Imagine you are watching a family show, all of you, on a lazy evening. Then suddenly, the show takes a twist and brings on a sensitive issue that really affects your family. Well, in my house, this used to happen when a certain programme in our local channels cast a man who loved to pursue househelps.
My two sons would briefly stare at their highly strung father and then throw glances at each other. Duncan would feign a loud cough and this would prompt Luis to bend quickly to suppress a laugh. They would watch their father’s sudden loss of interest in the programme and when out of the blue he remembered he needed to make a call, the two would hold air in their mouths that would break into an almost loud laughter when he left the room.
They were 16 and 14, cheeky teenagers, full of life that seldom fought, the loves of my life.
Their father was only a father by name. They rarely spoke. He loved to take one, or two or many for the road. When he came inebriated, he would urge them to grow up quickly amd reach the drinking age.
“I will introduce you to the sweetest cold coffee my boys and you will never have to stay in the house like women!” They would watch him as he staggered to the couch where he would land with a thump, missing the couch by an inch, to the ground.
“Oops! Did I just crash?” He would say looking around confused. The good wife in me would come to his rescue while his sons burst out rolling in the aisles. My job would be to drag the intoxicated man to bed, untie his shoes, loosen his clothes and cover him under the sheets.
“When I grow, I will never marry. ” Luis said.
” Why?” I asked perplexed at the 14 year old’s utterances.
“Because I don’t want to oppress a girl the way dad oppresses you!” He said.
“It’s better to just leave without marrying. Marriage is a scum!” Duncan, his older brother added. I was stunned by my sons’ views of marriage. Although it was too early, those were deep words. It was crystal clear that we had displayed a very bad picture of marriage to them.
“Boys, some marriages work, you can make yours work. Besides, just because your father drinks does not make it so bad!” I tried to change their mind but their faces had that cynical look that was apparent I was not doing a good job at convincing them.
“If only you knew!” Luis said . Duncan shot him a dangerous glare. Red flag.
“No No No, I will not let that pass,Luis, what do you mean if only I knew?” I asked, my heart palpitating. Luis stopped playing the card game and scratched his head stammering.
“Mum, I think what Luis meant was…” I stopped Duncan. I knew he would fabricate a story. “Shhh, I am speaking to Luis.” Luis was cornered. He would steal glances at his brother who was biting his lips in apprehension.
“Mum, just leave it.” Luis finally said. I urged and pleaded for the unsaid but nothing compelling came out of his gob. I gave up and went to dress up, ready for work. I was on nightshift at the local hospital where I worked as a nurse.
“Annie!” I called out to the househelp who came out of the kitchen in a rush. This one had survived six months in my house. She had tolerated my bickering, my sons’ disorderliness and my husband’s drunken insults.
As I gave her instructions about this and that, I noticed something that surprised me. Duncan’s mind was not all focused on the game they were playing with his brother. He would throw a glance and check her out quickly. I wondered whether he had succumbed to his teenage desires.
I drove to work feeling apprehensive. I often had ‘the talk’ with my boys. I would be candid on sexual matters. I was afraid of this world where teenagers throw caution out of the wind. I had seen enough in my career. I thought of firing this househelp. She was young, but a mother too of a small child. I had warned her not to focus on the men in the house and to report any funny business to me. She had claimed to not be interested at all.
“Mama, I learnt the hard way about men when my baby daddy impregnated me and disappeared. I don’t have time for men. My main focus right now is to bring up my little boy.” She had said. That assured me that I was safe, somehow. I had experienced my share of hiring and firing episodes. I knew firing this one would take me back to square one.
That night was slow, few patients so less drama. Being idle, my son’s statement kept lingering in my mind, “if only you knew!” I was sure that whatever it was, it was hair splitting. Luis had completely put a wall on that issue, Duncan had warned him fiercely. I deviced a plan.
That following day, when I came home from work, I sent him to the shops. A few minutes later, I followed him. When I caught up with him, I promised a good meal at the hotel. Being an energetic teenage with a great appetite, he could not resist.
“But on one condition,” I said.
“Mum, you are bribing me?” He laughed.
“I can’t help it. The condition is you tell me what you meant by ‘if only you knew'” . He gazed at the ground for a long minute then looked at me in the eye.
“Promise that you will handle it,” He said and I nodded pretending to be calm. So we took a table in a local hotel and I waited. He breathed in and out for a few seconds and finally spoke.
“Ok mum. You are never at home. Things are bad.” He said as I calmly drank my juice. Deep inside, I was tearing apart. I gestured him to go on.
” Mum, when you go for your night shifts, sometimes dad comes when we are already asleep so it is the househelps who have to drag him to the bedroom. Remember that old mama, you had hired before this Annie? ”
“I remember her, what did she do?” I asked.
“She was taking a drunk dad to bed and I think dad started his shenanigans on her. That woman couldn’t have any of it. She beat dad up! We had woken up and were listening to dad screaming. When we woke up that morning, she had left. Dad bribed us to silence with a good amount of cash.” Luis revealed. I had blamed myself for being too strict that I had caused that lady’s sudden departure.
“Mmhh, is there more?” I asked nicely. By now, he was happily munching on a meaty chicken wing.
“Well, we have not heard anything funny with this new one. Duncan is very protective of her. I think he is tired of dad’s hyena-like behaviour.” He said.
“So how does he protect her?” I inquired.
“Well, when dad goes out drinking, he waits on dad himself and takes him to bed. Sometimes he will sleep as late as 2 AM.” Luis said. I was silent as I watched him gulping down the juicy pieces of chicken. I left him after clearing his bill. I would arrive home first then he would come later so that Duncan would not suspect. I told him to expect a scolding for staying too long. We laughed at our lscheme.
As I walked back home, emotions ran in me like a tornado. I always suspected John cheated on me but I did not think he would stoop too low to disrespect me in my own house. Our careers had made us drift apart from each other. When Luis had been born, John had asked me to quit my job, something I had categorically declined. My career was very important to me. My firm decision had changed my marriage. He started drinking and focused more on building his insurance company.
When I arrived at the house, the door was locked. I wondered where Annie and Duncan were. Could Duncan have suspected and followed us? Where would the househelp have gone? I decided to wait for whoever would come first. The breeze outside would give me time to reflect on what Luis had told me. Then I heard a commotion in the house.
“Annie? Is that you? Why have you locked yourself in?” The door opened and a disheveled Annie opened the door. She hugged me as if her life depended on the embrace. “What is wrong?” I asked and she pointed at Duncan’s bedroom. I walked in to find him shirtless, holding his head weeping uncontrollably.
“Mum, I don’t know what took over me. She was so resistant. I thought she wanted me too. I don’t know what made me do this!” Duncan had raped Annie. Luis came few minutes later and met us sobbing. He did not need to be told what happened.
“I see who has dad’s genes now!” He said.
“Luis shut up!” I screamt.
“Why mum! It’s the freaking truth. You know what, I am sick and tired of this house. This is not a home. It’s a just a place where you and dad come to lodge and then off you go to your businesses.” Luis was now shouting. He stopped a moment when his father came in.
“What’s going on here?” John asked
“You want to know what’s going on dad, well let me tell you. Duncan has become a rapist, just like,you know who! Mum here has no idea what goes on in her house because she is too busy!”
“Shut up Luis!” I said.
“No mum, I am not done yet! I said I am tired of all of…!”
“Your mother told you to shut up!” John said his voice loud. Luis went quiet.
“You!” He was addressing Annie, ” Go to your bedroom. Mama Duncan will have a look at you! Luis go to your bedroom too and take a breather!” He said as he walked to Duncan’s bedroom,”I will have a talk with Duncan.”
“Why dont we take Annie to hospital?” I asked.
“Are you going to tell them who raped her?” I was silent. “I thought so too. You are experienced in these things, do what you have to, to make her better! ”
“I might not need a hospital but Duncan may,” Annie said meekly.
“Why?” John and I asked in unison.
“I am HIV positive,” Annie dropped the bombshell. Duncan let out a desperate wail. We rushed them both to hospital.
Annie was bruised, not badly so she did not need intense medical procedures. My son was subjected to post-exposure prophylaxis which he desperately accepted.
John and I waited lost in our thoughts. We drove silently back home. Annie hurried to her room and started packing. She called our home cursed. She could not stay a minute longer despite my pleas. Luis had made a meal for us. He said ‘The Grace’ and begged to say something.
“First I am sorry about my outburst earlier. But let’s look to the future now. We have wronged each other. I am asking this, please mum, spare some time for us,we need you. Dad, please stop the drinking. Duncan, control your raging hormones for heaven’s sake!” The last phrase was said so comically that we all laughed, then we realised that we were laughing at such a grave matter, we went silent.
“Thank you Luis for being the voice of reason despite being the youngest. I have heard Annie telling your mum that our home is cursed. I am sure none of us agrees with that. Our home was broken, but it can be mended.It will be hard to do as you asked but we shall try.” John spoke, his tone emotional. We nodded in agreement as we ate Luis’s food together for the first time in many years. That was the beginning of repairing the broken home.