Writing Burnt has been painful. And as the weeks have gone by and the emails and feedback have poured in, I realize that the issue is of a far greater magnitude than I imagined. Reading it has also caused people to relive memories that hurt deeply while helping many others to heal from deep-seated hurt. Hence, I took the decision 3weeks ago to make it the shortest series I’ve written. Today is the finale.
I’ll be taking a 2week break before we start the next series called A Little Bird Said. You can look forward to that.
During the break, I’ll be working on a few things.
- First, I’ll finish the alternate history/fantasy book I’ve been working on, Guardians of the Seals and get it to the editor and the illustrator. It’s due next year and I’ll be posting another excerpt from it next week.
- Second, we’re preparing for the next Write Right. The announcement should be on Monday 2nd of December. It promises to be bigger and more exciting than the first. Read about the first Write Right here http://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/write-right/ and see the Prize Giving pictures here http://tlsplace.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/write-right-the-pictures/
- Finally, there’s something special coming to you from Baba Risi this Christmas with Ekene Ngige who won the Baba Risi Illustration Competition.
Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes locked on tlsplace. Enjoy the finale of Burnt. Follow on twitter @tundeleye for all the updates
As if on cue, there was a strong knock on the door and a thickly accented Igbo voice said “Open, it is the police!” They just had to be dramatic, this Nigerian police. The front door was open so they let themselves in.
“Oh my God, what are we going to do? The robbery story can’t hold up now, with Brian like this.” Adaku said in panic, wailing.
Conrad just kept holding his head, as he heard the shout of the policemen from the living room. They had seen the househelp’s body. He heard them undoing the safety latches of their guns – idiots, didn’t they see that was not a fresh body.
“Who is there?” he heard the Igbo man shout.
“In here, and will you stop wailing!” he growled at his wife, wondering how the policemen didn’t simply follow the sound of her crying to find them.
Three rifle totting policemen came in one after the other into the room. The one who had been speaking, whose name tag said his name was Livinus Mbojikwe, spoke first.
“This is fresh oga, the blood is still fresh, not caked like the one of the lady in the living room. They didn’t die at the same time.” He said, addressing Conrad. Then his eyes followed Brian’s body and he saw him still gripping the gun he had shot himself with.
“Oga, the boy shot himself.” Livinus stated flatly.
“Yes,” Conrad answered. That much was obvious.
“Did he shoot the woman outside?” Livinus asked further.
“Yes,” Conrad simply answered.
“Do you have any idea why he did this?”
“She was his nanny and they were alone in the house a lot. She molested him and when pushed to the wall, he reacted.” Conrad responded.
“The gun?” Livinus asked.
“It’s mine. I had no idea he had access to it.” Conrad responded.
“You will need to come to the station to give a statement sir,” Livinus said. It was a straightforward case, but he could smell good money was going to go down here so he wanted to make sure he was in possession of the statement. since the oga was being so free with information, better to get him to commit it to paper now, before the shock wore off and he began to censor what he said.
Conrad left the room with the policemen and finally, Adaku and Jason were alone. Fuming, Adaku finally vented on Jason
“You think I didn’t hear what Brian said you were doing to Clara behind our backs? And isn’t that why she did those terrible things to him? You killed your brother, you hear. Let that live with your forever, and know that I will never forgive you.”
With that pronouncement, she left him in the room. Jason looked at the gun in Brian’s hand. They still hadn’t taken it away – his dad, his mum and even the police. A thought of following Brian’s example skipped into his mind, but he killed it as soon as it rose. The police ambulance arrived soon after that.
Idris knew of a discreet testing center not too far from their house. What was more, it was free and you got the results immediately. He kept trying to tell himself that it was impossible, that Aisha was just being vindictive. He had dialed her number all the way to the clinic, but it was an attempt in futility – she didn’t take any of his calls. This girl was trying to drive him mad, he thought.
He arrived at the clinic and quickly made some inquiries. The nurse courteously directed him to an office where he was met by a smiling woman in the ubiquitous doctors’ garb – the lab coat and stethoscope. “My name is Ola Eke and I’m the counselor. It’s my job to go over a few things with you before we proceed to test. This step is important to prepare your mind for whatever may come after,” she began.
Idris had heard about the pre-testing counseling bit of the HIV testing but he couldn’t do this now. “Can we just get on with it?” he asked impatiently. Very calmly, she answered him “I understand you anxiety and how you feel. But this is a step we simply can’t skip Mr. Idris.”
Idris saw that it was futile to protest. He resigned himself to listening to Dr. Ola drone. She asked questions at intervals and he mechanically supplied the answers while doing everything in his power from keeping himself from screaming at her to get on with it. It took all of twenty minutes for her to be satisfied that he now understood the import of this HIV test and then she moved him along to another smiling young man. Did they all have training to paste these plastic smiles on their faces in this place? They took the samples and led him into a waiting area while they got his results. That wait was the longest of his life.
Donald got back a very quiet house. He assumed that Hajara and Laraba had taken the twins along with them when they went to the planner’s place. That would at least allow him get some good sleep before they all returned. He needed it. The past previous days had been so hectic, but the deal was finally sealed over breakfast with the NCC Executive Vice Chairman and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on communications. Now, he just wanted to rest.
He got to their room and found the door ajar. He shouldered it open and dropped his jacket and laptop bag on the couch. As he did, he felt someone stir underneath them and he jumped back. Then, when the stirring had stopped and he had gathered himself together, he lifted his jacket up.
“It’s just Oyiza,” he said to himself as he saw his daughter curled up on the couch. But he wondered why she had chosen to come and sleep here. There must have been some drama and she must have decided she didn’t want to go out with the rest. He sighed – sensitive, sensitive Oyiza. He picked her up gently to carry her to the bed where she would be more comfortable. He immediately saw the diary underneath her which she seemed to have fallen asleep writing. He dropped her on the bed and began undressing. He was about to lie down and sleep when he realized he had left his phone in his laptop bag. He went over to go and get it and then it caught his eye again. He had almost forgotten about it but now that he saw it, the curiosity got the better of him and he picked the diary up. He felt like a child stealing candy, wondering what he’d say if Oyiza woke up and caught him peeping into her diary. He shrugged and opened it. It fell to the page she had been writing on last. Within seconds, he read his worst nightmare from the pages of Oyiza’s diary.
It took the direct intervention of the commissioner before the police let Conrad go. While in the police station, making frantic calls to secure his release as well as make sure the story didn’t leak to the press, he had taken time to reflect. It cost him an arm and a leg to make it all go away, in spite of being legally innocent. He cursed all those who had told him there was easy money to make in Nigerian politics if only he relocated back to Nigeria and play the game. There was no easy money, and one would end up selling one’s soul and losing the things that truly mattered in the process. On the drive home when it was all over, he made some decisions “I’m going away from all this madness with the family,” he said to himself. And for the first time that day, he processed what Brian had said. He realized his family needed help.
Donald held his head in his hands, lost in thought. They had been watching the door all this while, when the crime was being committed in the house they were guarding. And what was worse, their daughter was more comfortable talking to a bloody diary than any of them. They had failed.
Just then, he felt a touch on his shoulder. “Don, are you okay darling?”
He had not heard Hajara walk in. He simply pointed at the diary.
“What is that? Why is Oyiza here? What’s going on Donald, talk to me please” she said, her confusion growing.
“Read the damned diary!” Donald shouted.
Hajara was taken aback. In their decade long marriage, she could not remember hearing Donald swear at anyone, least of all her. She picked up the diary gingerly. It was opened to a page close to the center. She couldn’t believe what she was reading. In an eight year old child’s English Oyiza painted a picture. As she read the lurid details of how her brother abused her daughters and manipulated she began to mumble repeatedly “oh no, oh no, oh no,” until she suddenly shouted it out aloud, startling Donald and waking Oyiza up.
She went over to Oyiza with tears in her eyes “Oyiza why didn’t you talk to me, why didn’t you tell me?” she said to the barely awake child.
“Where is Inya? And where is Idris?” Donald snarled. He meant that to come out tender and soothing to his little girl, but he was beside himself with rage.
“What is it mummy? Why are you and daddy shouting?” Oyiza asked, trying to comprehend what was going on through her still foggy state of mind.
“The things you wrote in your diary, are they true?” Donald asked, his voice better controlled this time than the last.
“What? How did you know about my diary? Where is it?” Oyiza said, springing up from the bed and looking around frenetically. She saw it open on the floor where Hajara had dropped it and raced to pick it up. She held it protectively to her chest, as if doing so would remove the contents from her parents’ mind. Laraba had heard the commotion and now stood in the doorway. Donald didn’t acknowledge her as she greeted. She looked at Hajara and saw the tears and little Oyiza in the middle of the room. She heard Oyiza protesting to her parents
“the diary is mine and nobody should have read it.” Her little voice quivered as she spoke.
“Oyiza!” Donald said firmly and the little girl stiffened. Daddy only used that voice when he was upset about something she had done. Of course, she thought. He had seen how she triggered Inya’s attack with the insecticide.
“I didn’t mean to do it. But she was so mean to me, she learnt naughty things from Uncle Idris and used it to steal my only friend in school. And she taunted me about it and she…”
“So it is true then? The things you wrote that Idris did to you and Inya? And Inya did them to someone in school?”
Oyiza looked down at her feet. “Oh my God! how did we not…” Laraba exclaimed before she caught the cold look Hajara shot her and stopped herself from saying what didn’t need to be said.
“What?” Donald asked with eyebrows raised. “did we not do what?”
“Did we not see this Donald. Did we trust Idris like this. I thought I was careful, I thought I was protecting my children whereas I was handing them over to the devil under my roof daily and feeding plus clothing that demon.”
“Where is Inya?” Oyiza asked and they all suddenly realized that no one had seen her since they came back. As if everyone thought the same thing simultaneously, they all headed for the door of the room.
Laraba had been the one at the door and she was first to reach the girls’ room.
Inya lay on the bed, he little body still naked. She just stared at the ceiling blankly, barely acknowledging their presence. Hajara rushed to cover her daughter up and rock her while Oyiza clung to her father. All the joy of sealing the deal had evaporated from Donald’s heart, his once perfect family shattered within minutes.
“Where is Idris?” Laraba asked as she bent in front of Inya.
“He rushed out after he got a text from Aunty Aisha. He was very upset and kept saying she had given him HIV” she responded mechanically.
Hajara let out a heartrending scream. Donald lurched forward, nearly forgetting Oyiza that was holding on to his leg. Laraba fell back on the floor in shock. Her teeth were chattering when she recovered enough to ask Inya “are you sure you heard him speak those words? Those exact words?”
“Yes aunty, that was what he said,” Inya responded.
“I’m finished!” Hajara shouted hysterically, her whole body shaking. Donald just held his head in his hands, and Laraba broke into tears. Oyiza knew all this was bad, but she couldn’t understand how what Inya had said made them all react like this. What was in what Aunty Aisha had said to Uncle Idris?
Idris arrived to meet the house very quiet. Everything else, even what had been happening in the house before he received Aisha’s text had paled in significance. When the lady at the testing center had returned, her plastic smile was gone, and it was replaced with another well practiced grim expression. They had taken him through another post test counseling that took half an hour, before finally telling him that he was HIV positive. His world was shattered. But he had made up his mind that he would keep it to himself. No one in the house or school needed to know. He knew Aisha would not share her status with anyone so his secret would be safe.
Suddenly, he heard a shout coming from the direction of the twins’ room and it was his sister’s voice. On impulse, he ran in the direction, to find out what it was. When he entered the room and saw everyone in the house there in the state that they were, he immediately sensed that something was wrong. What was wrong became immediately clear to him when Donald punched him square in the face and sent him reeling backwards. Oyiza had spilled the beans. The HIV issue had pushed that to the back of his mind, but now it made his situation even worse. He was HIV positive and he was about to be thrown out of where he had hoped to get the money to buy his drugs and all from.
“Idris how could you do this to me? I housed you, loved you, fed you, clothed you, did everything for you, treated you like a son and yet you chose to repay me by molesting and abusing my daughters and giving them AIDS!” Hajara shouted, dropping Inya on the table and standing over Idris, kicking and scratching at him.
Donald went into the gym area to make a phone call.
“Aunty, please can we handle this in the family? Please help me talk to Uncle Donald, please.” Idris appealed to Hajara, afraid to follow Donald, yet afraid to wait doing nothing. He maneuvered himself until he was behind Hajara. He had to put her between himself and the door just in case Donald returned with a machete or rifle.
“Handle what in the family way? You ruined two little lives we trusted you with daily and you talk about family way? Family way my feet” Hajara hollered.
Idris looked to Laraba who was still on the floor for help “when I was the victim, it was convenient to treat it in the family way. Now that the tables are turned…”
“Oh shut up! Our parents chose to treat your case in the family way, not me. And does the fact that something bad happened to you which you claim scarred you to date when you were small mean that you have to do even worse to not just one but two children of the only person who actually took you in? I am the mother of these children, and there is no family nothing going on here,” Hajara retorted.
“So this runs in your family? You knew Idris had this history and you allowed him stay with the girls?” It was Donald that spoke from behind Hajara. She froze.
“That was in the very distant past, and he didn’t give us any reason to know those demons lurked inside him. I didn’t suspect it, oh God I was a fool, a damn stupid fool, being busy with my beauty shop when my life was becoming so ugly.”
“Hajara, quit the self pity! It’s not me or yourself that we, and I mean you and I, need to apologize to. We have failed these girls. And it is to them we need to apologize.”
The sound of police sirens filled the room and Idris burst into tears. “Uncle Donald, please, I’m begging you. Please! Aunty, help me beg uncle. Big sis, please help me beg him.”
“If I left you anywhere that isn’t behind bars, Idris, I will eventually be overcome with the temptation to kill you. Only the bars I’m making sure you are going to be behind will keep you alive. It’s the best I can do and its simply because you are family.”
With that, he left to get the policemen. In seconds, they were back and they dragged a kicking, screaming Idris away.
- The twins were tested for HIV. To everyone’s relief, they were both negative
- They have been put in separate schools, so that each grew on their own. They are also both in therapy now, to help them get over their demons.
- Inya was Laraba’s little bride and Oyiza got to play her song
- Donald and Hajara also went through therapy to heal their relationship
- The Okwurahs went back to America with their boys. They are trying hard to sweep the whole Nigerian experience behind them.
- The story did leak that a boy from the school killed himself and a girl from the school was being molested. Parents quietly withdrew their kids from the school.
- One of the worst things in life is to be an inmate in a Nigerian prison. One of the few things worse than this is to be an HIV positive prison inmate. The only thing worse than the last is to be an HIV positive inmate known by all to have been a pedophile towards your own blood. This is the current fate of Idris.
- Oyiza wrote a novel about child sexual abuse two years later when she became ten. It was a best seller.
FF on twitter @tundeleye to know what’s going on.