Mother changed her clothing immediately. She half tied her head tie, half tied her wrapper that she knotted above her abdomen and told me to go to the police station with her. On getting to the police station, they would not allow us to see him. Mother inquired to see the DPO. The DPO told her that it was above his pay grade that this case was assigned to him from the top. Mother similarly pleaded for her acclaimed good son who she claimed had been apprehended by mistake. She appealed with the DPO to name his price. The DPO once again told her, “Madam, are you not hearing me, I said this is above my pay grade.” She would plead until the DPO asked her to leave so he could attend to other cases.
As it seemed, we had walked a walk of shame. If it weren’t mother, I wouldn’t go on that kind of rescue mission with anyone. It still baffled me how mother overlooked all the obvious signs that Uche could be guilty, perhaps guilty of anything. Because he had now become strange to me. He had become distant, like someone I did not know anymore. The bond siblings shared he had swept under the carpet. I didn’t know what to believe about him any longer. If one told me that he was a cult member, I wouldn’t doubt it. If someone told me he had qualified as a standup robber who robbed banks, I likewise would believe because I could no longer understand who he was. I pitied him for where he was, I heard that in the cell, they had a Capone, one who controlled the cell. I only hoped that he would be on the Capone’s good side. I hoped that they would let him sleep for much longer on the ground as I also heard that they took turns to sleep on the ground as the cell was overcrowded. I also hoped that the stench of the overstayed urine and faeces in the rusted bucket will not numb his nostrils and make him throw up on the Capone. I only hoped he will be fine.
On the day of his trial, we were there, seated, observing the proceedings waiting for his turn. We did not include father. He told mother in an argument that lasted for over twenty minutes that he would never set his foot into the court room until Uche was convicted. Father said this with so much sureness like he was the judge, like he already knew the outcome as a fortune teller. I knew father was right. Within me I felt the same conviction that he was guilty. He was in chains when he was led in with Obinna, his toady eyed friend and two others I didn’t know. They were freed from their chains, arraigned and led to the duck one after the other to take a plea. At first charge, to my utmost surprise, Uche pleaded guilty to robbery but not to murder. Mother still had the same disbelief on her face, like he must have been forced into pleading guilty for robbery.
Throughout the year that his trial lasted, we were only allowed to see him at the court house. The lawyer mother had hired to represent him was young, freshly graduated from law school. Mother knew he was inexperienced, but she couldn’t afford an experienced lawyer. She had exhausted all her money in handing out envelops to the DPO, the DCO and other officers who feigned interest in helping with Uche’s case. Father never wanted any part of it. He didn’t even lend a listening ear to mother’s crudities of he is your son too, will you let our son die in prison? Before now, when father complained to mother about what Uche was becoming, mother would say, “he is my son and still a kid. He will change when he grows.”
So, she kept hoping that Uche will change when he grew. Probably for mother Uche could still be that baby that formed in her for nine months, making her legs swell, her taste pale, her smell nausea, that she carried in her arms and that cried at midnight and would not stop until she pressed her nipple into his tiny succulent lips.
Mother stopped going to her shop in Ariara Market, she gave her remaining stocks of wrapper, jewelries at prices that could fetch her quick cash as was demanded by the greedy police men who tricked her with false hopes that allowed her to continuously lubricate their pockets. I remember father telling mother that Uche would never be released. Mother would curse father saying that it will never be well with him, “how will you say that my son will never be released.”
Uche had now become a wage between mother and father. He had become the catastrophe that always kept them at loggerheads. Mother had started to pray and fast for days without eating a thing. She had started to grow pale and gawky. That was when I knew that sickness was not only a thing of the body but could also be of the mind. She had started to pray more in the Nigerian Pentecostal way. Not that she wasn’t praying fanatically before, but after Uche got arrested and charged, she upped her Pentecostal prayers. She would wake in the middle of the night screaming, denouncing the devil that had accused Uche and demanding that the devil set Uche free. She would cry a feigning cry of sorrow while bounding the devil and casting the demons in the prison walls that held Uche to set him free. During those nights, I would wake up, plug my ears and try to sleep again. But I know that father never slept again.
On the last day of his trial, father had agreed to come with us after a full night of persuasion from me. I pleaded with him even if it was the last time he would see him. We were all seated when they brought him in with Obinna and some others I didn’t care to carefully look at. They came in, lined up, walking behind one another. They were gawky, gawkier than mother was. If not for the birthmark on Uche’s left cheek, the one that almost would have been the map of Chad, I would not have recognised him. His cheek bones were fully shaped. He was fleshless. He walked like one whose strength had waned. Maybe it was true that they only fed them a spoonful of half cooked beans a day, and the prison warden diverted the remaining funds for prisoners’ upkeep and basic amenities for personal aggrandisement. No wonder mother would always cook sumptuous meals for him and carry it to him to eat before the judge came in. He would eat like a hungry dog, gulping spoonful like one who had not seen food for weeks. Maybe he hadn’t. These were the moments I pitied him more and wished that mother hadn’t excused his misgivings while we were growing.
During the last proceedings, the young lawyer had argued for Uche stating how remorseful he felt for his act, “if given another chance in the larger community, he would act responsibly.” He said. I believe mother had pressed those words into his lips. But to think of it, had Uche really changed? Would he be a responsible citizen if given the opportunity to join the larger society, live in our home, and be brotherly to me again?
The judge pronounced his verdict, “The accused persons who live at Beaverton Estate at Aba in Abia, were found guilty of a three-count charge of conspiracy, armed robbery and murder. The defendant is hereby sentenced to death for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, for armed robbery and murder.” The judge continued, “Having found that the accused persons are guilty as charged on three counts, they shall be hung by the neck until they are dead, may the Lord have mercy on you,” Justice Okoro said that the offences committed contravened Section 6(b) and was punishable under Section 1(2)( a) of the Robbery and Firearms (special provisions) Act, Cap Rll Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
I saw the tear drops streaming down mother’s cheeks; the tears were helpless, deranged and sorry for having excused all his misgivings. Mother would have wanted to playback the hands of time to when Uche was a baby to tap his forehead when he beat her nipples with his gums, caution him when he took out the larger chunk of meat from the pot, the chunk that was meant for father without asking for her permission, probably siding with father to hand him over to the police the time that father’s one hundred and fifty thousand naira was missing. Maybe and just maybe, he wouldn’t have been in this mess, a mess that has sent his life overboard.
I could see the tears forming in father’s eyes when Uche looked back at him in an expression of if I had known better, if I had listened to you.
He was convicted and led away to spend the rest of his life behind bars until the hang man came for him, Obinna and the others that were sentenced to death that same day for other crimes I didn’t pay attention to and didn’t care to know. That was the last time I, father and mother would set our eyes on Uche. After they were led back into the Green Maria, we walked with heavy legs in deep thoughts of what ifs into the old rickety Mercedes Benz that father will never give up for sale.