My father took me to the market in Owerri once when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t want to go with him. I was at that age when parents embarrassed the hell out of a teenager. And by this time I was finding my father a bloody embarrassment all the time.
He made me walk ahead of him. As usual the traders in the market started groping me and pulling me and appreciating God’s work in rather lewd Igbo grammar. Usually I pushed them away and told them off and shopped with the least offensive and quietest of the lot.
I tried to brush them off and ignore them in my usual manner but my father pounced on each and everyone of them.
“What are you looking at? Why are you touching her? Are you mad?”
The wise ones slunk away, the brash ones tried to stand up to him. Big mistake. No one stood up to my father. When he used that tone of voice he expected complete and immediate compliance. And he didn’t hesitate to use his fists to enforce compliance.
I don’t remember much else about that day except wanting the ground to open up and swallow me while he argued and fought his way through the market. I must have bought something but I can’t remember what it was.
Most of the male members of his extended family behaved in a similar manner when we were out together.
“What you looking at?” they would demand aggressively of any poor sod that happened to look my way with more than appropriate interest.
My fathers family were well known in the village for their quick temper and quick fists. It was well known that a fight with one of them would bring the entire family coming to the rescue and support of their own. It was a large family. They didn’t ask what happened till the threat was eliminated and everyone at home and accounted for. They were like the marines or the army like that.
One guy got beat to a pulp for calling me names. One of my cousins still has an impressive facial scar to remind me of the incident. He uses it to manipulate me regularly.
“Ah ah. I took a knife for you nah. See, sixteen stitches, because of you” he would say pointing to the scar that dragged the line of his lips into a perpetual half frown. It didn’t feel right to remind him that I hadn’t asked or even expected him to fight for me much less take a a nasty cut to his once handsome face although he is still handsome in a rakish beat up way.
I didn’t appreciate my violent protectors back in those days. I didn’t even know that I needed them. I was clueless, it didn’t occur to me that something bad could happen or that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself if it did. After all I knew how to use a knife.