|Family Praying in a Church.
Image: The Catholic Sun
To get acquainted with the Jatau family, flip to the beginning; ‘DAD, MUM…YOU FAILED US!’
She returned with chilled glasses of orange juice for everybody. ‘I diluted yours Dad, Mum. Y’all are too old for such sweetness.’
No one but Oliver seemed ready to take their drinks. Oliver gulped his and reached out to take Annabel’s. The look she gave him would have quelled a more sensitive man. He shrugged and reclined further into his seat.
Elizabeth felt she could continue. ‘Mum, as much as you love us, you do not want us to have a mind of our own. You want us to look like you and act like you do. My personality is similar to yours but even at that, we are very different. The more different we are to you, the less tolerant you are of our views. You may have taught us to be strong women, but you only want us to be strong as long as we are not going against you. That is not fair mummy.’
‘You asked me for my view before you divorced dad and that was the only moment I felt connected to you.’ Annabel continued immediately. ‘You spoke to me like an adult and when I told you I would rather have you alive than dead, I meant it. I am also glad that you did not wage a custody battle for us. You knew that, with the messed up constitution we have, you would not have stood a chance’.
Annabel gave a sign and her sisters came to her. They were now facing their parents again.
‘There are so many issues that we can mention but we will let them slide for now. This is the summary. Dad, you were not a good father to us. You were selfish, unbothered and inappropriate with us. Gosh! You used to bring your girlfriends to the house for sleepovers! You disrespected us and treated us no better than strangers. Mum, you took your anger out at us and sometimes beat us to the point of abuse. We understand that you grew up in a different generation with different values and different ways of life but we have friends whose parents were in your generation and are completely different from you!’
After a quick breath, Annabel continued. ‘Dad, Mum…’ her sisters rallied closely around her. Robert stiffened. Something major seemed about to happen. Mr. Jatau looked up and looked at each of his daughters. For the first time that night, he also looked at his ex-wife. They shared a look and quickly looked away. Somehow, they knew that the next words out of Annabel’s mouth would shatter them…probably more than they could bear. The tears started flowing again from Annabel’s eyes. ‘…I am not getting married. There is no one coming in for any introduction. This was just a ruse to get both of you in one room to talk about this family.’
It was Oliver who reacted first. ‘What?! WHAT?! ARE YOU MAD?! ALL THE HUGE PREPARATIONS AND NOTHING IS HAPPENING?!’
‘Shut up Oliver!’ both parents shouted. It was a sync that was long coming! Oliver shut up faster than a hat could drop. He mumbled a bit to himself and finally became quiet.
Mr. Jatau looked sharply at his children and sat up straighter. A shiver of fear ran down their spines; all of them. They might all be grown up but they knew that no one messed with their father.
‘Can you say that again?’ His voice was quiet yet menacing.
Annabel couldn’t find her voice. She was shivering and fidgeting. She looked at her sisters and Robert. Robert looked away. Sandra squeezed her hand and Elizabeth coughed. No one seemed willing to be the one who would dare respond. As Annabel fidgeted, Elizabeth cleared her throat and continued. ‘You know how in Africa, you don’t just marry the girl/boy, you marry the family? Well, you raised us poorly and worse, you put your business out there for everyone to see so, if we were to go by your history and African values, we are not a family that anyone would like to marry into.’
Drawing courage from Elizabeth, Annabel found her voice. ‘You messed up our lives. You refused to think of our future. Many men have come for my hand and turned away because their family didn’t want such a dysfunctional family as in-laws. So I only dated men who were as broken as I was so that I wouldn’t have to face the pain of rejection again. Our family is too warped to be good enough for any other African family. And that is why we are here today.’ She paused to fill her lungs. After exhaling slowly, she continued. ‘We grew up hating you; most especially me. I hated you dad, as much as I hated mum. I couldn’t stand you. As soon as I got an opportunity to leave the house, I left for good. I wouldn’t have come back home if Sandra hadn’t spoken to us’. She looked up at Sandra and smiled. She ruffled her hair and faced their parents again. ‘She might be the youngest, but she is the wisest of us all. She has been praying for the restoration of this family and when she came to live with me a year ago, she got me talking about this family. Soon, we invited Elizabeth and Robert and we started having family sessions to iron things out.’
‘You might have hurt us but it turned out for good. We are all intelligent, independent girls who have learned to be the best to ourselves and to the world. While we suffered lack in the house, we never resorted to selling our values for our needs. We learned to make do with what we had and have. Most other girls would have thrown them self at any Tom, Dick or Harry to make ends meet. Not us! Our situation made us develop self-esteem that was far above what was normal and that kept us in check. We learned to work hard and trust GOD and we learned to avoid all the potholes we saw in this family. It was hard! Trust me, it was! Annabel dated lots of guys because she couldn’t commit to one man who could ruin her life. She still doesn’t ever want to get married but we are still praying for that.’ Elizabeth ended by playfully shoving Annabel.
‘I am still not getting married! And y’all can’t make me.’ Annabel retorted.
Sandra smiled. ‘Never say never. You swore you will never talk to Dad after your epic fight yet here you are. Anyway, Mum, Dad, we just want to put this out there. You hurt us. Really bad! You nearly messed up our lives. We are broken and are just getting healed by the love that we have found in GOD. For years, we disliked…’
Annabel cut in, ‘…hated..’ Sandra gave Annabel a mock stink look and continued. ‘…DISLIKED you. But today, we are all here to tell you that we love you…and we forgive you. As hard as it is, we forgive you. And we want to tell you individually. Rob, let us start with you.’
Robert looked at the floor. ‘Dad, even though you never treated me like your own son, even though you thought to ignore me, you gave me a home when I couldn’t return to mine because of my romance with gang violence. You ensured that I ate three square meals and all the perks. Today, I’m a married man who has learned so much and is learning more. When I fight with my wife, I settle quickly to prevent a deterioration of my home. So Dad, I forgive you. You are the father I know; far better than my own father. Thank you for being there for me.’ He sank into the couch as soon as he was done.
‘Elizabeth, your turn.’ Sandra whispered.
‘There were times I wished I was born into a totally different family; one that didn’t have so much dysfunction. But I thank GOD for this family because it made me stronger. It built my strength and pushed me to become better. I am a great woman and my family has contributed to that strength. So, I forgive you Mum. I forgive you dad’.
Sandra and Elizabeth looked at Annabel. ‘Before Annabel starts, Oliver, do you want to say anything?’
Oliver, looking emotional, sat up and faced his parents. ‘I have not been to their sessions but then again, I am not one to hold a grudge. I learned that from you, Dad. I cannot pretend that all those times you put me down didn’t hurt me; they did! But hearing my sisters voice out their issues, I know I had it a bit better. I cannot say I forgive you because I still need to process these, but I will say that I am willing to work on it.’
It was Annabel’s turn. The shivers wouldn’t stop. Everyone knew that her biggest weakness was her inability to forgive. She could hold a grudge to eternity and back and would not be fazed. Sandra prodded her but she wouldn’t budge. She kept staring at the floor. Elizabeth prodded her too but she still wouldn’t budge. The longer she waited, the more tears fell. Her head was pounding and her nose running a mile.
‘We are all here because of you Annabel. You promised you would do this.’ Elizabeth pleaded.
Annabel raised her head up. She looked at her sisters. She looked at her father. She looked at her mother. She returned her gaze to the floor.
She got up from her seat and left the room. Sandra wanted to go after her. Elizabeth stopped her. ‘She will do this in her time. Let her be.’ Sandra sat back down. In three minutes, Annabel was back. She went straight to her father, sat on the armchair and put her arm around him. ‘You hurt me; a lot! I developed an aversion to love and commitment because I saw how Mum suffered for loving you. I never wanted to get married because I could not fathom being like Mum and ending up with a man like you. When you cheated on Mum, I felt like you cheated on me. When you hit Mum, I felt like you hit me. And when you broke her trust, I stopped trusting you; I stopped loving you. But today…I…’ she squeezed his shoulder ‘…I forgive you dad. I forgive you for hurting Mum, me, my sisters, my brothers, and worse, this family. I forgive you because you didn’t know any better. And even if you did, I still forgive you’.
She got up and went to her mum. She knelt in front of the mother she had never been close to.
‘Mummy, I am that little girl who just wanted you to love me. I was broken by how much anger you directed at me. I bruise easily and you bruised me every time you spoke those sharp words, every time you said “you are just like your father!”, every time you raised your hand to smack me. Yes! I am like my father! I look like him! I have a similar personality but I am also like you! My stubbornness and drive to be independent couldn’t have come from anyone else.’ She smiled and held her mother’s hand. Mrs. Jatau was crying. So was everyone else…including Mr. Jatau. ‘You are the only mother I have. I love you. And I forgive you.’
Annabel got up from her kneeling position and hurriedly left the room. Elizabeth and Roberts followed her. Sandra gave Oliver a signal and for the first time since she knew he was her big brother, he got it! He stood up and also went out. Sandra rushed to the door as Mrs. Jatau got up. She quickly went out and locked the door.
Mrs. Jatau went to the door and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. She yanked harder. It still wouldn’t budge. ‘Open this door right now! Sandra! Elizabeth! OPEN THE DOOR!’
Mr. Jatau’s phone started ringing. It was Annabel.
‘Why did you lock the door? Open it so your mother can go out.’ He said calmly.
‘Daddy, put the phone on loudspeaker.’
‘Mum, come closer to the phone. I have a message for both of you!’ Annabel shouted.
Her mum hissed and remained where she was.
‘She didn’t move, right?’ she asked as a smile crept into her voice.
‘Yes. She didn’t.’ Mr. Jatau said resignedly.
‘Well, I didn’t think she would. Anyway, you are locked in as you have figured out. All the exits are locked. Big ups to Sandra and Elizabeth for the juice and pee distractions. We want you to talk. We are not asking that you get back together. We just want you guys to talk. There is no need to be enemies after being divorced for 18 years. Quite frankly, we are sick of it. We want you to just talk; just put out all that anger and hatred and bitterness on the table and sort them out. We cannot have a family that is going through a cold war. The foundations of this family might have been faulty but we can repair it now…and we need you to help us in this process. Please, talk to each other and iron things out. And if you refuse to talk, be rest assured that we will not open this door, even if it takes forever. Love you guys. Ciao!’ and she hung up.
Mrs. Jatau went to the door and started knocking and shouting. She was threatening hell and tsunami when she heard that voice she hated.
‘There is no use putting this off any longer. I guess we have come to that point where we must talk about our failed marriage. So please, come and sit down.’ Mr. Jatau said.
Mrs. Jatau turned to him with a murderous look and you know it is about to go down!