“There was no other way to get at him”, she said, her left hand rubbing her right shoulder comfortingly as she took a deep sigh and began the story.

“His name was John Emeka Johnson. Everybody that knew him always put his English name together with his surname and called him Johnjohnson. Johnjohnson had always been stubborn. Right from childhood he would steal the meat from his mother’s pot and blame the househelp for it. He would break the expensive glass potware his mother kept in the store for special occasions just because he loved the way it would shatter into thousands of tiny shards; and the moment his mother came running he would blame the househelp. And although Caro was five years older than Johnjohnson, she would burst into tears knowing fully well that proclaiming her innocence would be of no use to Mrs. Johnson who despised her immensely and who would immediately proceed to removing her leather slippers and flogging the girl with the iron tip until she had welts all over her back.

You see, Johnjohnson was a precious child, having saved Mrs. Johnson from being thrown out of her matrimonial home after almost ten years of barrenness. He was the only offspring of his mother and she had spoiled him rotten. His father on the other hand didn’t care much what his son did as long as he made good grades in school. And johnjohnson knew not to offend his father whose palms seemed to be thick as tree bark, for then that thick palm would fall with a vengeance on his face and back. It was whispered once or twice that the spirit that bothered the man bothered his son as well, but then maybe we will talk about that later.

Johnjohnson’s stubbornness followed him to adolescence and brought companions along with it. Anger issues turned to rage and theft became an easy pastime. Johnjohnson never took responsibility for anything that went wrong in his life and so the blame would always be transferred to someone else.

Remember the househelp, Caro? She was Mr. Johnson’s illegitimate child from another woman, whose mother had died during childbirth. One would think that Mr. Johnson would love and cherish her seeing that he wasn’t exactly gifted with fruitfulness, but on the contrary Mr. Johnson despised her. It was rumoured that it wasn’t all ordinary, that Mrs. Johnson had concocted heavy juju for Mr. Johnson to make him hate his own child. Others said the spirit in him would not have let him love anyone else beside himself anyway. Caro had nowhere else to go and took all the blame for Johnjohnson’s behavior right into adulthood. From her numerous unjust punishments she learned long-suffering and patience. She learned humility and sacrifice. Strength and fortitude were beaten into her and she grew up to be a woman who could weather any storm.

No one bothered her about her studies; indeed, she was more than grateful that the Johnsons had allowed her to go to school at all. Initially she worked hard to make her father and step mother proud but then she realized that the more excellent her scores were, the angrier Mrs. Johnson became at her for outshining her son. On more than one occasion her step mother had compared her class performance with that of Johnjohnson and suddenly and surreptitiously given her an inexplicable hard knock on the head. Caro learned from these little lessons that it was wise to hide her intelligence from her family members. And so she did.

Johnjohnson on the hand became worse. He killed the neighbor’s chickens for fun. He shot down with his catapult all the lizards in his compound and kept their corpses under the generator until they began to stink. He was a bully at school and stole the homework of the smart students for copying. Anyone who stood up to him was mercilessly beaten until it became a habit of the class to finish your assignment and then hand it over to Johnjohnson to copy before the teacher came in because if the teacher came in and asked who had done their homework and you had, and you scored higher than Johnjohnson, then woe betide you.

Johnjohnson also learned to stand up to his father. When he was caught in one of his many nefarious acts and brought before his dad, he would puff his chest out and straighten his back, thus standing taller than his usual height. He would look his father in the eye and tell him to do his worst. His father, in a rage that his son was standing up to him would deliver a blow to the son that would make Mike Tyson green with envy and alarm the neighbours into pleading on the boy’s behalf. Johnjohnson would pee his pants and pass out initially after much beating but soon he got used to it and started to strike back. One day when he was in his late teens he hit his father so hard the man fell on his back with a loud thud. Mrs. Johnson screamed and ran to her husband, fearing the worst. But instead Mr. Johnson had sat up, looked at his son with a grin on his bearded face and nodded his approval. Father and son bonded that day in a way no one, not even Mrs. Johnson could explain.

*

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