The crickets chirps from outside, coupled with Daniel’s heavy snores, made for a discorded musical piece in Femi’s room. He finally gave up his search for sleep, and turned his face upwards on his top bunk bed, staring into the ceiling of his dimly-lit prison room. Irritated by Daniel’s disturbing snores, Femi let out an exhausted sigh. His new room and bunkmate snored so loudly, you would think a trailer with a congested exhaust was passing by. At twenty, the kid was serving time for robbery. Everyone here had a story. Daniel’s was rolling with the wrong gang.
One thing he knew was-Daniel had no place here, not enough guts to survive here anyway. Less than a week in the state prison, already he had become a prey to the bullies, save for his intervention. Without the few people like him who cared here, Daniel would suffer. The young man was much of a sissy, sometimes Femi wondered where he got the courage to lift a gun. But then, people like him procured authority from wielding a weapon with so much power.
Femi watched through the metal bars as a young warder did his late night round, holding a lamp to light his way. Eighteen years in here had gotten him acquainted with every rule. Light out was for ten, and with the way the stubby man flashed his lamp into every cell, he could tell it was already. The light shone briefly into his room, and then it disappeared down the hall.
The prison had become a home to Femi, he had made it so. He had long rid his mind of any chance of release because there was none. “Life imprisonment.” The judge’s words, re-echoed in his head. Even if he wanted out, which he did not, there was nothing out there for him, nothing to look forward to. He had lost everything; his kids, and his wife. If only he could turn back the hands of time and right his wrongs, he thought to himself.
Ever since he heard of Tobi and Pelumi’s accident, his worry had heightened. When Tobi had missed the visit to him three weeks ago, he had had a hunch that something had gone wrong. But he had thought there had been a change in plans concerning Pelumi. Right from the start, he knew it was a bad and impossible choice when Tobi had promised to convince his sister to pay him a visit. If the daunting look in her eyes eighteen years ago was anything to go by, he was sure she would never agree. But then, that part that craved for his youngest kid would not let him give up hope. Tobi’s enthusiasm had been infectious. Femi had allowed himself to hope. Not seeing Tobi in three weeks gave credence to his hunch.
Kamiye had proved that theory when she finally called to tell him a couple of days back about the accident, and the dire state of his daughter. The pain had been hard. Made worse by the inability to do anything about it as he is confined to these walls for the rest of his life. Femi would give anything to go back to the start, and change everything, change every decision and step if it was a mite possible. Starting with his wife, Olaide, the best gift he ever had but had not cherished enough.
Olaide being the wonderful woman she had been had loved and accepted him for all his flaws. She was the only true woman who had not stayed with him for his inherited wealth, and had stuck by him even when things had started to go rough. Yet, he had thrown all that to the wind, trampled on that love, made the last part of their marriage a hell for her, unintentionally sent her to an early grave, and he, on the other hand, was doomed to re-living his past life and mistakes for eternity, all for a mistake from Olaide’s past and some rumour.
For years, Femi had blamed a lot of things for his misfortune, starting with the government. At a point, he believed them to be the cause of his crumbled business empire, and his entire calamity. Longe’s Cocoa had been in the family for years. First belonging to his grandfather. His grandfather had started out as a farmer. With persistence and love for cultivation coupled with the friendly soil in the south, he raised a big cocoa plantation of its time, and had partnered with the government, and had made it the leading cocoa exporting company in the country. All that changed since the discovery of crude oil in the late nineteen-fifties. The government had backed out slowly at first, gradually withdrawing its funds and aids for the company, until all attention was shifted to crude oil, paying agriculture meager attention. For a really long time, Longe’s Cocoa managed with no help from the government under his father’s supervision. When Femi inherited the company after his father’s death, things had fared well for about twenty years until harsh economic realities and government lip service towards agriculture made it impossible. Longe’s Cocoa had crashed, leaving him broke, and frustrated.
The last years had been the toughest. Femi had resorted to alcohol as an escape from real life until he became an alcoholic. Most times, he would come home drunk, and vented his anger on Olaide. Sadly, his freedom only lasted as long as the alcohol remained in his system. As quick as the next morning, he was back to reality, with the weight of the world and guilt of his actions the previous night crashing on him. He could not blame Pelumi for hating him. For what it is worth, he had also hated himself as well. He had been a monster.
At a point, he blamed it on his polygamous background. The senior Longe had married two women, of which his mother had been the first, and had birthed him alone. There were complications during his birth so she could not have more children, and the senior Longe, being a typical African, had taken another wife to expand his family. His step-mother had borne him eight more kids, a venture she’d considered herself successful at (if baby making was to be regarded as one).
Then Femi lost his mother, which automatically earned him more attention from his father, and increased envy. His inheritance of Longe’s Cocoa after his father’s demise had been the final blow to them all. As the first child, it was only natural he inherited it. Not like they ever complained to his face, but he had overheard a few hushed words behind him. Obviously, they were not satisfied with his position, especially as he had no one.
At the time, when things were tough for Longe’s cocoa, there had been rumours that his siblings had orchestrated the crumbling of it by fetish means, though there was no way of verifying it-even if he admitted to his step-siblings being diabolical. The fact remained that Longe’s Cocoa had lost its assistance, they could not cope, so they crumbled. Period!
But then, doubts started to arise when he lost Olaide. Just like a friend had told him, he had probably been hypnotized by some spell causing him to kill her. He agreed to that theory in a way, because, in his full senses, he would never hurt Olaide-at least not intentionally. The usual Femi would have been rational enough to find out the truth before taking any step.
But all that was now in the past, as he’d finally accepted full responsibility for his actions. No one had made him a drunkard, but him. No one had made him lose his wife and kids, but him. Not the government or some diabolical powers.
And now he could only appreciate Tobi’s forgiveness and compassion. Although the father-son bond was missing, Femi was grateful for the second chance with his son, also praying that Pelumi would find the courage to forgive him like her brother had. Femi never dwelt on false hopes of things returning to how they used to be, but he needed to see Pelumi’s face again, needed to hear her speak, needed to see what eighteen years had made of her. And perhaps, she would tell him why she had run from her aunt’s all those years ago.
When news got to him many years back that she had left her aunt’s unannounced, he had been worried sick and had even asked God to take him. That had been his worst ordeal ever. It was a different experience knowing you had kids, and you were not talking, and an entirely different one to have missing kids. He had thought she was dead, everyone had. Until Tobi had found her two years back, all grown and made. At twenty-eight, Pelumi had made a name for herself as a renowned journalist, and he did not mind in the least she never referred to him. Who would if their father was a prisoner, he reasoned. Anyway, he was proud of her, proud of them both and that was all that mattered. And the fact that she’d retained her last name after all this time was as much an honour and surprise. But then everything about Pelumi was. To whatever had kept her from changing names, Femi was grateful.
And with his eyes closed, Femi prayed to God to heal both of his children, and awaken Pelumi. He also allowed himself a bit of hope and belief that God would hear him a second time, just like when he had asked him to keep them safe years back. Finally, he sealed it with a last wish; a second chance with Pelumi.