The first slap seemed like a slap that could cause bright stars with sparks. The slap must have induced a dizziness so intense because Becky had grabbed the nearest thing to steady herself pity it was a plastic chair which gave way at her touch and she toppled to the ground.
“Get up! Get up you idiot!” screamed Tonia. “Today, I will skin you alive. You think you can gossip about me and go scot free?! You lie!” and with that exclamation, she kicked Becky who lay cowering while doing her best to shield vital organs from Tonia’s wrath.
It would take two men to pull her of off Becky amidst her shouting every expletive there was in the book. That was our Tonia for you. Wild as a wolf and just as deadly. I don’t know how she became like this because as a child, she had always been soft spoken and gentle but, the lady before me, was anything but.
I didn’t even attempt to go near her as she fumed obviously angry that she had not been allowed to completely deal with Becky. The weird thing was, she and Becky were really good friends but with this fracas, I knew that friendship had been laid to rest.
Back at home still very wary of a now saner Tonia, I busied myself with preparing dinner. “Tonia, I called out… “make I put your mouth join for the food?” I got no response instead, she appeared in the kitchen quietly watching me. The hairs at the back of my neck stood as I had come to fear Tonia now.
I looked back at her and asked again if she would like to eat but she shook her head and kept watching me which only heightened my discomfort. “I must have scared you back there with what I did right?” not expecting her to speak, I started a little at the sound of her voice. I shrugged but I could see she wasn’t buying my attempt at indifference.
“It’s just that, I cannot abide when people try to belittle me in any way and Becky’s gossip was the worst form of it ever. I just could not take it.” I nodded as if to say I understood. I mean, what was I supposed to say? The wrong thing could see my head slammed into one of the walls in the kitchen or worse so, I chose to keep quiet.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” I looked at her again and against my better judgment, spoke up. “Tonia, I have never seen you react the way you did. It was like you became a completely different person altogether” shrugging, I took the plunge “everybody complains about your temper and that’s why we all avoid you but the funniest thing is, you never used to be this way when we were little so, what happened?”
It was the moment of truth. It was either Antonia gave me an answer or I would get the pummeling of the century from my cousin because if she could beat up her good friend, then, who was I? She chose the former thank goodness for that. Sighing deeply, she said to me, “my dad and mum always had issues with everything I did. They were always on my case no matter how hard I tried. Do you know that my dad used to beat me so bad that I would end up wetting myself and when he didn’t, just the merest hint of violence and I would either wet myself if I didn’t catch it on time or I would feel the need to pee badly while he screamed at me.”
She continued “I began to see myself as worthless and soon did my best not to be noticed by anyone but no matter what, the beatings continued. One time, my mum had been teaching me basic mathematics and I had gotten one wrong so she hit me with a broken car antenna that had been lying around and when I put my hand on the spot, there was blood. That’s the kind of house I lived in.”
I was shocked but before I could say anything to that effect, Tonia was speaking again. “This would continue through my teenage years and I became introverted. In school, I was afraid to answer even the simplest of questions for fear of ridicule. I buried myself in music and books. I could travel in my mind and get lost in the music. Nothing and no one could hurt me there. Music and books never judged me. They understood me, they accepted me.”
“In all of this, it was a surprise to find that as I grew, the opposite sex found me interesting and soon, I got a boyfriend whom I adored to bits but one day, in what I wouldn’t even call an argument, he hit me. We had been standing at the time facing each other while he went on and on about my attitude. He called me a small child and mocked me. Of course, I had responded with some smart mouthed response and wham, he slapped me.”
It was a bit of a shock really as I never felt that outside my mum and dad, another person could hit me. After the slap, I had looked up at the ceiling for a while wondering what to do when I decided it would be a very good idea to slap him right back so, I let my hand fly but he was too quick for me and stepped out of reach before my hand could connect with his face and then, wham! He returned with another slap of his own. I picked up my stuff and left although he did apologize but Nkiru…I just was in no mood for any apologies.”
Man, was I shocked at what Tonia was spilling. It still didn’t answer how she had gotten to be the overly aggressive chick she now was but I sure could see where it’s foundation begun. I had wanted to say something sympathetic about her plight but she had gone back to narrating her story with this weird glaze in her eyes making it clear that she had gone back in time mentally so I kept quiet and let her talk.
“I broke up with Mike after that” she was saying “and then, stayed on my own for a long time. I was tired of being pushed around. Do you know that even in high school …Arit? You remember Arit?” (I did vaguely remember Arit. Some skinny Calabar girl other than that, she was a blur in my mind but I still nodded).
“Arit bullied me so much?” “She was a very big part of why I never hung out with anyone. She made my life a living hell and I couldn’t tell anyone. Heck Nkiru, who could I tell? My mum whose words could sting or my dad who found the slightest reason to beat me up? Nope, I was totally alone. Thank goodness that those days are over ay?” She laughed somberly and I could only look at her equally somberly.
“Any way” she continued; now in university, I came across these chicks who lived off campus and I enjoyed the camaraderie. They did everything together and they accepted each other and I was dying to be included in their group. Finally, a place where I could just be me so, when a vacancy came up in the compound, I quickly scooped it up. If I only knew then, what I know now.”
“The girls were really nice but there was this one girl who had it in for me and went the extra mile to hurt me every chance she got. We had a communal shower room but this girl would lock the door and go away with the key just so I couldn’t have my bath. I endured it and kept quiet. Thankfully, I had a large balcony as my flat was upstairs so I resorted to bathing outside when everywhere was dark so that no one could see me and that was how I survived TeeKay… that was her name.”
One day however, things would brilliantly come to a head as I hung out with another flat mate in the compound. TeeKay came rushing out of her own room, screaming and shouting. Of course seeing as she wasn’t referring to anyone, we continued with our gist when suddenly, TeeKay burst into the room with a broom and attacked me. See, Nkiru, the truth is, had she come at me ordinarily, I wouldn’t have done anything. I would probably have taken the beating as was customary but she chose to come at me with a broom and only my mum had ever done that. I lost my mind. Did this bitch intend to beat me up as if she were my mother? I saw red. I just snapped. All that anger of being pushed around just came rushing back. My father, my mother, my friends from high school, my boyfriend…everybody. The last thing I remember was being pulled off TeeKay who was bleeding badly from her mouth apparently as someone would later tell me, I had kicked her repeatedly in the face and her eyes were swollen shut. She lay whimpering as I stood panting and heaving, horrified at what I had just done to a fellow human being even though she pushed me to it.”
With a heavy sigh, Tonia concluded with “and that was how it began. Any time I feel slighted or taken for granted even over silly things, I lose it and only until I have decimated the object of my anger will I stop. I feel bad because that is not who I really am but what can I do. I am a victim of my past.”
“Don’t say that” I carefully chided her. “You can change this behavior if you so desire. All you have to do is make the conscious effort not to give in to rage and anger when it comes. Also, you have to forgive your parents and all whom you feel have wronged or hurt you. Only then will you be able to get past this and come out better for it. Thing is, only you can do this, only you can choose to either be held back by your past or move forward.”
Tonia nodded and thanked me but before she could utter another word, there came a knock at the door. Turns out it was Becky spoiling for another fight but this time, she had come with back up. I quickly turned off my cooking and ran to the door in the hopes of de-escalating the situation. There was Becky screaming in Tonia’s face. Pointing fingers and shoving her. Suddenly as if in slow motion, Tonia turned, looked at me and smiled. I knew at that very moment that she had lost the battle of wills that had been going on inside her. The smile was so creepy, it looked like it belonged on Hannibal Lecter than on Tonia face and before I could do anything, Tonia had Becky in her grip. It was almost graceful to watch Tonia move. She was lithe like a dancer and swift like a boxer. She gave new meaning to the words float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Somehow, Tonia had managed to get Becky in a choke hold and wouldn’t let go. Fearing for Becky’s life, people began using sticks, belts and all to get Tonia to lose her grip all, to no avail. Becky began making guttural noises but no one could pry her loose from Tonia. We tried, believe me, we all tried but not until Becky went limp in Tonia’s grip did she finally let go.
Becky was unconscious or so we thought. Those who knew how to, felt her pulse but there was none. I vaguely remember someone shouting “bring water, bring water!” Even that didn’t help. Becky was dead. You could see the shock register on Tonia’s face from bravado to fear. Everyone was shocked at what had happened. Nobody could move. Heck, no one knew what to do so we all turned towards Tonia.
Still trying to maintain an air of calm which we all saw through, she blurted out “but I didn’t tell her to come here na, Nkiru shebi you and I were here all along. Why did she now have to come here looking for trouble?” She said this while trying to revive a clearly dead Becky. It must have been at that moment that the impact of her actions hit her. “Jesus, Jesus help me” she kept muttering as she futilely tried to revive Becky. The mob turned angry and besieged Tonia who hid behind me as I did my best to shield her from them. They wanted blood. Tonia’s blood. I could feel her shaking obviously frightened that she had murdered somebody. I tried my best but she was dragged from behind me but just before the first blow landed, Becky coughed, gulping in air at the same time. Never has the sound of someone hacking up a lung sounded so sweet.
There was a collective shout of astonishment which immediately turned to people rallying round the fallen Becky whose throat having been rubbed raw could not speak as she was led away by the crowd that had followed her there. “God saved you today” some muttered at Tonia as they led the now grateful to be alive Becky away. “God really saved you.” One or two kept on muttering as they left and that was the end of fighting for Tonia. I do not know if she ever forgave her parents but I do know that, that day, was quite the wakeup call for Tonia. A day she would never forget.