Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Bitter Taste of Pudding

The Bitter Taste of Pudding
Olusola Akinwale

The thud floated up through the walls of their bedroom past the dimly-lit hallway to our bedroom. I knew it was Dad’s wicked fist landing on Mum like a bag of cement, but I didn’t know which part of her body he’d hit. I was certain to know the next morning.
          We had just gone to bed. My little sister, Abigail, was curled up next to me, asleep. The Sony CD player in our room was on. I’d been listening to my favorite Friday-night phone-in program on Cool FM. The topic of the night was, “Why Marriages Collapse.” I got off the bed and reduced the volume of the CD player. The thud was louder this time. I heard Dad’s grunting and pictured him overpowering Mum, his chest expanding with rage. Mum gave out mournful plea.  She was crying in a low voice. She didn’t want our neighbors to hear her cry, and so suffered in silence. I could envision tears on her face, and imagined her cowering as she did when Dad became aggressive with her.
No matter how often I saw her cowering like that, I was always shocked to see it. She was such a tall, slim woman and normally walked with a proud gait, like a supermodel. She was not designed to cower. I shared her oval face and slim frame.
Dad was a tall and big man. He had eyes that glowed like embers in a hearth, and he walked with a slight stoop. He could wrap all of us in one arm. Mum said the huskiness of his voice had first attracted her to him. Abby looked like him. Maybe that was the reason he called her his “Princess,” which made her blush with pride and made me jealous.
Abby woke up, sniffled and started to cry. She must have heard the thud in her sleep, and knew that Dad was beating Mum again. We heard Mum squeal in pain. I shivered. Abigail cried more loudly, and I drew her close to myself to muffle the sound. I didn’t want the neighbors to hear her, because she cried like a refugee girl who had just lost her mother. She pulled herself free and went to the door where she continued to moan, stamping her feet on the floor, hitting the door with her hands. There was nothing we could do. We couldn’t go out to plead for Mum because Dad had locked our door from outside. He didn’t want her to escape into our room, like she used to do.
When Abby began to whine like a dog in a snare, I went to the CD player and turned it up again, to drown out her tears. I sat on the bed again and, for a few moments, watched her mouth droop, spoiling her soft, pretty face. When I beckoned to her, holding out my hands, she came to me. I held her close, her wet face pressing on my shoulder. I told her not to cry again, and that if she stopped crying I would buy yogurt for her in the morning and tune the TV to a channel that showed her favorite cartoon, Barney and Friends. She stopped crying. When I tucked her in again, she said she wanted to go to Mum.
When the abuse first started, Mum would act as if nothing had happened the night before, but her swollen lips or forehead would betray her. On occasions I asked her how she came by the cuts and bruises, she told me she’d been injured in the night. I wondered how that was possible in her bed.
          Soon I understood what had been happening, what she had been enduring all the while. One night she ran out of their bedroom into ours, slamming the door and locking it. I woke up and saw her sitting on the floor. Her head was in her hands and her braids fell over her face like our silky window curtain. Dad was cursing from outside, turning the door knob violently, and threatening to break the door open if Mum didn’t open it. Abby too had woken up. She started to cry when she saw Mum on the floor, in tears. We both left the bed and went to Mum. Her mouth was bleeding, and tears mixed with sweat on her face.
That night, I understood why Mum had been buying a new nightie almost every day. The pink nightie on her had been torn and stained with blood. She had bought it two days before. The nightie she’d bought before that was blue.
Mum had told me it wasn’t a sin to have many nighties when I asked her why she bought a new nightie frequently. She had said I wasn’t the one to decide what to wear for her when I said the new nightie shouldn’t stop her from wearing the ones she had had. I had stopped questioning her about the nighties when she said she would wear the old ones whenever she felt like it.
          Now, she wiped away the blood on her mouth with her nightie and then reached for us, hugging us close. “My Mummy, don’t cry, don’t cry,” my three-year-old sister was saying.
          “Dad had been beating you,” I blurted over her shoulder, tears filling my eyes.
         “Who beat you, my Mummy? Let’s go and tell my Daddy,” Abigail whimpered.
          “You buy a new nightie whenever dad tears the ones you have,” I said, my tears pouring down onto her back. Dad yelled again. Mum flinched. We pulled back from her embrace. “My daddy, my mummy is crying,” Abigail was telling Dad. But he didn’t listen; he kept threatening to break the door open.
          “You think you have escaped? You think you have escaped, bitch? You’ll see hell. You had better not come out tomorrow morning or else . . .” He halted and left. Mum stood up, holding up her nightie and moved to the bed. She’d walked with a slight limp the past three days, though she tried not to let people know.  As she sat on the bed, grimacing in pain, she confessed that Dad had kicked her in her thighs repeatedly.
          “Has Dad become a bad man?” I asked, my tear-filled eyes boring into hers. She looked me up and down. I looked down at myself and saw a bloodstain on my nightie. “Dad is now a bad man,” I said.
          “He loves us,” she said.
          “He doesn’t love us. If he loved us, he wouldn’t beat you and tear your nightie. He doesn’t take us to school anymore.”
          “But he once loved us, Yemisi,” she said, kneading her thighs with the balm. “He used to take you to school. He used to take us to picnics and buy us wonderful gifts.”
          “Could he love you again?” Mum got up as though my last words had annoyed her. She limped into our bathroom where she cleaned her bloodied mouth. When she returned to the room, she looked at herself in the table mirror, examining her lips with a sigh. I watched her in silence as she went over to our wardrobe and reached for our old sheet. When she removed the torn nightie to wrap the sheet around herself, I saw dark bruises scattered over her light-skinned body.
Sitting on the bed, Mum put Abigail on her lap, and said nothing for some time. I had drifted into a light sleep when I heard her call me: “Yemisi, I want you to do something for me.” I opened my eyes wide. I was curious to hear what she wanted me to do for her, perhaps to stop her pains.  “What, Mum?”
“Promise me that you’ll not tell anyone that your Dad beats me.”
           “What about Aunt Dupsy?” I said. Aunt Dupsy was her younger and only sister. They both loved each other very much and couldn’t do without talking to each other on the phone every day.  Whenever Mum was on the phone with her, she just sat there, talking, listening and laughing as if Abby and I weren’t there. There was nothing you asked Mum at this time that she didn’t answer by shaking her head. She once told me that when they both were children, Aunt Dupsy was the one who saved her from bullying because she didn’t know how to fight back. Unlike her, Mum said, Aunt Dupsy was so tough, so aggressive, that people called her “Little Thatcher.” 
          “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell any of your Dad’s family and my family. Don’t tell your friends either.”
          “What if he beats you again?”
          “He won’t beat me again,” she said after a short silence. “It was my fault.”
          “It was your fault?” I was expecting her to nod, but she didn’t. I asked her, “What did you do to him?”
“I annoyed him,” she said, not looking at me.
“Do you annoy him every day?”
“I don’t.” She was fighting back the tears.
“Why does he beat you every day?”
“He didn’t beat me yesterday, or two days ago.”
“Because you didn’t annoy him?” Mum uttered nothing like a statute.
            “Mum?” I called her.
“Yes, dear,” she answered as if she had lost her voice.
“You said dad didn’t beat you yesterday.”
          “Was it because you didn’t annoy him?” Mum didn’t answer my question. Instead, she said, “It was the devil’s fault. Your Dad will change. He’ll become a good man again.” She seemed to be looking at herself in the table mirror opposite. “He’ll love us again. Just promise me you’ll tell no one, huh?”
I nodded. “I promise.” She put her arm around me, to cheer me up. However, I thought she needed it, more of it, more than me.
          It was mid-morning on Saturday. The sun’s rays were already streaming into our bedroom through the curtains. Dad had not opened our door, so we were still in the room like prisoners. Abby had woken up, too. She lay beside me in bed, neither turning nor tossing, which was unlike her. Maybe she was thinking about the yogurt I’d promised to buy for her. Maybe she was thinking about Barney and Friends.
          I crawled out of bed and went to the window. I parted the curtains and stared out. It seemed like the sun, which was high in the sky, was staring only at our window. I could hear the revving of a car engine. Then I heard the voices of Tade and his brothers as they ran around the house. Our house was a duplex. The Cardosos were our neighbors. Mr. and Mrs. Cardoso had three children, all boys. Tade was the eldest at nine. I heard Mrs. Cardoso telling her children to stop shouting. Maybe she was the one warming up her car engine. I heard another sound, but this time it came from our bathroom. It was the sound of a running tap.
          I glanced back and saw that Abby was no longer in bed. The covers had slid off into a heap on the floor. She had gone into the bathroom. Whenever Abby was alone in the bathroom, she entered the bathtub and turned the faucet on full. She put one hand in the mouth of the tap, forcing the water into the air like a fountain. She would block the drain in the bath and leave the water running until it filled the bath and ran over to the floor. Most times she was confused about how to turn off the water.
          I went into the bathroom and turned off the tap. She whimpered in protest and said, “I’ll beat you.”
          “Don’t say that, or Daddy will beat you,” I threatened her.
          “I’m my daddy’s princess,” she said, as if to let me know my threat was impossible. She was wet all over, and water had sprinkled to the nearby wall and floor. I scooped her up out of the bathtub. There was a brief protest again.
Just then, I heard our door opening. “Yemisi?” Dad called out to me. The voice was not friendly at all.
          “I’m in the bathroom, sir,” I answered, afraid. I removed Abby’s wet nightie hurriedly, and we both went back into the room. Dad had left, leaving the door ajar. I went downstairs and met him at the foot of the stairs. Without looking him in the eyes, I said, “Good morning, sir.”
          “Morning,” he replied, almost to himself, climbing up the stairs. I heard Mum’s movement in the kitchen. As she turned to me, I saw her swollen face. She moved slowly, in obvious pain and exhaustion.
          “I’ll fix you and Abby a sandwich first. You’ll take it with tea. Then I’ll prepare stew and amala,” she said to me, ruffling my hair affectionately.
          “What are you doing here?” I heard Dad say from behind. His voice was as intimidating as his big stature. Startled, I turned to him. “Can’t you put clothes on your sister?” Abby was standing at the door, looking like a criminal who had just been sentenced to death. “Come on, go and bathe her and put something on her.” In quick strides, I went to Abby and dragged her upstairs.
          Late in the afternoon, I sat with Tade on the front stoop of their house. Their grandpa had visited with them for a few days and had left early in the week. On Friday evening, Tade told me one of the stories that his grandpa had told him, about how their forefathers were taken as slaves to Brazil to work on a sugarcane plantation many, many years ago. He told me how the slaves were captured and shipped across the ocean for several days before they got to Brazil. I had come to him wanting to hear more stories, but I was disappointed when instead he said, “I overheard my Dad tell my mum that he heard somebody crying in your house last night. Did anything bad happen?”
I shook my head. “No.”
          “My Dad said maybe it was a quarrel because he heard violent movements.” When I didn’t say anything, he said, “You don’t want to talk? Yemisi?”
          “I don’t know,” I said. Neither of us talked for a while. Then I asked, “Does your Dad ever beat your Mum?”
          “No, but sometimes they hit themselves playfully,” he answered, adding, “What about your Dad and Mum?”
          “They used to play together,” I said, with hesitancy in my voice. Already, I had my chin in my hands and my elbows propped on my lap. Sadness had grounded me like fog grounding an aircraft.
          “But not anymore,” he said. “They fight now?”
          “Leave me alone,” I said.
          “I’m sorry, Yemisi,” he said after a silence. “Maybe I should tell you more of grandpa’s stories. Do you mind?” Even with no answer from me, he started telling those stories of the slaves again. Though I acted uninterested, I listened to him say how the slaves were brutally beaten and chained both in hands and legs and how the wicked masters had padlocked their mouths so they wouldn’t eat the sugarcane. He moved from one story to another until his mum called out to him from inside. I returned home, thinking about the slaves, trying to picture how it was having their mouths padlocked.
          Mum didn’t go to Plaza de’ Tower, where she retailed a range of household goods because she didn’t want people to see her swollen face. She didn’t want to answer questions over and again. She stayed at home anytime her face was swollen from Dad’s beating. When I got home, I met her in their room, sitting down on the foot of their bed.
          “I couldn’t sleep. My head is hurting me,” she told me as though I were a doctor sent to administer drugs to her. I couldn’t open my mouth to express my sympathy. My face did, though. I sat quietly on the edge of the bed and said, “Mr. Cardoso knows Dad beat you last night.”
          “How do you know?”
          “Tade told me. He said he overheard his Dad tell his Mum that somebody in our house was crying last night.” I paused and then spat, “This beating is too much, mum. Maybe you should run away.”
          “Anywhere you like.”
          “I can’t, for your sake. Who’ll take care of you?”
          “We can take care of ourselves. I’ll take care of Abigail.”
          “I can’t, my dear. Your Daddy will change.”
          “You have said it before, Mum, and Dad hasn’t changed.” The room was bathed in a long, miserable silence. I looked at Mum and thought of how Dad used to plant kisses all over her face. Now he battered her face with heavy punches as if he were Mike Tyson.
          When he was still a loving man, Dad used to take us to a private beach resort every weekend. At the resort, we could see stretches of white sand extending beyond our vision. We stayed inside African cottages made of palm frond, raffia and thatch. We swam, we played water polo, and we paddled canoes. We inhaled the sweet breath that filled the air.
          I remember one time in particular when we were at resort, Dad and Mum rode away on a horse, leaving us with Aunt Dupsy. Because they didn’t return on time, I started longing for them. When I told Aunt Dupsy that we should look for them, she disagreed. “Don’t you know it’s no good to disturb husband and wife when they are alone?” she said to me. Dad and Mum were grinning when they eventually came back as if they had won the lottery. Back then, they were so absorbed in each other’s love that I sometimes felt pushed aside, but I saw the love ebb away after Dad was fired from his job. He had become a top executive in one of the new-generation banks before he was implicated in a shady loan deal. He went to court to seek redress, but frustration began to settle on him, like a mist on a hill, when he didn’t see justice coming after two years. This frustration turned to anger, which he vented on Mum.
          Grandma and Aunt Dupsy came to visit Thursday evening. Aunt Dupsy had noticed Mum’s voice was rather weak when they talked on the phone the previous day. Mum had said she was fine, but Aunt Dupsy wouldn’t accept that nothing was wrong; thus, their visit. Mum had suffered abrasions to her face from another of Dad’s beatings. She lied to Grandma and Aunt Dupsy, saying she fell from a commercial motorcycle she had boarded to keep an urgent appointment when her car broke down on the road. I suspected that Aunt Dupsy thought there was more that Mum wasn’t telling them. Grandma asked a question. Mum answered with a wonderful lie. Aunt Dupsy exchanged a glance with me. Aunt Dupsy asked her own question. Mum told another excellent lie. I exchanged a glance with Aunt Dupsy. She asked if I had anything to say. Mum’s stare frightened me and stuck my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Grandma asked the same question. I shook my head, avoiding Mum’s piercing gaze. 
          It was a late-October night. We had not seen our Renault car for over a week. Dad had sold our first car without telling Mum. He simply drove away in the Renault one evening and returned home without it. Now he was preparing to go out when Mum said, “Mofe, I have not seen the Renault for some days.” She was at the dining table, setting dinner out for Abby and me. Dad headed upstairs, acting like he hadn’t heard what Mum said. I could hear his footsteps in the hallway above us.
          Later, we ate our yam with fried egg, and Mum had prepared pudding (which we hadn’t had for a while). I loved the smell of the pudding-- the way it filled the whole house like Mum’s French perfume. As a family, we couldn’t do without having pudding on weekends. It was one of the things Dad complimented Mum on, saying she was the best cook he had ever known. At the table, Dad would salivate, rub his palms together, and wink at me before the pudding was served. Every one of his comments made the pudding tastier. But that had become a thing of the past, as Dad no longer ate with us. I twisted my face while I ate the pudding.
“Doesn’t it taste good?” Mum asked me, cutting a portion for Abby. I didn’t answer her. The pudding, I knew, hadn’t lost its delicious taste, but Dad’s absence from the table turned the sweet flavor to bitter in my mouth.   
          Dad came down again, holding a file.
“I’m talking about the Renault,” Mum continued as if the conversation was still going on. “Where is it?” I saw Dad’s face getting as black as his black caftan.
          “Don’t question me about the car.” He was scanning through some papers in the file as he stood there.
          “I think I deserve to know,” Mum said. “You sold the first car without telling me.”
Dad dropped the file and started towards us. “I don’t need your consent to do anything. You have no grounds to query me about the car.” I saw hostility in the shape of his mouth.
          “It was my car. I bought it with my money, remember?” Mum’s tone was bitter.
          “I was responsible for its maintenance,” Dad snapped at Mum.
Mum, rising to her feet, said, “Notwithstanding, you don’t have any right to sell my personal possessions.” Mum had hardly completed these words when Dad slapped her, hard, across the face. She yelped in pain. Abby, rattled, started to cry. Dad pressed Mum down against the table, upsetting our yam and pudding, spattering them across the floor. Our plates shattered into pieces as they also hit the floor. The cutlery scattered on the table. It was as if Dad was possessed by a demon. He squeezed Mum’s throat tightly with his hands, gritting his teeth. I tried to pull him away, begging him to leave Mum alone. He shoved me away with his elbow, and I landed on the floor. I still continued to beg him, but my plea was not strong enough to stop him. Mum struggled to free herself from his grip, her legs dangling over the table. Abby stood in the furthest corner of the room, obviously frightened by what was happening.
          Mum’s hand found a steak knife on the table, and she pierced Dad’s neck in an attempt to free herself. Dad let out a scream of pain and dropped to the floor. He held his neck, which was gushing blood, gasping and jerking like a hen that had just been slaughtered. Realizing what she had done, Mum dropped the knife onto the floor and knelt over Dad.
          “Jesus! What came over me? Mofe! Mofe!” she screamed, trembling. “Oh my God! Oh my . . .! I’m finished, I’m finished . . .!”
Mum was trembling profusely when I dashed out of our front door and headed for the Cardoso house. I pounded on their door again and again, calling, “Tade, come and open the door for me.” He had barely opened the door when I brushed past him into their house. Mr. and Mrs. Cardoso and Tade’s two brothers were at the dining table. Before I got to them, Mr. Cardoso asked, “What’s wrong, Yemisi?” 
          “It’s my daddy. Blood--blood . . .”
Mr. Cardoso jumped out of his chair as if he’d been stung by a scorpion. Mrs. Cardoso shifted in her chair, too, dropping the spoon from her hand. Mr. Cardoso led me back to our house with a quick step.
         “Mr. Cardoso, I’ve killed myself. I’m finished,” Mum lamented. She was kneeling next to Dad, with his lifeless head in her blood-covered hands. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead, which was also smeared with blood. Abby was standing beside her, looking frightened and confused. “It was accidental. I wanted to save myself. He wanted to kill me. I wanted . . .” She trailed off into tears.
        “Dad wanted to kill Mummy, and he fell to the floor and blood came out,” I said soberly. I wanted to cry, but tears were not coming to my eyes.
Mrs. Cardoso arrived. Her rosary dropped out of her hand when she saw Dad’s lifeless body, and she screamed, “Holy Mary!” Drawing Abby to herself, she asked her husband what to do.
“I’m afraid we have to call the police, we must call them. We can’t handle this alone,” Mr. Cardoso answered. He ‘scurried round the room before catching sight of Dad’s phone on the coffee table. He picked it up and made the call. He went out and returned immediately, sitting on the edge of the sofa. The sounds of moaning and mourning floated through the room like waves.
          A little later, I heard car tires squeal in front of our house. Then doors slammed and footsteps approached the front door. Four men entered our house – two in black police uniforms and two in regular clothes. The first man in regular clothes seemed to be the leader. He had a receding hairline like that of Tade’s grandpa. He identified himself as Inspector Kuku and then began to ask question after question. There was a whine in Mum’s voice as she struggled to respond to the questions. Inspector Kuku picked up the bloodied knife with a handkerchief and told everyone to move away from the dining area. He called the two in uniform aside. They talked in low voices for a few moments, taking down notes. Inspector Kuku snapped his fingers and beckoned to the other man in regular clothes. They both went out. I heard a car door slam again. An unusual heaviness hung in the air. The two uniformed policemen stood with their hands stuck in their trouser’ pockets. Mr. Cardoso was rubbing his chin, maybe unconsciously.  
        Normally, Mrs. Cardoso was always full of smiles. In fact, the first thing people noticed about her was her smile. It caught anyone’s eyes like the belly of a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy. Dad once said there were too many smiles in heaven the day her mother conceived her, but tonight there was no place for the smile on her face. Mum was sitting on a stool, pensive. In a moment, everything played out like a movie.
          Inspector Kuku returned with the other man, who held a camera. The quartet walked over to Dad’s body. The one holding the camera snapped pictures of the scene in front of them. Inspector Kuku told him to take some more from another angle. I didn’t know what they wanted to do with the photo of a dead man.
A siren was blaring from afar. The sound was louder with each passing second until the wailing stopped in front of our house. Inspector Kuku looked out the window and announced that it had arrived. Four paramedics stepped into the house with a stretcher and a neatly folded white cloth. One of them had a mustache like Mr. Cardoso, and another was as tall as Dad. They all wore white bibs over their shirts and had white gloves on their hands. The bibs had a red cross at the back.
Inspector Kuku led them to Dad’s body. They lifted him onto the stretcher and tightened straps over his chest and legs. Mum broke into tears again. Tears started down my face when the paramedics carried Dad’s body out of the house. I felt my dream of becoming a banker was being taken out of me. Mrs. Cardoso pulled me close to her, sharing in my tears. Mum, handcuffed, was led out by the policemen. We all followed them and watched as the stretcher bearing Dad’s body was lifted into the ambulance--a white Hiace bus bearing a red inscription of Lagos State Ambulance Service on either side. 
           I didn’t see Mum again until we met in Court. She looked listless, as if she hadn’t slept for some days. I couldn’t have imagined her not wearing her make-up and French perfume. Abby and I had since moved to Grandma’s house because Dad’s family had taken over our house. They said Mum would not go unpunished for killing their son. They didn’t want to see us either. About six days after Mum was taken away, Aunt Dupsy and Mr. Cardoso came home with a man they introduced as Mum’s lawyer. The man cheered me up, saying he needed my co-operation to do his job successfully.  He said I was the principal witness he would rely upon. Aunt Dupsy eyed me in a certain way, as if to say, “It’s time to stand up for your mum, Yemisi.”
Abby slid off Aunt Dupsy’s lap when she saw Mum led into the courtroom by a policeman. She protested when Aunt Dupsy held her back. Aunt Dupsy released her to go to Mum.
There were other people in the court room, and two cases were called before Mum’s. As she went to stand in the trial box, I could see depression pushing down on her like a coffee press. She was charged with one-count of murder. The court clerk read that she had unlawfully killed Dad with a knife, thereby committing an offense punishable under the laws of the state. When asked, she pleaded not guilty. The magistrate adjourned the case and ordered that Mum be remanded in prison.
The case was adjourned three more times before the magistrate gave her judgment. At the second and third trials, the clerk called me into the witness box, where Mum’s lawyer and the other lawyer asked me some questions. I told the court how Dad used to take us out when he was still a loving man, how he began to beat Mum every night, and how he almost killed Mum before she accidentally killed him. The other lawyer (who I thought hated Mum like Aunt Maria, Dad’s younger sister, did) asked why I didn’t tell anyone that Dad always beat Mum. I exchanged a glance with Mum and answered, “Because she warned me not to tell anyone.” He had asked Mum the same question and she had replied that she hadn’t wanted anyone to see Dad as a bad man. A brittle smile hovered on Mum’s lips when the lawyer said she could be lying about the abuse. Her lawyer countered that she didn’t tell anyone because of the love she had for Dad. The two lawyers occasionally traded fierce arguments, which only the magistrate could bring under control. Mr. Cardoso also stood as a witness, telling the court that they sometimes heard violent movements from our apartment.
          Aunt Maria wanted Mum sentenced to death. She spoke against Mum in the witness box, saying she was too possessive, that she wanted Dad to herself alone, and that she rarely allowed Dad’s family in our house, which his brother complained about. She didn’t hide her hatred for Mum when Dad was alive. Whenever she came to our house, there was nothing Mum could do to please her. She complained often that Mum was arrogant. She must have provoked other members of the family to gang up against Mum, who knows? After the second trial, she and Aunt Dupsy exchanged words because she accused me of telling lies to save Mum. She said she’d known before then that I didn’t belong to her brother. When Abby reached up to be held, she pushed her away, calling her a “daughter of a whore.” As I stood in the witness box at the third trial, Aunt Maria eyes were on me, reading me like an electric scanner. Even though Aunt Dupsy had told me not to mind her, I still fumbled for words when she made threatening faces.
It was in June that the Magistrate gave her verdict. “This court finds you, Mrs. Hannah Hassan, guilty of manslaughter, and thereby sentences you to seven years imprisonment,” she pronounced, her voice vibrating across the court room. She brought her hammer down with a loud bang and rose from her seat. Aunt Dupsy buried her face in her hands. We both spilled the inevitable bitter tears. The two lawyers shook hands and patted each other’s shoulders, as if they had been friends at the trials.
Mum embraced Abby and me before she was handcuffed and led outside by two policemen. As she climbed up into the waiting Black Maria, Mrs. Cardoso put her arm around me, and her son’s story of sugarcane slaves came to my mind. I asked, “Is my mummy a slave?”  
“Your mum is not a slave, Yemisi. She’s a good woman.” The smile once again had evaporated from her face like water in the summer heat.
The Black Maria started to move. My eyes were blurred with tears. “Will they padlock her mouth?”  
          “Nobody will padlock her mouth. She’ll still come back home,” she assured me.
Once in a while Aunt Dupsy took us to see Mum in the prison. A warden would lead her to us. Mum wore blue clothes with number “212” on them. She would put Abby on her lap and say that she had become a big girl, emphasizing the word “big.” She would ask me about my school, and I would tell her everything I could remember. It was hard seeing her as a murderer. It was harder concluding that Dad was wicked, and that he deserved his death. She loved him. He loved her much more.
The warden would return and say it was time to leave. Mum would put on a brave smile. She would cup my face in her hands and assure me she would soon come back home to make delicious pudding for us.
Note: This story was first published in the September edition of Istanbul Literary Review in  a slightly different form. 

Author's Bio: Olusola Akinwale grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria. He is an award-winning essayist. His work has appeared in Author-me, Saraba Magazine, Dew on the Kudzu and Istanbul Literary Review. He currently lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.