The blows started a week after Kaka’s second bride-price was paid.
Everyone called her Kaka, short for carpenter, even though she was a carver, a sculptor and wood was her clay.
At first she hid the bumps, the bruises, claiming it was a tool from her workshop or a fall on the way to replenish supplies or climbing down a ladder, while doing small, repair jobs for people.
But she couldn’t silence the night screams that escaped her once joyous lips. Odera stuffed the edges of his cover cloth in his ears. Village Boy paced the room, from one end to another; like a wounded hyena, feeling impotent, helpless and useless.
The first time he and his brother rushed to their mother’s aid was the last. Mr Ba’affi, (they could never call him dad), knocked Odera out with one blow, while their mother stood by the doorway wringing her hands. Hands that created the most beautiful wooden sculptures and carvings in all the seven villages bound by one blood.
“Mama, they don’t call me Village Boy for nothing. Everyone knows me in the seven villages bound by one blood and beyond. I work hard; I earn an honest wage and with your wood carvings, we will be fine.”
“A woman’s pride is her husband…we need a man in the house.” Kaka sounded like Tito, Kainene’s parrot, who chanted anything and everything that was said to his hearing.
“And you have me, Village Boy International!” he thumped his chest in that way she said always reminded her of her first husband; their late father. Today, that gesture didn’t move her. Uncle Benji had collected her second bride-price. No one knew the family. He said it was a ‘business associate’. Uncle Benji was the ‘head’ of the extended family so that was that.
“So run the whole thing by me again,” Officer Umaru hitched his regulation trousers up for the umpteenth time. He had practised that line countless times, back at the main town’s police station; the only one for miles, in front of the cracked, patinated mirror in the men’s toilet.
He wished he had a more fitting pair of trousers but his bosses were more interested in sinking money into a brand new ‘Rapid Response’ police vehicle with a deafening siren and blinding flashing lights, than outfitting their officers properly. As if anything worthy of flashing lights ever happened in any of the seven villages bound by one blood.
“Officer Umaru,” Village Boy took a sip of cold water from the wooden mug his mother handed him, “Uncle Benji and Mr Ba’affi ate from the same plate – ọra soup and pounded yam – washed their hands in the same bowl and drank from the same keg of palm wine that Mr Ba’affi himself procured from ọtenkwu Okorie.”
“But Mr Benji is alive and well, while Mr Ba’affi lies cold and hard on a stone slab at the Main town mortuary! How is that even possible?” He whispered the last five words to himself.
“Maybe the gods heard our prayers,” Odera whispered to his brother.
“Maybe the gods will twist your mouth shut if you don’t close it now!” VeeBee whispered furiously back.
“Well, if you think of anything else, anything at all, anywhere else he could have gone or eaten before coming home, please don’t hesitate to call me.” Officer Umaru hitched up his trousers one last time as he handed his card to Kaka.
“Thank you for all your help, Officer, we will. Goodbye”.
Officer Umaru left as puzzled as he was when he arrived an hour ago and when he came, siren blaring, lights flashing, two days earlier when Ba’affi choked to death on his own vomit.
“Mum…mum, are you alright?” Odera and Village Boy turned to their mother.
“Yes my sons, I’m fine. In fact, I’ve never felt better, she smiled through her still-swollen lips; her face suddenly full of light and laughter. “Have any of you seen my DCM about. I poured it into a Schnapps bottle when I lost the cap of the original bottle. I have some work I need to do for Madam One-Pot”
“DCM? What is…oh! Mentholated Chlorine…”
“…VeeBee!” Odera threw his head back in a rare outburst of mirth, “It’s Methylene Chloride; mum uses it for stripping paint.”
“Humph!”, his brother snorted good-naturedly. Woodwork and Carving were the preserve of his brother and mother; give him designs and drawing any day.
“Schnapps bottle? Odera asked, cocking his head to one side, as if to remember. “I’m not sure if that’s the one you mean, but I gave one to O’Botros, the bottle collector, two days ago. It was empty; Mr Ba’affi had quaffed it down as usual”.
“Oh? Had he?” Kaka turned back to her workshop table, “Pity.”