It was a beautiful Saturday morning… Catherine was sitting on her favorite Master-sized sofa, the largest one in the living room; fully relaxed and full of life. Her husband, Richard, was in the kitchen dishing out his food to eat while their son, Vince, was on his way out of the house, forgetting that he had household chores to do- ensuring the cleanliness of the house-sweeping, washing and cleaning.
As Vince was about getting the door to get out, His mom, looking a little concerned, asked: “Whose place are you going to?”
“Mom, by now, I think you should know where I’m going to!” Vince replied, pouring out his disappointment to the floor of her notice. “Every now and then, you’re fond of asking me of my whereabouts…Mom; don’t you know that I’m a grown young man of thirteen years?”
“Vince, what has come over you?” At that point, Catherine was a bit frightened. “Son, did I do you any wrong asking where you’re going at this time of the morning? This is just 7:30AM, you know…”
“Mom,” Vince interrupted in anger, “a lot has come over me! Mom…a lot! Of course, no thanks to you!!!”
She stood up from the sofa, stared at Vince, keeping mute for a couple of seconds. Her silence was broken soon afterwards. “Vince, have you washed the plates, cleaned the louvers, swept your room and ours?”
“Mom, I’ll do just that when I get home! By the way, I want to visit Oasis, my friend. His place is a few blocks away.”
It was Vince’s ‘I-don’t-care’ response that immediately caught the attention of Richard who just dished out his food, having taking his time to properly wash off the stubborn stains on the plates he wanted to use. He left the kitchen to attend to the matter.
“Vince, before you walk out that door, I’d love to have a word with you…”
Vince was reluctant to leave the door’s handle at first. But after a stern look from Richard, his reluctance gave way for submission as he left the door’s handle and positioned his body facing him-standing opposite, a few steps away. Richard left where he stood to sit on the Master-sized sofa. Seeing that his wife had been up-standing, looking sad, he lovingly said to her: “Honey, kindly sit with me…sweetheart, all will be fine”.
Catherine sat just by his side, holding passionately Richard’s hands as she stared at her frowning son, just five steps away from his initial position.
“Boy, can you come meet us over here?” Richard asked, gently breaking the bond of closeness with Catherine to let him sit at the middle.
Vince’s exuberance didn’t permit his obedience to unveil itself to his Richard. Richard wasn’t bothered. What mattered to him was his son is between Catherine and himself. Satisfied with what he’d seen, he set the ball of discussion rolling: “Vince, I was at the kitchen when I heard you yell at your mom over a question that didn’t call for it. You even went ahead telling her that you’re now a grown man of thirteen! Hmmm…It’s alright! But should you answer the way you just did?”
It was obvious Vince’s response didn’t come from a sober heart: His developed stony heart reflected his frowning face. Catherine’s face became colder than it was as she was staring at him. Again, that didn’t matter to Richard…he knew what he was aiming to achieve…
“Good! I want to figure out something…you said you’re a grown man of thirteen...meaning you’re an adolescent! You’re a teenager! Wow! Congratulations, Vince! Welcome to manhood! Before I get into the discussion proper, I’d like to ask, my son, ‘When will you be thirteen?’
“Right! That means you’re twelve for now, right?”
Vince’s frowning look was beginning to fade away as he smelt a rat in what he couldn’t place his finger on…the direction of his dad’s thought.
“Can you now say that you’re actually thirteen as at now?”
This time, Vince returned to his initial shell of frowning. Somehow, he knew his intelligence was being played upon. All the while, Catherine couldn’t hide the heaviness of her emotion. She poured it out in the form of tears, rolling out from her eyes but was able to prevent it from touching the floor by covering her face with her hands. Richard was unmoved, kept his calm and continued his talk with his son who wasn’t batting an eyelid to his mom’s feelings.
“Oh! Did I hear you say a ‘NO’? You must be kidding me! You told your mom you were a grown man of thirteen. Yet, you will be thirteen, come next month. I guess you can’t wait for it! Hmmm…ha ha ha. You’ve made me laugh! As you can see, your mom is shedding tears…don’t mind her face cover. Of course, no thanks to your rather exuberant behavior! Honey, wipe your tears…”
Catherine courageously wiped her tears.
“Honey, remember when we agreed to tell Charles Our Story, when he clocks thirteen?”
“Yes, my dear”. Catherine’s conscious reply knew no equal. Vince was looking up to the ceiling, waiting to have the discussion done with.
“I think we have to let the cat out of the bag. His wants to be exuberant…Yes, it’s natural, you know. Let’s tell him now before he loses it and like the old saying, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, the earlier Vince his told Our Story, the better for us all. What do you think?”
“I concur!” Catherine agreed.
“Before we begin Our Story, I’ll like to let you know a few things. Being a teenager is such a wonderful experience. It’s like a transition between boy-hood, as is your present state, to manhood. It’s where all of your physical characteristics like your height, shoulders and others begin to take proper shape. The cracking of your voice , the pubic hair in your armpit, your ‘private part’ area and others are what to be expected when you hit what scientist call ‘puberty’ or, in simple language, theage of maturity. In addition, the feeling that you have the world under your feet-doing things your own way, relating more with the opposite sex, engaging in exuberant activities like partying, smoking and drinking would want to make the best of you. And if permitted, Vince, such a teenager will, for the rest of his or her life, suffer.
Your mom and I were once teenagers like you. We heard fun, combined with the good, bad and ugly. The consequences of our actions of our teen years have made us who we are today. Therefore, on this basis… Vince, I will let your mom begin her story…Our Story”
Catherine adjusted herself properly, looking at the hung wedding picture of her and Richard, resting on the wall. She told her story:
I was the only child of my parents. Born and raised by disciplinarians, I was given the basic needs of life all through my childhood-food, best of education, shelter, clothes and above all, love and care. They ensured nothing lacked in my life because they had me quite later…after twenty years of staying married. Throughout my childhood, I was dad’s and mom’s girl until I turned fourteen…
The ‘devil’ in me began opposing their imposed strict life on me. I thought I’d reached the age where no one can control me like a robot. Dad would send me an errand like “go get me some foodstuffs across the street” but I’d refuse. I did the same to mom. I simply took advantage of their near-old age---they couldn’t exert the vigor as they used to. ‘So the world, I thought, ‘is under my feet! Hurray!’ Hmmm…Wonders shall never end.
Because of this loophole, I became friends with Joyce who would introduce me to the underworld of prostitution at age seventeen. To me, my life was about hitting the peak of freedom. Together with other friends, we’d hump from one club to the other, getting paid heavily for our ‘service’ by clients. Because of my age, I received what I saw as ‘big money’ than my older colleagues.
My lifestyle embraced alcoholism, smoking, every-day and night clubbing and indiscriminate sex. As a result, at about age nineteen, I’d committed nothing less than five abortions! My saving grace was that I didn’t contract any sexually transmitted infection but there was a great danger ahead.
On the streets of Far, the then hub of prostitutes, Joyce and I were moving around in search of potential customers when some armed men accidentally discharged three stray bullets to her chest. She died on the spot. I thought I was dead realized I’d been hospitalized for hours. How I got to the hospital is still to this day a mystery to me.
Somehow, the news of the incidence got to the notice of my parents whom I’ve ‘abandoned’ for years. Unfortunately, they both died as a result! Rumors have it that they both died of a heart attack. But how true they are ---I wouldn’t know. Each time I get to remember this, I feel hunted. After I heard they were both dead, I felt a little saddened at first. But that made me sink more in what was called hustling.
For the next seven years, I was into all kinds of men for money. I never cared what would happen to me, since I’m used to the herculean ‘job’. I’d just a certain clubhouse, dashing home when I collided with a stranger.
‘What’s wrong with you?!’ He asked, yelling at me, ‘look next time before taking a leap’
‘I’m sorry’ I apologized, taking a good look at his handsome face.
Though he was a stranger, I knew there was something special about him… I couldn’t just place my finger to it. I knew something in me was about to manifest. But I heard no idea of what it would be. As he was about leaving my presence, I said: ‘You’re good-looking and handsome. I’m Catherine and you…’
I thought he’d snub me, seeing my rather provocative dressing. To my utter surprise, he smiled. ‘I’m Richard by name!’
‘Do you mind if I asked you of your phone number?’
‘No, I don’t! This is my complimentary card. Please, have it. Call me anytime.’
He left my presence. It was then I was able to place a finger as to what made him special---It was done on me that Richard was the man for me! This was the strangest of all thoughts I’ve ever perceived in my entire life! A stranger I met the first time being my true love? ‘That’s unimaginable!’ one would say.
Beginning our conversation through phone, our just-built platonic friendship soon grew into a more intimate one. It was at this point I knew to turn a new leaf from my dirty old past would be in my interest. As our relationship blossomed, he thought me how to perceive life positively and see the true worth of myself. Through determination and with his support, I became dis-engaged from smoking, drinking and indiscriminate sex. I must confess it wasn’t an easy one…there were times where he’d catch me in the act…drinking, smoking and sometimes, ‘attending’ to a client. But he never gave up on me! At last, I gave up on them; embracing what was to come along---the responsibility of marriage.
I was nineteen at the time I met Richard. We dated for five years and eventually got married. The following year, I was blessed with a son and…that son is…YOU! We later tried making more babies but failed. The doctors we visited, including our late family doctor, Dr. Carr, told me that I won’t be able to conceive again because my womb has been seriously affected. To be frank, it was a big blow to Richard and me. But we decided to move on by loving each other.
We agreed to raise our only son, YOU, the best way possible for him to become a responsible adult. Staying out of trouble and avoiding any vices from the early toddling ages to the formative teen ages were what we agreed on. Pardon us if we’ve been strict on you…All we’ve ever wanted was your good because we love and believe in you…
I agreed with him because the way he handled family issues, after three years of staying married. Richard would strike an almost-even balance between his office work schedule and time with me, the then housewife and later us-when you came on the scene. In my view, his commitment to family matters from the home-front to handling had, till this day, been applause-worthy. Through him I realized that no matter our busy schedules are, family matters come first above everything else.
And the man I’ve truly come to love, Vince, is that man sited to your right, your father, my husband---Richard.
Vince was speechless: He was lost for words. He looked at his dad in surprise. There was no force to push out any words of appreciation. He was so tuned to the frequency of the Catherine story that visiting Oasis would be the last thing on his mind. Catherine leaned her back against the sofa and looked at Richard as he placed his right hand on Vince’s left shoulder, leaning against the sofa. Richard rolled out his story:
I was born a twin. My brother, Franklin, was my exact opposite. His sticky fingers prevented him from being a faithful son. By the way, my mom died giving birth to Franklin and me. My dad later left and placed us under the custody of our aged grandmother. The reason for his sudden he left us still remains unknown. We were barely eight months when he left us. I’ve never seen his face, even up till this day!
My aged grandmother tried raising us to the best part of morality. However, the stubborn attitude of Franklin encouraged the company of bad friends. Franklin had been unrepentantly stubborn since the age of five. She tried making him submissive but all her efforts were rendered void.
Thirteen years later, then sixteen, it was unknown to us that Franklin had joined a popular four-member robbery gang, popularly known as the Real Gang of Robbers or RGR for short. He left our Isle home, where we were born and spent our formative years, to God knew where, for about five years, until a time came...
Details of his nefarious activities with the gang would be disclosed when the long arm of the Isle law came descending on them! After an unsuccessful robbery operation, Franklin was the only survivor after an intense gun shoot-out with men of the Isle Police Force. My look-alike was arrested and jailed for multiple murders and robbery attempts and rape. After proper investigation, the judge’s verdict read: DEATH BY FIRING SUAD.
We were told Franklin was to be executed the following day by my distant friend. My grandmother died on the spot! Somehow, I summoned the courage to follow her to where it was to happen…at the outskirt of Isle. We moved to that area…Although scared to the bone to hear that my twin brother would be killed and knowing about his predicament so late, his ending this sad way wouldn’t be surprising to me. I expected it all along!
The next morning, at about 8:45AM, I saw Franklin and seven others tied each to individual trees and at distant, a soldier was assigned to each of them; waiting for the commander’s ‘shoot’ order. The commander was staring at us up from a three-storey building through a large transparent Louvre. The soldier assigned to execute Franklin was mean-looking; I could hardly withstand his face. Immediately the clergy man approached each of whom I saw as ‘the condemned to death’ persons, the commander’s ‘shoot’ order saw the vibration of sounds of bullets sprayed over their bodies, including that of Franklin. That was how he ended his course on earth.
I left the execution site a sad person. I didn’t give a hoot of her consoling me. ‘Afterall, it’s medicine after death’, I thought. On my way home, I came in contact with a stranger who would become my wife…your mother. That was where our story began…
She’s been my very backbone and the reason I’m still strong, inspite of what had happened in the past. Like the saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron’, our stories, now Our Story, we unveiled to each other slowly but steadily healed our past wounds of insecurity, doubt, fear and guilt as our love grew through the years. Just as your mother said, staying out of trouble and avoiding any vices from the toddling ages to the formative teen ages was what we agreed on- as the way to nurturing you.
Son, we love you, we believe in you and we care about you. But nurturing you in the strictest price your mother and I would have to pay to show you the ONLY PATH to a responsible adulthood. Wished there were other ways…
Grandmother told me this when I was your age: ‘Family is a showcase center of unity. It is only when there is unity a family stands. Without it, its center can’t hold and when the center can’t hold, things fall apart.’
I’ve been leaving the life ever since, despite my brother’s wayward behaviour to divide us as a family.
Richard stood up. “Do you still want to visit Oasis?”
Vince’s remorseful look returned. He was so touched by the story that he couldn’t but help to apologize.
“Dad, mom…I’m very sorry for my unruly behavior and what I’ve been trying to do…”
That caught Catherine’s attention.
“What have you been trying to do, my dear son?”
“Mom, Oasis was about introducing to drug pushing here in Grayville. He works with a drug dealer. He wanted to introduce me to him. That was the reason I wanted to leave the house that early…I’m sorry mom.”
Richard was shocked! “Oh my goodness! How come you didn’t tell you were so interested in drug pushing? For how long this had been without our knowing? Don’t you know it’s a criminal offence?”
“Dad, I’m sorry. I promise this won’t happen again!” Vince assured as he stood up, “I’ll always be mom’s and dad’s boy!”
“You’d better be, Vince or you won’t find it any funny at all!” Richard warned. “I will change your school and ensure that you caught off your ties with Oasis…”
Catherine stood up as well, hugging Vince and kissing him on the forehead, and then whispered to his left ear. “I believe in my son…He’s my boy and yours, honey! Can you now wash the dish and do the household chores, please?”
Vince left Catherine’s comfort and ran to the kitchen to wash the dishes and worked all through the morning hours to keep the house clean. Richard was still looking on, as was Catherine. But she later shared the cleaning part of the chores with him.
His attention towards family became his priority and because of what he was told by his parents. Vince chose to primarily read books, magazines and journals that were home- and family-related, especially after the demise of his mom three years ago, resulting from protracted lung cancer and other related heart complications, and near-death experience of Richard that took place late last year.
Eight years later, Vince published a 1,500-word short story piece, “Family tells a Story” in Family Matters, a home and family magazine. A quote of the article synopsis reads: “The story stems from what my dad and mom told me as their stories, what they later saw as Our Story---to keep me away from trouble and any vices because of the love, care and affection they had for me as their only son. Over the years, what they told me as stories are now what have become a family legacy and what I’ll live to tell my children… I specially dedicate this article to them-my mom, the Late Catherine Russ and my dad, Richard Russ.”