My name is Ebikare. I live with my mother, she is a food vendor beside the new exploration site right next to the wharf. I never got to meet my father, he left when mama was still carrying me in her womb. I heard he had gone after another woman and had ended up dead a month later. I had heard the rumours; people said mama had killed him. I believed them. I had an older brother, Ebisuobo (Ebi). He was my favourite person in the world, he had always been my guardian angel. He walked me to the primary school at the end of our street and he was always there to pick me up after school. He stole money to pay my fees and to feed me and himself when mama went to her shop or when she went off with one of the men working on the rig or sometimes with an expatriate. He protected me until I was old enough to look out for myself and then he disappeared. I woke up one morning to realize he had left home. He didn’t tell me, he never even said goodbye and for weeks I was unable to stop myself from looking at the narrow path leading to our house expecting him to suddenly appear like he had never left.
Mama forgot I existed, she would leave me home alone and go where she pleased. I was forced to grow up. I saw myself through the pains in my chest when my breasts started to bud, through the fear I felt when I woke up to find blood on my underwear from my first period, I conquered the breakout of acne across my face that further reduced my already low self-esteem. I grew up fast and all on my own. I became friends with the welder’s son Godwin and he started coming home to stay with me when mama was away. Mama came home one day and caught us sitting on the bamboo bench in the backyard with Godwin’s hand in my blouse. She had chased us out with a stick and had threatened to kill me. “Prostitute!” she cried as she flung a slipper in my direction.
“What do you expect?” I spat back. “You don’t even care, you are never here! That’s why Ebi left and I’m sure that’s why papa left you too”.
She laughed, a hollow guttural laugh. “Your father was a dog and he died like one. It’s no wonder you are the way you are; you are the spawn of an animal after all”.
I hated her, I wanted to hurt her. How could she say such a thing to me? I smiled at her, a sly smile and I replied with as much spite as I could muster.
“At least I know the animal I took after”.
That evening I got the beating of my life but I also got something else- results. The fight changed mama and a week after she asked me to go with her to her food store. Liberty at last! I liked working there and I loved it even more when mama would disappear leaving me in charge. I liked watching the trucks carrying the workers as it came and went. I also liked staring at the white men as they walked or drove by. The men liked me, they gave me money and I pretended not to notice when they touched my buttocks or when they knowingly brushed their hands against my breasts. I knew it made them happy and when they were happy they were more generous or so I had led myself to believe. I needed the money for when I was going to eventually leave mama to live on my own.
I was in the shop one sunny afternoon when I met him; he was the first white man I had seen so closely. He had sand coloured hair and he spoke through his long pinched nose. I couldn’t help wondering if he got enough air through his narrow nostrils. He wanted a bottle of water and he asked me to sit with him while he drank it. He talked to me about his work and I talked to him about Papa and Ebi. I even complained about Mama. He was a good listener, his name was Mark and I liked him. He told me he was sorry and he understood and he looked like he really did. He got up to leave and he gave me some money. He would love to see me again he had said before he finally walked away.
Evening came and I locked up and walked the short distance back to my house. I got home to meet my brother Ebi sitting on the front steps. He looked healthy and well taken care of. I forgot I was upset with him; I just wanted to know where he had been. He stood up as I approached.
“Mama isn’t around” he said rather than ask.
I nodded in affirmation.
“Aren’t you tired?” He asked holding my hand.
I knew what he meant. I was tired. Tired of mama’s incessant nagging and name calling, tired of her erratic mood swings, I was tired of her trips and her male guests, I was tired of her treating me like a rival and not like her daughter where men were concerned. I was tired of it all but I didn’t say so. Instead I shrugged and looked away. “You look good” I said trying to change the subject. “Where have you been?”
“I work now, I have a business” he answered abruptly “Come and stay with me” he pleaded. I looked down and shook my head. I couldn’t leave mama. She wasn’t the best mother in the world but I couldn’t just walk out on her without an explanation; at least not yet. She had had too many people leave her and I knew if I left, it would break her.
“No” I had said with a finality as I picked a plate and dished cold beans left over from the morning’s meal. We ate in silence and when he was done he got up to leave, he hugged me and stuffed some money in my hand.
“I’ll come and see you at the shop” he said then he walked away into the darkness.
Ebi was true to his word, he came to see me often and he always gave me money before he left. He had made his peace with mama but I don’t know if she ever forgave him for leaving. Every time he visited, we would sit and talk for ages about everything and anything. I told him about the men in mama’s life and I told him about Mark but he never talked about work. Over the time I found out how Ebi made his money- he bunkered oil from pipelines.
I feared for his life when I found out. Mark was always talking about ‘those militants that vandalized oil pipelines’. He had told me stories of how explosions had killed some of them and how they were a menace to society. The police always killed most of them on the spot as they were almost always armed he had said. I didn’t believe it. Ebi had never been violent, he probably did it because of the money but I knew he would never hurt anyone.
“Not all of them are that way” I had argued that night as I lay naked on Mark’s arm.
“How many of them do you know?” Mark had asked jokingly.
“Ebi” I had answered before I turned over and shut my eyes.
Mark must have thought I was joking or he had been in shock but I know we never talked about it again. We pretended that conversation never happened and a part of me was thankful for it.
I decided I wasn’t going to let Ebi meet Mark after all; not after I had told Mark about him. I had to protect my brother from my lover. I felt he was going to be safer if Mark could not recognize him.
It was weekend, I was on my way to mama’s farm when I heard the explosion. It was accompanied by screams and racket and I immediately ran in the direction of the furore. I saw people running in all directions but all I could think of was Mark. He had told me he was going to inspect pipelines today and I got scared thinking of his safety. I got to a clearing and I saw a good number of people including women and children with Jerri cans and buckets of crude oil trying to escape.
“Go back!” A woman screamed at me. “They have guns”.
Almost immediately, I heard the nearing sound of gunshots. I turned and I ran along with the others. In front of me, a girl of about twelve fell and I had to help her. I turned to pick her up when I saw my Mark, a gun in his hand alongside some policemen. They shot at everything and everyone. I helped the girl up and I kept running until I got to safety. I stayed home all day my head a cacophony of thoughts. By evening, the hubbub had died down and people came out of their houses with fear and skepticism.
I followed the crowd to the clearing and what I saw left me lost for words. The ground was littered with bodies, the earth was wet as blood and oil flowed freely onto it. I felt bile rise to my throat and I couldn’t control my insides. I threw up until I was spent and then I stood there just staring into space.
I felt a hand on my arm. It was Ogini, Ebi’s friend.
“Have you seen his body?” he asked
I looked at him with shock, I didn’t know what he meant or maybe I refused to understand it. It couldn’t be my brother he was talking about. It had to be someone else.
I shook my head slowly as the tears started pouring out. I wanted him to tell me it was a lie, that he was playing a trick on me and I expected him to laugh any minute and say he was just pulling my legs; it didn’t happen. Ogini pulled me through the field of bodies and at last led me to where Ebi lay. Blood flowed out of his sides and mixed with oil from a can lying next to him. I broke down next to his body and I wept like I never had. I wondered what I had ever done to the universe and why I had to have this happen to me. I wanted blood and I was going to get it. I got up my feet muddy, my dress stained with spilled crude oil and my brother’s blood. I walked to Mark’s house like a feral animal. He was standing outside with a few policemen when he looked up and saw me
“Kare, are you okay?” he asked looking concerned
I nodded and I kept walking towards him like I was in a trance.
“Go in and wait for me, I’ll be with you in a second” he had said to me as I got close to the front door.
I walked in to his room and looked under his bed, the wooden box was still there. I pulled it out and opened it to ensure the contents were still intact. I smiled when I saw everything was just the way it was last time.
I walked out of the house slowly and Mark turned. He opened his mouth to say something but the words were barely out of his mouth when I took the pistol out from behind me, pulled the trigger as many times as I could and pumped his body with bullets. I took the men outside by surprise because they stood there frozen for a few minutes before one of them pulled out his gun and shot at me; the rest joined. As the bullets hit me, I felt pain and I felt my knees go weak. Before my body hit the floor, I heard the sound of Ebi’s laughter; bright and cheerful then a peace engulfed me and I saw his face smiling at me.
I’m Mfonabasi Nta, a Medical Laboratory Science graduate. I love reading, writing and photography.