Suffering and Happiness are Twins, Part One
Suffering & Happiness are Twins
Thirtieth of December, 2011. Eleven twenty-eight
Hilda had been hopelessly shouting the names of her youngest sons intermittently for the past forty-five minutes. Decades ago, when she first came to London with her oldest son and daughter, Chiemelu and Mary, she would never have had to call her childrens names more than once, before they came bounding anxiously into whichever room from where her voice resounded. The quiet presence of her husband, their father, produced an unquestioning and consistent obedience from not just the children, but Hilda, herself. She had come to London bright-eyed, skin smooth from a young lifetime in Nigerian sun, and radiating naive optimism and ignorance. But in all her ignorance, Kenneth made her feel safe. Older than her by several years, he kept his promises to her of a home, sufficient money so she would not have to work, and children. And she often wondered if she had also made him promise never to leave her, maybe he would not have had that heart attack and left her so soon, after only seven years together.
And unknowing to her at the time, the grave that malevolently welcomed the body of her husband in December 1998, also stole all the respect and fear she had spent years instilling in her children – the attitude of reverence for parenthood and authority, culture and normality. Kenneths death had not only stolen his presence, his salary, his life, but had also pilfered her children’s sense of morality and affect. Hilda often knelt at her lonely bed at night, crying for God to forgive the trespasses of her ancestors. It was the only explanation she could find; she could not fathom what she could have possibly done that was so bad, to have rendered her deserved of being widowed at 32 and to have four malefic children that possessed a flagrant disregard for order and anything divine.
Chiemelu was the first to surrender to fecklessness. When Kenneth died, Hilda was forced to take on not one, but two jobs, as a cleaner for an office block in Waterloo late at night, and as a carer in a nursing home during the day. Her shift pattern meant that she was never at home when, at age thirteen, Chiemelu began inviting myriad girls in years nine and ten to the house at night. He began by bribing his sister Mary, then only eleven years old, to put the eight year old twins to bed, and then to retire herself, so that he would not be disturbed as he explored the body of the latest strange girl to lay naked on the living room settee. But when Mary herself turned thirteen, Chiemelu’s bribery was no longer required; together they connived to keep each others’ sexual visitors a secret from their gossiping little brothers and their gullible, aging mother.
By the time Hilda noticed her children’s descent into waywardness it was too late. After months of protesting her son’s innocence, Hilda sat bemused in the pews of the courtroom, next to a pregnant Mary, as she saw for herself the smallish, timid, white boy, that 6’4” Chiemelu had insisted threatened to attack him in the depths of the night. As the boy gave his stuttered testimony of how Chiemelu Ukwu had approached him in an alleyway in Sudbury, demanded his mobile phone, and when refused, had taken out a pair of (what turned out to be) pliers from the pocket of his tracksuit bottoms and had begun stabbing at his pink flesh relentlessly in the dark, Hilda sat immobilised by a cocktail of disgust, anger, and disbelief. Finally generating the courage to glance over at her son, and back at her daughter Mary beside her, she suddenly became aware of the identical stoic, listless expressions they both shared. Her son had nearly killed a boy half his size, and he did not even care. And her daughter was hardly interested.
When they got home that day, Hilda, a devout Christian, decided that despite her broken heart, she would continue her regimen of fasting and prayer for the release of her son. Friends and family called everyday that week for updates on the trial, and Hilda maintained Chiemelu’s innocence and mimicked the tone of the sighs and ‘Chineke me’s the well-wishers uttered down the phone line at appropriate intervals. She told them everything, but omitted the question that had plagued her mind since she saw the small boy testify: why had no one told her that her children had become demons and that she would suffer like this?
Chiemelu turned twenty years old whilst on remand, and on his first day of being twenty, he was convicted of grievous bodily harm, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His hollow eyes barely blinked as his sentence was announced. Instead he let out a loud sigh and muttered, “C’mon, man,” to hasten the guards to escort him from the courtroom. He never looked back to see his mother sat in the back, the only person in the room crying.
As soon as her boy was born, eighteen year old Mary moved out to live with her new boyfriend Bonez, the twenty-six year old who had agreed to take on her child as his own. Hilda was suspicious of his intentions, but the time when Mary listened to her mother’s advice had long since passed, so there was nothing Hilda could do or say to keep her at home. Hilda was left at home with the twin boys, Christian and Christopher, who, at fifteen years old, had already been exposed to too much.
They followed in the example of their brother, robbing people, starting numerous fights, and eventually got expelled from school. Hilda hardly ever knew their whereabouts, and their phones, which were always ringing on the rare occasions she saw them in the house, never seemed to receive her calls, texts or voicemails. After a while, her friends’ didactic husbands grew tired of lecturing the despondent pair, and resigned from any paternal duties.
“Hopeless,” they said. “Sochukwu ge nyere ha aka. Only God can help them now.”
And soon, even her friends deserted her, as she stubbornly refused to demand her sons move out of the family home. She pleaded with them to understand; these were her last two children left. If she kicked them out now she would be left with nothing, no one. But her friends saw how her troubled heart had prematurely aged her, and though she had given up the cleaning job years ago, they insisted that her body and mind were suffering more stress than necessary. Hilda was soon left to deal with the deterioration of her twins alone.
It was the night that she came home early from work for the first time in ten years, eager to make pepper soup and moin-moin for the boys (whenever they would next be home), that she had been forced to make a stand.
She heard rhythmic rumbling of furniture from Christopher’s room upstairs, and as she climbed the stairs to investigate, she prepared herself to meet Christopher naked in bed with Shantelle, his current girlfriend, who she had found sleeping naked in Christopher’s bed on a previous occasion. When she reached the landing, she crept slowly and silently to his door, the gasping and sucking noises emanating from the room growing louder with each step.
“Christopher, I love you, you know,” a girl’s voice said breathlessly.
Pressing down on the handle and hitting the door open swiftly, her heart fluttered as her eyes communicated what they saw to her brain.
Christian stilled his bare hips, and looked up at his mother with contempt. He lay atop of Shantelle, who froze, unmoved by the fact that her boyfriend’s mother had now caught her naked in her house twice now, but horrified at the fact that her boyfriend’s identical twin brother could have tricked her into having sex with him.
Pushing him off her frantically, she grabbed her clothes and dressed haphazardly, swearing and cursing, wilfully ignoring the presence of Hilda. She pushed past Hilda standing in the doorway, and vowed to make Christian pay for his deception.
Hilda had stood unwavering for the six minutes it took Shantelle to get dressed and leave. Her eyes remained fixed on Christian, even as he reclined in his brother’s bed, limp manhood exposed, and nonchalantly rolled a cigarette with tobacco and Rizla he had retrieved from Christopher’s bedside drawer. Rage circulated through Hilda’s bloodstream, filling every element of her being, and she began to tremble. Words evaded her, and what she thought was sweat, but was in fact tears, fell heavy on to the laminate flooring.
Breaking the silence, Christian, his voice laced with spite, said, “See what you’ve done now?”
Before Hilda could spout any coherent insult in either English or Igbo, Christian got up from the bed, and walked naked to the door, brushing his bare skin against his mother’s shoulder as he ushered her out of his way.
“Look at me all you want,” he said with his back to her as he walked to his room across the hallway. “I didn’t trick her. I told Christopher I wanted her so he told me I could have her if I just pretend to be him. We do it all the time.”
He entered his room, slamming the door behind him.
Hilda stood for a few moments, staring at the rustled sheets on the bed. Hearing Christian on the phone in his room, she walked with composure downstairs to the kitchen, made a quick phone call and then separated four black bags from the roll.
Returning to Christopher’s room just as calmly as she had left, she began filling the bags with his possessions. And she didn’t stop until every personal artefact was buried in a sack. She didnt stop when she found used condoms yellowing under the bed. Nor did she stop when she discovered the clear plastic bag of marijuana stuffed inside a pillowcase. Everything she knew Christopher had purchased or used frequently, she dumped into the bag. Every pair of expensive trainers, every unused mobile phone, every roll of money held together by an elastic band. And when she was finished, she went to sit in her room, patiently waiting for Christian to leave the house. As she had predicted, she didn’t have to wait for long. She visited the kitchen once more, and silently cleared Christian’s room until the walls, shelves and wardrobes were bare. It took her a few minutes to transfer all eight packed black bags to the pavement outside the house. And moments later Mr Kingston arrived to change the locks on the front door.
Enough is enough, she thought, as Mr Kingston began drilling.
PART TWO up soon.
Je t’embrasse, x