TITLE THE MISTAKE
AUTHOR IKHENOBA, MARCEL JOSEPH
GENRE SHORT STORY
I've never met him. I'm not sure how his face seemed. He was an alcoholic and a gardener, according to my mother. Also a batterer of women. He was only ever seen in a spider web-covered old picture frame. He relaxed on a sofa, smoking a cigar, and drinking gin. The photo was taken in the first half of the 1950s. I'd say he was in his mid-thirties. I didn't even try to inquire. What purpose does it serve if one’s life isn't really noteworthy? I questioned my mum as to why she wedded him. She claimed that when they initially met at a friend's wedding, he was a kind man who quickly changed into a monster. She was unable to explain his abrupt turnaround. Possibly through bad friends. When I was nine months old, my father abandoned us. My mother claimed that he once arrived home from work, packed up his belongings, and then disappeared.
He was no longer part of our lives. How fortunate some individuals are to be gifted with children while others aren't is difficult to fathom?
It was a different existence growing up in the slum. Crime, prostitution, and drugs. Give it a name. There was perpetual tension and misery. Rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, and garbage were all around me. It appeared as though one was doomed to failure. On earth, hell! My mother's biggest worry was that I would join a bad gang since she had seen how depressed young people turned to drugs as a means of surviving. I thought of our neighbour Osagie, who was killed a week ago. He was an impressionable young man, perhaps in his early 20s. He has a three-year-old daughter. He had spent his entire life here. Rival drug gangs assassinated his parents in the 1990s and was left to fend for himself. It’s just so hopeless here.
My mum is a housekeeper. She doesn't make enough money from her meagre salary to pay her bills. I'm seventeen now. Due to our circumstances, my sister and I dropped out of high school. We considered what we could do to assist her. Getting a job in the area wasn't certain. I was confident in my abilities as a speaker. I might work in sales. I applied for several sales jobs until I was invited by one. I borrowed a suit from my friend. It was an oversize black suit and trousers. The interview was scheduled for 9:00 am but it wasn't until 9:30 a.m. when the interviewer showed up. She apologized for traffic delay. So many ideas ran through my head before her arrival. What inquiries would be made? I pondered. She was a slim, lovely white woman with curly hair. She resembles Marilyn, Monroe. She would have been perfect as a beauty contest model, I suggested. I was the first person to be called in.
“Could you briefly introduce yourself?” She asked plainly.
I conjected my oversized black outfit caught her attention. I did everything to impress, unfortunately, I was turned down. I experienced a sudden sense of my world collapsing. When I arrived home, I was exhausted. My stomach ached and there was nothing to eat. I then stood outside to observe the activity on the street. I observed two young men speaking in private. One of them pulled out some cracks for sale. Suddenly, two policemen gave a arrested them. Drugs are not something I want to discuss because so many people have died using them. Some people have gone insane.
Azagba, a companion visited me but I was unable to give him food. His appearance had significantly altered. He wore a gold chain, plush white shirt and blue jeans. I expressed my regret for not entertaining him. He claimed to comprehend my requirements. He presented me with cash. I simply had no words to express my gratitude to him. I informed him of the interview. He smiled and advised me to be street savvy those meagre jobs wouldn't allow me live big. I initially feigned not to understand until he instructed me to participate in the drug game. He predicted that I would be rich. I declined and advised him not to bring it up again.
He persisted in bothering me. He gave me a few minutes to consider it before he went. I counted the money. It was a lot. I bought milk cans and two loaves of bread. I gave one of the loaves to my mother and sister. My sister had gone job hunting as well, but she told me that some sleazy directors had asked to have sex with her before giving her the position, which she had declined. She was sympathetic as I described my situation.
During the nights, I kept thinking of what Azagba told me.
“What will my mother and sister think if I start a drug business?” However, jobs aren't appearing. I must be the head of the household. I continued to apply for jobs that never came. I became weary of everything. Early one morning, I visited Azagba. He stays alone. His parents had passed on. He was raised by an uncle who assaulted him. So, he sought refuse at the hood. I confessed that I had given in. He looked deeply into my eyes to be certain. Satisfied, he gave a contented smile.
“Before I fully enlist you. We'll start with the game's rules.”
Rule number one: Don't ever be clever because that will make customers take you for granted.
Second rule: Don't arrange anything. Encourage your clients to assist you.
Rule three: Never let deception and falsehoods consume you. Be on the watch for your money.
Rule four. Enterprise is enterprise. No friend.
The fifth rule is to keep an eye out for your possessions. Your former customers might seek them out again.
I quickly attained a high level of proficiency in the game. I met several targets and was always on the lookout. Perhaps, it was a dangerous business. I worked with him for three years before my freedom. My mum started to worry about how I was getting rich. I simply kept lying to her and doing everything covertly. Only my sister was aware of my drug deals, and even cautioned me. In the meantime, I continued with my tasks and rented a new apartment for them outside our neighborhood. I employed twenty boys and I quickly started gaining fame and enemies. My girlfriend Lizzy warned me to exercise caution. Though, she was aware of my drug deals. I gave her the assurance that everything would be fine.
On a cold morning, I heard an owl howling on my roof. My mother once told me that hearing an owl howl in the morning was a terrible omen. It seemed superstitious. I then returned to bed. It was chilly last night. I attempted to hide under the duvet when I suddenly heard a thump at my door.
“Stop moving! If you move, you'll be shot!” Three police officers burst in with their rifles leveled at me.
I complied, but I still wore my shirt and pants. They bounded and drove me off. My greatest concern was spending a lengthy time in prison. Simply put, I was stuck for the next thought in my head. My head was flooded with a flurry of illogical thoughts. I hired one of the best lawyers, in the long run, I was sentenced to twenty years. My whole world came crumbling fast. Lizzy and my family stood by me. She visited me daily. We only had five minutes to discuss each time she comes. She said she was expecting my baby. I leapt for joy. That did pacify me. I assured her, everything will be alright.
Lizzy came with my child for the first three years. Osagie is his name. His dark, round face and beautiful lips are exactly like mine. Momentarily, I never saw her again. I enquired about her from my family. They claimed she had left my home and taken my child to an unidentified location. It made the sores worse. I assisted her cancer-stricken father. I rescued them from the trenches. She can now punish me severely. It is simply true that people we consider to be close to us, sometimes turn out to be our enemies. I kept wondering where she had gone with my child. She is free to follow her own path, but my child shouldn't be harmed because I will come after her.
The prison isn’t the best place for weak minds. Gangs fights, murder and sexual assaults were frequent. I just stayed my own lane because I knew I had ruined the better part of my life. I developed few illnesses due to their bad food and water. One can imagine eating a bowl of hard beans infested with cockroaches. It was hard to imagine. I remembered vividly one of the inmates committed suicide. He had been incarcerated for ten years over sexual assault. I tried to read any book I could lay my hands on. Thinking about the system will make one continue to run insane. The years seems to be moving slowly but my greatest concern was my child. Erik, my roommate had been a great companion. He was also jailed for drugs. He told me how his terrible childhood affected him. Although, we all have our stories.
Twenty years later, I was released. I felt like a whole new being. Everything had changed, the streets, buildings and people. I visited my sister. She was happy to see me. She urged me to have patience, saying that following my release, everything will fall into place. I worried myself silly the entire time I was in prison. Although, the hood had not changed, other things had. Business operations continued. I considered how badly I had damaged my life. My mother passed away while I was in jail. It was a painful experience. She claimed a friend had informed her that Lizzy had remarried and my child was now living with a different father. I enquired about her home address. She gave me the one her friend had given her ten years prior, but she wasn't entirely certain if she still lives there.
I started my search. She had relocated. I enquired about her new address from few neighbours. Thank goodness one man gave me. I located it after an arduous search. The house was a white bungalow with small glass windows. I pressed the doorbell. Her children opened the door. I let them know I was trying to find their mother. They demanded to know who I was. I made up that I was her brother. Therefore, they let me in. While Lizzy was preparing food in the kitchen, her husband entertained me. On coming out, she was shocked.
“What's the issue, honey? Please say hello to your brother. ”
“He’s not my brother. He is a drug dealer. A convict.” She barked.
Her husband seemed perplexed. I thought it was crazy that somebody could be ungrateful. I explained my narrative. But Lizzy continued to yell at me. I committed to staying till I see my son. She declared she would contact the police. I did not budge one inch. She would ultimately escalate problems, I thought. Her spouse calmed me down. They rushed to the bedroom. I continued to gaze at the white ceiling. He was trying to calm her, but she remained obstinate until she called the police.
I wrote my statement when I got to the station. Few days later, we appeared in court. After hearing arguments from both sides, the court decided to put the matter on hold. I finally got to see my child. He has matured considerably. We will win the lawsuit, according to my attorney. The case was adjourned for further hearings.
On the last day of the judgment, after considering several documents, the judge ruled in my favour. I could see Lizzy griming and beaming. Her face was as red as hot coal. It was the happiest day of my life. Though, I felt terrible about my life. I felt I had made the greatest mistakes. She stormed out accompanied by my son. I anticipated that things would worsen for her.
I drew nearer to my son and gently held his palms. The mother told him I had died, but I had to explain what had actually happened. I was aware that I wasn't really a good father. But I'm ready to make up for my mistakes. Tears began to flow down my face.
“It's okay, dad.” As he hugged me, he said. You were greatly missed.
“You were missed, son.” I gave him a hearty hug.
As Rick Warren once said, “we are the products of our pasts, but we don't have to be captives of it.”
I looked up, the sky was still blue, just like it had been in the past, but there was a bright spot on the other side.