A FLAME GOES OUT – A story by Precious Emmanuel
The father peers at the sheet of paper in disbelief. On it is written, in his son’s chaotic scrawl, the words “I stare down into the abyss. Satan welcomes me with open arms. I walk into his wide embrace. Where has God been all this while?” As he reads the verse over and over again, the words bouncing around in his skull like a table tennis ball, the disbelief changes very swiftly into anger. He stomps to his room and selects a thick, black, sturdy leather belt. Small, decorative metal balls are embedded in the leather. Demola would see. That boy would see. Writing this kind of rubbish in his house. An SS2 boy. He would see today. Whatever was making him do nonsense like this would jump out today.
No answer. This boy. He had always been stubborn, but not like this. And now the boy was deliberately ignoring his calls, because wasn’t that him laughing in the kitchen?
The sound of shuffling feet reaches his ears and angers him further.
“Sir”, Demola says again as he peers into the room. His father is standing in the middle of the room, in the brown jellabia that he liked to wear around the house. The jellabia only reached around his knees because the man was so tall, and it made him appear comical. There is nothing comical about the man now though. He is standing, chest thrust out, feet apart, hands behind his back. Demola glimpses the end of the belt through the space between his father’s legs and starts to backpedal.
“Come here”, his father says, pointing at the floor to a spot directly in front of him, voice low. He always used that low voice whenever he was angry. It masked the anger superbly, washing over the red-hot atmosphere his anger generally created like cold water in a parched throat. The voice would vanish soon though, and a snarling, rumbling baritone would replace it as he lost control of himself and his temper.
“Sir?” Demola tries to stall.
“I said come here my friend!”, his father screams, the low voice and every semblance of control gone.
Demola rushes forward. He knows better than to let the man come after him.
“What is this nonsense?”, his father says, thrusting a sheet of paper under his nose. He reads it and instantly regrets leaving it out. He doesn’t get annoyed that his father entered his room without his knowledge. In many Nigerian homes, such ideas of privacy do not exist, especially if the child is a teenager in SS2.
“I said what is this you are writing in my house!”
“I… I… It’s… It’s…”. The belt is in full view now and it swings gently like a pendulum, drawing Demola’s eyes with the threat of its presence and making him stutter, all words forgotten.
“Answer me. Now!”, his father screams in Yoruba. A very bad sign.
“Sir. It’s… It’s just something I wrote.”
“Just something you wrote abi? The other day I heard you telling your sister that the creation story was a lie…Don’t say a word.” Demola’s defence dies in his throat.
“Then all this your dozing off during morning devotion…Shut up! And now you’re writing about embracing Satan in hell? Demola! Are you possessed?!”
“It was just a metaphor sir…”
The belt begins to whoosh through the air, landing on Demola’s body before flying off again, the lashings punctuated by the father’s angry muttering and Demola’s agonizing screams.
“You’ll not…” Whoosh, thwap! “…go to hell…” Whoosh, thwap! “…I trained…” Whoosh, thwap! “…you well…”
The lashing and muttering and screaming goes on for what seems like forever to Demola. The devil will not have you. I will flog that demon out of you.
Demola keeps screaming until the lashings stop. He’s on the floor, sprawled out. Some parts of his skin are already swelling up. His face feels hot. He opens his eyes and sees his mom taking the belt out of his father’s arms, rubbing his chest gently and telling him it is ok. Calm down please, ejoo. I’m sure he has learned. His father’s body still quivers with rage but he sits down on the bed, wiping his sweat with his arm.
Demola still remains on the floor, trying to stop the tears that keep streaming down his face and trying to keep from wincing too loudly.
“You see Demola. The reason I just beat you is that…”
His father always did this. After his floggings, he did not just let you leave to nurse your wounds. He explained to you why he beat you, supporting his points with Bible verses which he told whoever he just flogged to open and read. Whenever they read, their voices always broke and stuttered and stopped and started, unshed tears struggling to flow out, spirited efforts made to keep them in. Then he always told them that he flogged them out of love, repeating it constantly as if trying to convince himself.
“…The Bible says ‘Spare the rod and spoil the…’”
Demola pushes himself up and begins walking out of the room.
“Where are you going?”
Demola keeps walking, to the front door, then outside towards the gate.
“Demola!”, his father screams. “Demola come back here! Now!”
“Demola!” His mother shouts too, her tone fearful. She jogs after him. The father does not move. His voice just keeps getting louder.
“Demola come back here now!”
His mother grabs his arm. “Demola my child, where are you going? Please stop. Come back.”
Demola tugs his arm away and runs out of the compound at full speed.
His mother makes a feeble attempt to run after him, but she is hampered by age and arthritis. The father sinks into the bed, features frozen in disbelief.
Demola hobbles back into the compound at 9:30pm. His face is bruised and he is limping. His mother is sitting down on the veranda, legs spread out and hair in disarray, moaning softly, dusty headtie forgotten on the floor. The father is pacing, like a caged wild animal, angry at no one, regretting that he beat Demola so hard, convincing himself that the beating was crucial to his soul. Even though the night is cool, rivulets of sweat flow in channels down his body.
His mother sees him first and gives a short scream, the jumps up and runs towards him at full speed, arthritis forgotten. By the time the father sees him, his mother has encased him in a choking bear hug that screams relief. The father walks towards him and hugs him tightly too, saying nothing.
Demola thinks of nothing except that he should have picked up that big branch he saw on the ground and fought back when those guys beat him and took his money. He also promises himself that he’ll never write again.
“Thank God you’re home. Thank God.”