Here is a featured story from one of the winners of Komplete Woman Creative Writing Award.
ALL ALONG by Ife Olujuyigbe
A woman stayed in the distance and cried.
All I wanted to do was make a difference, prove to the man who ruined my life that I could become something without him. I always believed that if I did something notable, stood out from the crowd, broke a record, glowed where the light was dim, he would regret what he did. It made perfect sense to me, so I set out on my journey to be the trailblazer I had dreamed to be.
My name is Tarila. I am six-feet-one, dark complexioned, ok-looking with a twenty-seven year old head full of dreads and a chin laden with unkempt beards. The story of how I got this look is a long one, and maybe someday soon, we’ll get the chance to discuss it among many other topics. All you need to know is it wasn’t meant to be this way. I am one you could call an ordinary guy with big, maybe ridiculous dreams, and this started to stand me out early in life. I wanted to make mad money! You can try to imagine the extent to which I could go for this self-inspired goal of mine, and probably judge me like the Pharisees would. Or you can wait to hear how I managed to get here.
While Father was a versed business tycoon, Mum was a full house wife, catering for the family and ensuring that we got what we needed. Ours was a family of seven: a father, mother, two girls and three boys, and I was the last boy. The beginning of our ordeal has a name called Aunty Magi. I remember her: plump, short, extremely light with a large bum that tailed her wherever she went. She was the ‘family friend’ who diabolically took dad’s attention away from his family. The day dad eloped with Aunty Maggi is etched in my memory like the lines on my palm. He left for work and never returned. Witnesses say he left with a short plump lady who was very light, and he seemed to move the business to a different location of which we are still completely oblivious.
The drastic switch in our lives was palpably pitiable. My brothers dropped out of school, and my elder sister was killed by a hit and run driver while she hawked plantain chips beside a busy road. Things got so tough that we could barely afford a day’s meal, moved out of our expensive neighborhood and wore torn uniforms to school, whenever we even went at all. Once, the landlord of the new slum we called home poured peppery water on mum when she delayed in paying the rent. Though she pretended like it didn’t get to her, I knew she was shaken to the bones, and I made a promise to her that things were going to change pretty soon. I was only ten.
I met with a couple of guys through the help of an older friend, Frank, who knew a number of tricks and made more cash than their brains could ever comprehend on its own, and I was introduced to the business that would turn my life around forever. I started out as an errand boy for the crew which was sponsored by an aging sixty-something year old man who collected a good percentage of the returns. From the little change that fell off their table, I was able to pay the bills. My folks dreaded to ask where I got it from, but thankfully put the money to good use. My promotion from errand boy to one of the lead strategists in the crew was rapid, much to the chagrin of my older colleagues.
The dynamics of our business isn’t my major focus on this story. It isn’t like there is much to tell anyway, seeing I only spent few years on the job and was able to move my family from the shanty we lived in into
a flat in a more presentable environment. I had also gotten my siblings who were still interested back in school. Whenever anyone demanded to caution my being on the fast lane, I threatened to deprive them of the pleasures my money afforded them, and that was enough to put their probing mouths to rest.
Indeed, there was no stopping me. We duped people of several shapes, colors, statuses, sizes and locations. Once, we even duped a rich sick man whose son was too frivolous to think. We ridded him of wads of currency notes he had spent his useful years gathering, and when we heard the poor man died of a heart attack, we laughed out loud and had a drank on it. I was the brainbox behind a lot of jobs we closed, and Pa Khalid, our boss, got fonder of me by the day, generating resentment and conflicts among the envious ones. When I saw I had made sufficient money and things were getting too messy, I left the business and set up my own. This time I was more direct in my approach. Guns, machetes and masks came in handy; I knew I was ready for the big stage.
In the new neighborhood we moved into, Mother had made friends with a certain elderly woman who always had a smile that creeped me out. I never felt comfortable around her; there was just something about her I couldn’t place. Mrs Gwagi was a retired nurse who was living with her son and his young wife blocks away. She began coming around the house to see my mum, and though I couldn’t comprehend what it was they usually discussed, I started to notice a change. Mum soon began going to church, smiling sheepishly as though life was too good to be true, and asking me uncomfortable questions. She talked about heaven, grace, and several other funny things that she usually wouldn’t even get wind of in the past. When she started to take my little sister along with her, I got pissed. I was pissed for many reasons, but majorly because they now went out on vigils, prayer meetings at night when my own day’s job was just beginning. I planned to conceal it from them that I was involved in burglary and assassination, but their frequent visits to church at night made it difficult for me to hide. I consistently came home to cross-examinations as regards where I had been, what I was doing, where I was working, who I was seeing. I was mad.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was when, after a clean job of assassinating a family on one cold night, I walked into my house, tiny bloodstains splattered all over my grey T-shirt, and met the questioning gaze of my mother staring back at me as I switched on the light.
‘Tari, where are you coming from?’ she said, worry laced in her tiny voice. It seemed like her eyes were boring a hole through me as they steadied themselves on my face. I couldn’t bear the thought that my mother was questioning my movements in my own house. I hissed and walked away into my room. I heard her sob as I sauntered away. Maybe she had been crying, or maybe she had cold, I couldn’t care less. That night, I decided it was time to send her away from me. My two older brothers were already on their own, and had become nuisances, it seemed like I was her only hope but I couldn’t keep up any more. I gave her a large sum of money the following morning and asked her to leave the house as her presence was now inconvenient. My sister opted to go with her, and I didn’t decline. Good riddance! I said in my mind as I watched them reject my money and leave.
Subsequently, I would wake up unsettled, sometimes with a burden so heavy on my heart. I didn’t know what it was, but I couldn’t allow myself to be weak, no, not after doing so well for myself. We were sent to kill people for large sums of money, and when there was no job, we did armed robbery on the side. I
started to think it was the ghosts of the people we had killed that haunted me, so I took my case to a Dibia one of my boys recommended after several months of persuasion. While he told me to appease the gods with some more money, he asked if I had killed any infants, to which I responded in the affirmative.
‘This, my son, is the cause of your problems. The gods have insisted that you tore open a pregnant woman on a bus raid a long time ago.’
I watched his mouth as it opened and closed involuntarily, but I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. How could I remember, seeing I had lost count of the people I had killed to start taking notes of specifics? After a long hubbub, he certified me ‘free from my enemies’ and I went home feeling lucky.
The next day, I realized I wasn’t so free after all.
I was apprehended in one of our bus raids, deserted by my boys who ran for cover early enough and it was then I realized how my life had become. I was locked in a cell for many days, I was lonely and hungry and completely forlorn. I felt condemned, my guilt had finally caught up with me in the saddest of ways. Worse of all, the heavy burden was still there, I’m guessing that Dibia was a crook.
All along, there was this voice in the distance, of a woman, crying.
On the day of my prosecution, I was sentenced to life imprisonment. Nobody really cared that I had suffered in life’s hands before I came to this point, no one wanted to ask if I had better dreams of how I wanted to spend my life. No one cared that I was too young to waste away or that I was too bitter to know what I was doing. No one cared…and I was left alone: a twenty-one year old condemned for life.
But all along, a woman stayed in the distance and cried.
She cried to God on my behalf every single day since she knew him and asked him to show me mercy. She wet her pillow at night so I could become a better person again, that I would find myself and return to my creator before the evil days came. She cried on my behalf in the dark cold nights when she was homeless and I had a comfortable bed to lie in. She had seen the light, and she wanted that for me too. My mother cried and talked to the creator on my behalf for many years, and I soon learned while in prison that my two vagabond brothers had come to, and returned home. In prison, I finally listened to the gospel of Christ and his free gift of righteousness which I could never pay for, and it was then I realized that all along, someone had been praying for me, and the burden I so heavily felt, was placed there by the divine. I finally let go of the age-long grudge I held against my father, for leaving me when i needed him. I began to share the message of life to fellow prisoners, and soon we had formed a Christian fellowship of prisoners. On my fifth year, while we busied ourselves doing the work of the kingdom, we heard on the cell radio the new release of the nation prisons adjustment scheme that pardoned the convicts on life sentence. My name was part and my sentence was shortened to ten years on accounts of good behavior. I couldn’t believe how great a second chance I had earned by grace.
Then I worshipped, for all along, someone had been praying for me.