Black Tax by Fortune Animiokhali was submitted in January 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #1 based on the writing prompt: Write a story about a character who has been victimized, but with a happy ending.
“TJ.” my mother called, I pretended not to hear her. I didn’t know what my mother was going to say but I was aware even at that age of the magnitude of her words every time we were together. I had heard that speech too much since I became a teenager. I was tired of getting heartbroken.
That night was my sixteenth birthday. I had begged my father for a small birthday party since I knew we couldn’t afford the elaborate ones like my classmates had. My father had agreed but my mother had disagreed and that we all knew was final. This wasn’t the reason I ignored my mother, I was not angry that she refused my birthday party, the one day I had been looking forward to my entire teenage life. I was mostly hurt that she couldn’t just allow it, even if it was a pretence.
“TJ.” My mother called again. I pretended not to hear her again. This had become our routine for a while. I avoided conversations with my mother because I knew it would end with her hurling words as sharp as a knife into my heart and even if I had heard it before, it didn’t stop it from hurting.
It had been that way since I could remember, her hurling words at everyone in our family especially me. My father would say I reminded her so much of her younger self and she couldn’t deal with it but I doubted that. I doubted a lot of things about my mother even at that age.
“Why aren’t you like other boys?” My mother would yell sometimes. Sometimes when she had too much to drink she would beat me with a book until dad came to drag her out looking at me pleadingly.
Dad never said anything when mom would hit me wanting to morph me into other football-loving and fighting boys, he would just sit there and listen. He never said anything when mom called me names not fitting for a teenager. Sometimes he would just look at me and walk away. Despite all this my father was my hero, I like to think now that his silence was how he got through living with my mother. That was his defence mechanism.
“TJ.” I heard my mother call again. I grudgingly tried to carry my feet to meet her but they refused. How do you walk knowingly to get your heart broken? There is so much a sixteen years old heart could take.
Momentarily I heard her footsteps become increasingly louder, aggressively walking to my room. I pulled my covers over my face. I heard her come in. I pretended not to notice when she sat on my bed just a few inches beside me. She patted my head.
“TJ, I know you are awake.” She said in the softest tone I had heard from her and that was also the last time it was directed at me.
“Your father has been involved in an accident.” She said patting my head softly. That was enough to jolt me out of my covers. Now that I think of it, I should have known that was the final straw to drive her over the edge. There was no longer anyone to pull her out when it got too much.
“Earth to TJ.” Tega’s voice cuts across, and I see he has been waving at me.
“Sorry, about that,” I say still absentminded, it is not unusual for me to zone out these days, to leave the present and loom into the darker past. It is not my choice either but everything even the most random objects reminds me of a memory I would like to forget.
“ Are we still going out for drinks tonight?” Tega says.
He is one of the few people who still chills with me, one of the very few who don’t think I have a drinking problem.
“Sure, I just need to send this email and wrap up. I will meet you there.”
Tega laughs, he knows I am always late, he chooses not to have a problem with it. I wonder if that is true friendship, the acceptance of who a person is or the indifference of who they can become.
“Happy Birthday again man,” he says and leaves a cream coated cupcake on my table before I can stop him. My phone beeps, I try my best not to look at it. It beeps again. It is Tiwa.
I know what she wants, it is that time of the year. Sometimes I imagine if we were shown the reel of our lives before living them would we have chosen differently? Tega thinks we may have still made wrong choices. My phone beeps again, I feel my hands ball into a fist, my heartbeat increases against my control. It feels like the walls of the office are closing in on me. It beeps again, this time a text from my mother.
“Tiwa’s school fee is due, we do not have to remind you all the time.” It reads. That does it because before I realize it my phone has made forceful contact with the wall.
No one ever talks about this, the forced transition you make into manhood when your father dies. How one minute you are a child and the next you have responsibilities no one thought to prepare you for. Of course, I cannot say this out loud. I can not talk about the gut-wrenching feeling of never being enough, because men do not talk about things like this.
This was so emotional…..most of us were raised to conceal and not feel
It’s a beautiful story
A standing ovation for this. Absolutely amazing.
This is really beautiful.
So touching… Beautiful beyond words.
I connected with this piece.
Beautiful writing and it’s relatable.