You call him Thomas. You’ve been calling him Thomas for a while now. You never say it to his face though. To his face, he is still sir. Good morning sir, yes sir, God bless you sir.
You call him Thomas when you’re deep in thought during your long walks. You call him Thomas when you see his brown teeth with meat stuck in between, as he laughs during meals. You say to yourself, Doesn’t Thomas look so cheerful today huh? You call him Thomas when you study his receding hairline as he sleeps on the couch in the parlor, snoring loudly, a book to his chest. What a sight Thomas, you say from where you sit at the dining table studying him.
You started calling him Thomas at the end of your junior year in secondary school. You would never forget that night that the words leapt out of your mouth, fresh and new. You felt like a god. You felt like you just created a being of your own. It was the night before your trip to Paris. You could barely sleep out of excitement, so, you dwelt on thoughts of Paris
You thought about the trip to Paris, the shops and the food, the romance and the wine. In between thoughts of fruit wine and the handsome boys with summer bodies, you heard the sound that would change everything. The sound came from the next room. You heard the creak of the door as it opened. You heard the deep breaths and silent tiptoes—you clung to every sound from that room that night.
The walls are thick but you can hear everything that happens from the guest room. If a rat scurried away in that room, you’d hear it, loud enough. Just the week before the incident, you’d heard your visiting grandmother, who slept there, in a silent long prayer, ask her God to ward off the demons that she knew lived in your house with you.
That night was sinister. The memory stinks and is as a fresh wound that hurts only when you dwell on it too much. You remember that there was no light. You remember that there was the persistent mosquito tugging at your thighs, and another dancing by your ears. You remember that it was a bit cool, but that didn’t stop the sweat that dotted your forehead and creased your brows. If there was electricity, at least the humming and the buzzing of the electrical appliances would keep away the sounds from the other room.
But there was no light and light wouldn’t come that night.
You had always known Thomas wasn’t a good man. From the time you were in primary five, you had known he wasn’t everything he preached. There was a way you stared into his eyes when he mounted the pulpit in church. There was a way you read his titles and then spat out, disgusted. You couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. And all you needed was that night in August to know you had always been right about Thomas.
Thomas had a history of calling his girlfriend at home while you and Dara watched television and Mother cooked. He’d try to code the conversation, but you knew he was talking to a woman he had a soft spot for. Your curiosity grew like the tree planted in the river. It grew sporadically, its branches spreading out—long, straight and wide. You started to read his texts. The words blinded you, even with the mumbo jumbo of technical business messages. But if the texts blinded your physical eyes, you would like to believe that the pictures destroyed the eyes of your heart. The woman in red lingerie; the woman whose breast sunk; the woman, whose hips were wide; the woman whose backside was the two huge pumpkins that you only saw in Halloween movies.
You’d watch your mother. You’d stare at the smile in her eyes. You’d gaze intently at her broken smile. You’d bite your lips. She was beautiful. But, Thomas would forget the exquisiteness of the jewel he kept at home to go lick the honey lips of an evil eyed woman.
You wondered if Mother knew. You wondered how she couldn’t know. You wondered if Dara knew about it. You cursed yourself for knowing these things. You were young; the knowledge was too heavy for you to carry. You considered telling Dara about it but every time you tried, the words slipped away down the slippery road that led to oblivion.
You felt your Mother suffered. You felt her pain. Yet you were angry, that she wouldn’t do something about her obvious unhappiness.
That night you started calling him Thomas was the proof—the ultimate proof of Thomas’s infidelity. In the past you would make excuses for him. You’d make the excuses because you loved Thomas immensely. He was your Father after all. But after that night you started calling him Thomas, all the love evaporated with the sweat that dotted your forehead.
‘Baby, touch yourself’ you heard Thomas say. You knew he had to be on the phone. There was no other person in the house but you, Dara and Mother. You heard him cajole the woman on the other end. You heard him use cuss words. You heard his profanity—the things you only heard white people say. The things you were banned from merely hearing. You heard him moan, loud and clear. The sounds broke your heart in half. You heard him say he loved her. You didn’t know what was happening, but you would find out soon. The moaning got louder, more ecstatic. Sometimes they sounded like pig grunts, but you knew they were born out of pleasure. Soon, the moaning stopped, but only with a final loud gasp and deep breaths.
Then you heard a knock on the guest room door. Fear gripped you. It seemed you were watching one of those African magic movies. You sat up, and waited, until you heard your Mother’s voice. Her voice a bit on the edge,
“Nkem, what are you doing, come back to bed”
“I’m fucking praying” he said loud and clear.
There were two things that came to your mind. Did your mother know what he’d just done? Had she stood outside through the whole orchestration, and still asked him to come back to bed? You would never know. Or better still, the other thought, did your mother just decide to come and check on her husband? Did she believe he was really praying?
The conversation ended there as Thomas started to speak in tongues and your mother retreated.
You heard Dara’s shaky voice sooner than it was ever expected that night. Did you hear what just happened? She asked.
What? What? Sleep Dara, you were dreaming. That’s what you say to your baby sister because you have no idea what to say to her.
You spent the next two weeks in Paris on an excursion that made you forget all about home and dwell on exquisite places like Les invalides, sainte-chapelle, palais garnie, Musee d’orsay, notre dame de paris, and the meals like pain au chocolat, croissants, baguette, and the different kinds of wine.
You came back and remembered Thomas. There was this new silence in the house that continued to grow with the stillness of the house—even the buzzing of electricity seemed quieter and the hands of the clock, seemed not to move.
The burden, fear, and frustration grew heavy in your heart.
You couldn’t wait to move on to your new school, a boarding school, you prayed it would make you forget. It didn’t. Somehow Thomas’s drama followed you to the new school.
You started to get strange texts and calls from a woman that asked if you knew a certain somebody who had impregnated her. Who is he to you? Help me please? The calls came every weekend when the housemistress would give the students back their phones. You memorized the number and you stopped picking the calls because it distressed you to know that your Father’s girlfriend had somehow gotten hold of your number and was now pestering you. Whatever the true explanation was, you just didn’t want to know. You wanted to have a normal teenage life.
A few weeks before the visiting day, Thomas came to see you. He collected your sim card and replaced it with a new one. You would imagine that after he left—when he was alone, he’d break the sim card. You asked no questions. You didn’t ask him why he came alone. You didn’t ask why he collected your sim card. You just gave it to him, gratefully.
Yesterday, your Mother called to tell you that she was getting a divorce. She doesn’t explain why. You don’t ask why. You and Dara don’t even talk about it. You let the news fly far and above you like dust in the wind. You don’t think about what the neighbors would say about your family. You don’t think about what the church would say. You tell yourself that you won’t think of Thomas. You would forget about him. You would bury Thomas and the memories in a graveyard, and have a decent burial ceremony just for them.