For the longest time, all you can remember are thuds from the next room. Thuds that were accentuated by vehement screams and groans. If not the screams and bangs, then it’s profanities and insults being hurled in the air through the night. In the morning, they continue to hang in the air like a bad omen.
It’s not that you care about their marriage. No. They have been the source of your pain. The source of your stoicism. The source of everything painful and bitter in your life. What they have made you is far from the definition of a child.
At school, most break times, they talk about cartoons they watched the previous evening. They sit under a tree with their clean well-manicured nails clutching on to the thickly-buttered pristine slices of bread as they banter on about Courage The Cowardly Dog Show. Your favourite. They look forward to going home in the evenings to catch up with it. But not you. For you, it’s going to be dark and gloomy like a post-apocalyptic flick. You’ll reach home and find mother straddled along the settee, with a cigarette in hand and the remote on the other. Smoke rising from the glowing burning end of the cig and swallowed by the thin air that never grows fat. The left side of her face is purple from a clobbering two days ago. The right eye is black. The TV is on, a song about sex is playing. She doesn’t seem to be paying attention. She is staring deep into the smoke, scrutinizing it, as if it bears the solution to all her problems. You suspect it’s not your regular tobacco cigarette.
After some time, she will realize you’re around and get startled. She will say hello and tell you where to get a snack from the kitchen. She will not bother to wake up. Or ask how your day was. She goes back to her deep thoughts. Silently, you take a cake, some juice and head to your room and wait for supper.
At ten years, you are a perfect candidate for mental institution. I mean, how can you not be with this shitty life. You see, when dad comes in in the evening, it’s a loop. A movie you’ve seen too many times. He will complain about the food, say it tastes like horse shit. Mother will ask him if he’s tasted horse shit to know how it tastes. He will get mad. They will argue. Profanities. It will get heated. They will go to their room and in the comfort of their privacy, fight. Literally. And repeat.
The first time, you were scared. You knocked on the door of their room softly and immediately, they both stopped shouting at each other. It was silent, except of the TV left on in the living room and the pounding in your chest. They always did that, left the telly on and never said thank you when they found it off in the next morning. A second later the door opens, slowly. Inside they tell you all is fine and that adults fight all the time. They comfort you, tell you to stop crying. They even smile. They never smile. You even sleep in their bed that night; dad on your right and mom on your left. There is no worry in the world.
But you see then, you were four years old. You mattered. You were not a shadow looming around the house eating and sleeping on their bed. Neither were you a ghost haunting the hallways silently and sobbing every night in bed. You mattered. You had a voice. You mattered.
Six years later, that changed. Subtly. You got tired of knocking that door. They were counting on it. And of course, they offered no explanation. You opted for a better solution for those loud nights, crying. It always worked. You’d sleep in no time and let the fighting dogs fight.
It is not that you were poor, that money was the cause of all this pell-mell. This was the setup around home. Dad was a struggling accountant at a decent firm. He had a decent salary, from all the dashing suits he bought and overpriced liquor he came with on Friday nights. He had been in the same position for eight years and not a day passed without you hearing this. Mother on the other hand, was a housewife. Back when you mattered and she talked to you often, she told you that she stopped working after she was with child – you. With that idleness, she got addicted to smoking and any decent job she got was like the smoke she blew, always disappearing into thin air in seconds.
As you grew older, you understood the wrangles. Or at least tried to. Dad despised mother for always being over dependent on him, even with the most mundane of things: salon money, fruit money, chama money and cigarette money. He looked down on her. Mother hated him for being a loser who always got bypassed for promotions. You are not man enough for me, she would often hiss, and more often than not, a slap followed this disposition.
A decade into your life and you’ve already experienced more than children double your age have experienced. You are as hard as they come. You are also damaged, dead and withered inside. You are a walking corpse. You don’t matter. You haven’t for the past six years. You have to transform your life. Fast.