If the wheels of time had spun normally, then I would have written a different introduction to this story; about love crushing life’s sour helpings and giving hurt the desired balm.
It was to be a grand wedding, and a life in the arms of a woman who would eventually give the subject of my story, whom I will call Vincent, closure.
But now it will be a different script; a tale about the cost of violence. The emotional violence that no one talks about. The violence that silently eats up its victims around the country.
If it were not for what happened when Vincent was eight years old, he would have had the wedding of the year with friends and family around him last August. Unfortunately, when he decided to tell his fiancée the truth just before the wedding bells sounded, she bolted.
The wrong turn in his life took place 20 years ago, but for two decades, every day at 7pm, a wave of fear and uncertainty engulfs Vincent as he instinctively waits for his mother’s weak screams for help. He is certain he hears her voice before he is startled back to reality. It is the moment he relives the night his father killed his mother as Vincent and his two siblings watched.
That evening, the mother and her children had had had supper early as usual. Then, her husband walked in unusually early. Vincent remembers his father’s thumping boots and foul mood.
Without greeting anyone, the man grabbed his wife, who was sitting at the table helping the children with their homework, by the collar and dragged her into the bedroom.
The children, then aged ten, eight and five, were shocked. They had never seen their father handle their mother, a nursery school teacher, that way. Then the mother’s painful scream for help pierced the silent night.
Being the first born, Vincent decided to intervene. To help his mother. But the bedroom door was locked.
Not knowing what to do next, he stood by the door, holding onto the lock, which felt strangely cold. His brother and sister looked up to him for guidance, but Vincent’s brain was blank. Their mother was now whimpering. Then silence.
Suddenly, Vincent’s father sprung the door open, throwing the boy off a few metres. He gave Vincent a murderous glance.
When Vincent’s eyes met his father’s “dead” eyes, he quickly looked elsewhere. . . at his father’s shirt and trousers. They were covered in blood. Their mother’s blood, no doubt. He was holding a bloody sword.
Their father lingered for a moment before disappearing into the darkness.
But that one moment that he stood there has haunted Vincent ever since. Sometimes, he sees his father, in dreams, as an apparition standing with a bloodied knife ready to slaughter the three children. At other times, he sees him as an angel that carried the three children to safety. Indeed, before that night, that man had been like an angel, a loving father.
After what seemed like an eternity, the children ran to their mother’s side. The woman who was full of laughter a few minutes earlier as she sat with her children was on the cold floor, in a pool of own blood.
Vincent’s sister held the limp hand of her mother and screamed.
They had watched scenes of death on TV. But nothing had ever prepared the children for what they saw. The TV dramas did not equip them with skills to deal with what was before them. They ran out screaming. Neighbours came to see what was wrong.
What happened after that was too fast for Vincent to distinguish between reality and nightmare. The children went through the burial of their mother like zombies.
No one came near them. No one thought they needed a counsellor to help them cope. The mourners just said, “Pole” from safe distances. Their father has been in prison since then, serving a life sentence.
After the funeral, the children were taken in by a maternal aunt.
“She gave us love, no doubt, but we never talked about our mother and the circumstances of her death. Our father’s name never came up. Other children refused to play with us. Adults admonished sons and daughters who tried to befriend us. The three of us had to be the best of friends, providing each other the shoulder to lean on,” says Vincent.
This rejection was a heavy burden, but they bore their lot stoically. They buried all their energy in books. They performed exceptionally in exams and passed without much fanfare.
Now, at 28, Vincent is a medical doctor, his brother a lawyer and his sister a financial expert.
But Vincent’s rejection has revived the pain he has tried to quell over the years and lead a normal life. But, it seems, it is part of him; his burden to carry.
Basically, Vincent’s life and that of his siblings is ‘normal’ outwardly. But, he says, if nothing is done to help child victims of violence deal with the trauma at the family and national level, many will transition into adulthood as ill-adjusted individuals.