please look at me, I just want to talk.” She continued, placing a hand over her shoulders. Tabitha relaxed but didn’t turn around.
“Okay. This is what we would do; you have my number, can you please give me a call or pay me a visit if you ever feel like talking or shouting or you just want to go out? Please? I am so worried about you and I wouldn’t be at peace till I know you are safe and well. Please just call me once, I would listen to all you have to say, I promise.”
The woman waited in hope of a response from Tabitha but was met with silence and after a few minutes, Tabitha heard her quietly leave the room, locking the door behind her.
She rolled over to lay completely on her back as she pulled out both her phones and earphones and plugged them in. She heaved out a sigh of relief as she basked in the serenity of the song that was playing. What was the use trusting people and their promises when they would still break them and finally leave her? Better safe than sorry.
She walked briskly to the front door of their family pastors’ house filling her mind with thoughts of getting back into the comfort of her room. She knew her mother was setting her up when she sent her on that errand but she didn’t have enough interest to argue with her, she was going to drop the package as quick as she could and head home as soon as possible. Two weeks earlier was when mummy church visited her room and she knew this was one of the many methods both her mum and mummy church had used to get her to talk; she wasn’t stupid. She pressed the doorbell and less than twenty seconds a young lady she recognized as their help answered the door.
“Good evening, is Mummy church around? I have something to give her from my mum.” Her voice was small and her words came out between short breaths.
“ ahh. Mummy went out o but she would soon come back. She told me to tell you to wait for her if you arrived before her” The help opened the door wider and gestured for her to come in. This visit was taking longer than she expected.
“Okay” defeated, she stepped in and let the help lead her into the living room.
“Ahnahn! Is that not Tabitha?” a baritone voice that was clearly used to making an impression rang out behind her.
“Good evening Daddy Church. I didn’t know you were around sir” she knelt briefly to pay him respect as he walked towards her.
“I decided to take a day from work today my dear, my body needs rest.” His face beamed with a smile, one she wasn’t comfortable with; it reminded her of a cartoon character. “Tabi Tabi, ahn ahn! you are now a big girl o. where did all the time go to? I still remember when you were just a child, oga o” She didn’t know how to reply and so she just nodded and tried to replicate the smile he had sprawled on his face.
“You are waiting for mummy abi? He asked with a raised brow
“Yes sir. My mum asked me to give her something”
“Ehn ehn, what is the thing?”
“I don’t know sir. It’s wrapped.”
“Is that so? She would be back soon sha. Why don’t you come wait for her in my study while we talk?
She avoided his gaze, thinking up an excuse to turn down his offer; she didn’t want to talk to anyone.
“I think I want to wait for her here in the living room sir, since she should be back anytime soon”
“She would know where you are, I’m sure Comfort would tell her. C’mon let us go have some father and daughter talk, it’s been a while” he began to walk towards his study, as though fully expecting her to follow suit.
With no other excuse to give, she stood up and reluctantly followed behind, dragging her feet behind him.
He instructed her to sit down as he brought out a carton of fruit juice from inside his fridge, a tumbler from the tray balanced on top of it and placed them in front of her.
“Make yourself at home dear” he sat on the seat behind his desk and started sorting the books on his desk.
“Thank you sir” she managed to mumble.
“So how have you been dear? You have grown so big, I hope those small boys are not disturbing you already?” he had a mischievous smirk on.
“No sir.” She gulped down a glass of juice. He would never know how much it made her happy nobody was disturbing her.
“That’s good to hear. Don’t be deceived by them and just face your studies now ehn. They have nothing to offer you right now, the right time would come. You just got admission into the university right?”
“Yes sir.” Another glass of juice.
“Congrats my dear. Your mother would be so happy with you. I remember when my children got admission into universities, I was so happy ehn, as if I was the one who gained the admission.”
“Yes she is.” Lie. Her mother only spoke about it once, in her usual emotionless aloof manner.
“Your father would have been so proud of you too. He was such an academic. I wish he was here to witness it, but God knows best” his eyes looked so distant, lost in memories.
She stiffened at the mention of her father. How wrong the pastor was.
“No he wouldn’t.” Another gulp.
“What? Why would you say that?” He stared at her in disbelief.
“He left. He didn’t want to be proud of me” her grip on the tumbler tightened and she felt her fingers tremble. A familiar rage began to build inside her.
“He didn’t mean to dear, it wasn’t his fault. Nobody wants to die. I’m shocked you would even think that way, your father was an amazing person.”
“Of course he was. He was also a liar and ..” her knuckles began to hurt and she released her grip on the tumbler, standing up immediately. “I want to go home. I would drop this with you, please help me give it to mummy.” She rushed out her words as she dropped the wrapped object on his desk.
“Tabitha wait!” he stood up from his chair and rushed towards her and placed his hands on her back and arm, preventing her from leaving the room. “I’m sorry your father died, I didn’t know it hurt you this much. But you should know that he really loved you and never wanted to hurt you”
“He abandoned me. Abandoned us. I can never forgive him for that. Everybody is like him, everybody wants to make promises they cannot keep and abandon me.”
He pulled her towards his chest and hugged her
“That is not true, nobody would ever want to abandon an amazing girl like you. You are to be loved.”
“Mummy Church said I have a problem and needed help and my mother agrees with her. She doesn’t love me and wants to abandon me with someone else” she pulled out of his hug and stared at him “I’m sure you are just like your wife and you probably think I have a problem too. You all are just pretending to love me and can’t wait to get rid of me. I hate you all” she reached for the door handle again and he stopped her
“Tabitha…” he looked short of words to say “We would never abandon you, we love you. I love you. I would never abandon you” he placed both hands on her shoulders and stared at her. She looked into his eyes and saw a lot of emotions flash across; shock, confusion, fear.
“I don’t believe you.” She shrugged his hands away and reached for the door with trembling fingers which was once again recovered by his big hands. He turned her towards him and gently placed a kiss on her forehead. They both froze on the spot and she trembled more
“I would never abandon you, I promise.” He maintained her gaze.
“Why did you do that?” confusion rushed through her
“It is what fathers do. Fathers who wouldn’t abandon their daughters.” He whispered. Alarms were going off in her head but she silenced them with his words and the promise they carried.
“You promise?” She leaned into his embrace.
“I promise.” He leaned in closer and she relaxed, expecting the soothing kiss on her forehead but was shocked when he tilted her head backwards and planted a peck on her lips.
She wanted to pull away, but for some reason her feet were glued to the spot. They stood there for what seemed like years and were jerked back to reality by the honks coming from the gate of the house. They quickly disentangled and everything went back to normal, it would be hard to believe something transpired between them.
“Mummy is back. I would call you this evening. Don’t forget my promise” She would have believed it was a figment of her imagination had his expression not revealed the truth.
“Okay sir.” She reached for the door this time and he did not stop her.
When she got home later that evening, she was met with news by her mother.
“What took you so long? Were you walking like a snail?” her mother asked in her signature aloof manner. She didn’t wait for her reply as she continued “Anyway, before you go and lock yourself in that room, Daddy Church called me and offered to pay your tuition fee throughout university. I gave him your number but you should call him to appreciate him before he gets a chance to call you first. I wrote his number down on the diary on your bed.”
“Okay. I would” she responded in a tiny voice and walked towards her room
“What is it this girl? Is it that you are not happy? You don’t want to go to school? You can’t even pretend to be happy about it! someone just offered you a scholarship and you act indifferent. E get as e be for you o!”
She opened her mouth to reply but no words came out so she just went into her room and locked her door.
Daddy Church called her about an hour after to tell her about his gracious deed and to remind her he cared for her and would never leave her. He also suggested she came to see his wife at home often and about an hour earlier, so they could have more time to themselves.
The visits to the pastors’ house became more frequent with each passing week and month. For the first few weeks, Daddy church didn’t do more than a few stolen kisses and kisses on the forehead occasionally. As time went on, he progressed to mistakenly brushing his hands over her breasts and sliding his hands down her thighs and then to more daring things. He seemed to forget he was a pastor when she was around. She felt uncomfortable at first but soon settled into him, after all he promised to take care of her and not to leave her and he had kept his promise so far. Nobody had ever given her so much care and attention and soon their meetings graduated from his house to motels and hotels as soon as she moved into the school campus.
It was two weeks to her twentieth birthday and she couldn’t deny the excitement that filled her. She was in her finals and was going to celebrate her birthday together with her finalists thanksgiving. She picked up her toothbrush and some toiletries and stuffed them into the small travelling back she always carried along whenever she had a meeting with Daddy church at the hotel. She couldn’t wait to tell him about all her plans. When she was done packing, she sent him a text, informing him she was on her way.
She got to their usual hotel room and he was already waiting there for her. As usual. She smiled as she locked the door behind her and dropped her bag by the bedside. She loved the way the room was dimly lit, it gave more sense of secrecy to their already clandestine meetings.
“Good evening sir.” She slid close to him expecting to be caught in his embrace as usual but was surprised when he remained still.
“We need to talk Tabitha.” His voice was cold, void of emotions. Her heart began to race. What had she done?
“What is wrong sir? Did I do something wrong?” her voice cracked
“No you didn’t. I think my wife suspects I’m having an affair.” He looked past her, avoiding her gaze.
“What? How? Did you tell her something to give us away?” her heart raced faster.
“No Tabitha, I didn’t. I tried my best not to. She is a woman and I think it’s a sixth sense thing or something. I have reason to believe I am being followed and watched in fact.” he shifted his gaze to the ground and started tapping his feet.
“So?” she asked slowly, expecting but dreading his answer
“So we can’t do this anymore Tabitha. I can’t risk my wife finding out about this. I have too many things at stake” he didn’t lift his gaze from the ground.
“You are joking right? You are going to leave me because you are scared? Didn’t you know you had a lot at stake when we started?” she could barely hold the familiar anger that was welling up within her.
“Tabitha don’t take this the wrong way. I love you and I want to protect you too. What if everybody finds out about this? What would you do?” he looked into her eyes for the first time that night.
“I don’t care!” she shot at him
“I’m sorry but I do! I am a district pastor for Christ’s sake! I have a beautiful family, a ministry and my reputation at stake here! I would not let you ruin that!” He fired back and stood up, picking up his jacket and walking towards the door.
“You made a promise to me! You promised never to leave. You wouldn’t break that promise” she could feel herself get woozy.
He stopped and walked back towards her and cupped her wet face in his palms. “Remember those boys I told you to ignore that day? You are old enough now, you should date one of them. I am not good for you. Goodbye Tabitha.” Releasing her face, he walked back towards the door.
She watched as he walked towards the door and felt as her heart was filled with hurt and fear and disappointment. He was leaving her. He was going to abandon her, just like her father did. Something snapped. She was not going to sit idle and watch it happen a second time. She frantically looked around the room for something, anything to stop him. She would not watch him leave. She cleared the stool by the bedside of its contents and flung it at him with all the strength her little frame could muster. She watched as the wooden stool hit him right at the back of his head just as he was about to unlock the door. She smiled as he collapsed under the impact, letting out a screeching scream. How dare he try to leave her, to abandon her after four years. She laughed out hysterically, walking towards his collapsed frame.
“You, sir, must be very foolish to think you can just abandon me for your family. It won’t happen! Not when I’m alive and this well!”
She stared at his bloody body as he tried to stretch his hands towards the doorknob and it fueled the anger within her. The fool was still trying to leave.
“There is no escape here! You will stay with me! You will not abandon me!” she reached for the stool and struck him with it once more with the stool partly crashing on the floor resulting in a leg breaking off.
She giggled as she reached for the broken leg and began to continuously hit him with it. she saw the terror expressed in his eyes and stopped hitting him. She loved him, why was she hitting him? She dropped the leg and scooted close to his bleeding face and cupped it in both palms
“Shhhhh. I’m sorry babe, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just want you to stay with me and not leave. You promised so. Just say you would stay. Uhn? Stay with me please” She kissed his lips and attempted to clean the blood that was oozing out
“You…are… possessed” He gasped out
“What did you say? You think I’m possessed? Ha Ha! Don’t you see I’m doing this for us? I am helping us, doing what you cannot do. I need you to stay. Just stay like you promised” She planted another kiss on his forehead “Remember when you used to do that? Don’t you want to do that anymore?”
“I would… never… be… with… someone… as… crazy… as… you… Tabitha” he let out with his last reserve of energy as life poured out of him.
She started laughing uncontrollably and reached for the broken arm again. If he was not going to stay, he might as well go join her father in hell where he was. With successive swings, she hit him and let the injustice she felt fuel her strength. She hit him till he responded no more, then she stopped. She stared at his face. His eyes stared into blank space, he wasn’t blinking. She shook his arm
“Daddy Church, are you dead?”
She stared as he lay battered in a pool of blood; one thing was sure, he wasn’t going to be abandoning anyone anymore. She just did the world a greater good.
She lay beside him and interlocked her fingers with his, turned his face towards her and stared into his lifeless eyes…