You burnt the beans! You burnt the beans! screamed my mother. I looked at her and said nothing. Anyone would have thought I’d butchered our next-door neighbour’s cat, and nailed it a tree or something. Wait until your father gets home. I’m going to tell your father. Tell him. What was that? I said tell him. My mother threw up her hands in exasperation. You have no respect! You have no respect for your mother! I shrugged my shoulders and turned away. My mother lurched at me. I whirled around and stared at her. She was holding the wooden spoon that she used to stir the hot pepper soup with in her hand. She looked wild, crazed and poised for action. Yes, I said, looking down. Is something the matter? My mother glared at me. She became flustered. Get out of my sight, she screamed. I don’t want to see your face. I don’t want to see yours either, I mumbled. What did you say? I rolled my eyes at the ceiling. Suddenly my mother lunged at me. The wooden spoon whisked past my head. I stared at my mother, grinned and shook my head. Then I strolled out of the kitchen, whistling. My father returned home at about six. He would only been back for a few hours before he had to leave the house again. My father worked two jobs. He always seemed to be working. When he wasn’t working he was sleeping. And when was sleeping, god-help the poor fool who disturbed him. Whenever he was home, my brother and I would have to creep around the house like church mice. If we went passed by his door we could hear the radio playing softly, and we were never quite sure if he was actually asleep or just lying there listening to the continuous cycle of news and weather reports. Then it would be time to wake him up and my mother would instruct one of us to make him a cup of tea and take it upstairs. And make sure he gets up before you leave, she’d say. Ok, we’d say. It was not the sort of life I envisioned for myself. I couldn’t see how my father could get any enjoyment out of it. I couldn’t see how anyone would get any enjoyment out of working so hard. And if they people weren’t getting any enjoyment out of it, then I couldn’t understand what the point was. I had two brothers. Lade, who was fourteen and my youngest brother Kunle, who was only ten. We were school kids that my parents hoped would one day grow up to be lawyers, doctors and accountants. Lawyers and doctors my arse. Sure there are other things in he world besides being a lawyer or a doctor. How about a painter or an actor? And what about the simple pleasure of enjoying life, at gazing up at the moon and marvelling at God’s creation? He’s lazy, my mother would frequently tell my father. He doesn’t do anything unless you push him. Maybe there’s something wrong with him, said my father. He always keeps to himself. He also seems so listless. I’ve never seen a kid that acts so listless. Sometimes its like he’s not even there. He’s a drip. He doesn’t have any get up and go. Maybe we should take him to see a doctor. There’s nothing a matter with the boy. He’s just lazy, said my mother. I was always in trouble for something. I was letting everyone down. I was ruining the family name. I had no ambition or pride. I was a disgrace. And to top it all I was practically failing every subject. Every subject bar one: English language. How are you going to be a doctor if you can’t even pass the science subjects? asked my mother. I never said I wanted to be a doctor. Shut your mouth, said my father. You’re always have an answer. Maybe he doesn’t understand the way they’re teaching him, said my mother. No, said my father. He’s a bum. Your son’s a hopeless bum. Please don’t talk that way, said my mother. Why beat around the bush? He’s a bum. Bum. Bum. Bum. There’s no other word for it. He’s a bum. Perhaps you’ll right, said my mother. What are we going to do about it? I knew what they would do about it. I was a bum, so I would be treated like a bum. Ergo: And all family bums had to be whipped and beaten and crushed, in order (to be broken and then )that they could be remodelled into decent productive human beings. My mother would always say that the only thing I had to worry about was going to school and getting good grades. You’re lucky, she’d said. You’ve got it made. The rest of your life’s a picnic. Some picnic! My parents didn’t know the half of it. School was tough. School was like a prison: The name-calling, the intimidation, the constant harassment, the threats and the physical pain. And that was the teachers. The pupils were five times worst. They spat at me and beat me up just to kill the boredom. They felt it there job to punish me for being there. They were very bored. They always claimed that school was boring. They tied one kid by his hands and feet and left him dangling in the cloakroom. They stole your dinner money and hit you in the mouth for daring to answer back. In the presents of the headmaster and teachers, they pretended to be gentleman but they were straight-up rogues. Our school was full of rogues and criminals. But according to my mother it was she and my father who suffered and carried all the weight of life’s painful burden. My father entered the living room. He was wearing his housecoat over his work clothes and a pair of bedroom slippers. His face was slightly puffy. He’d been working since four or five o’clock in the morning and he looked tired and one of his eyes was bloodshot, from lack of sleep. My mother was in the kitchen; preparing dinner and the moment she heard his voice she came bursting into the living room, yelling and wiping her hands on a dish-clothe. He burnt the beans! Your son burnt the beans. I told him not to let them burn. Everything was ruined. I had to throw a whole pot of black-eyed beans away. My mother threw her arms in the air with the passion and fervour of those well-dressed ladies I’d witness at the Pentecostal Church on Sunday. She looked to me as if she were imploring the Lord to save us all from the devil’s clutches. My mother was a very devout woman, from the fire and brimstone school of death, hell, fire and damnation, and at times she behaved like we were only twenty-four hours away from the second coming. It was all high drama. My mother always seemed to see the worse in me and interpreted all my innocent mistakes as deliberate acts of insubordination. I’d begun to wonder if it wasn’t all part of some ruse orchestrated by one of the TV stations. Like perhaps she wasn’t really my mother at all. But instead an impostor I’d been sent to live with by Channel four, to test my powers of endurance. To see how much parental insanity I could put up with before I eventually cracked and the whole nation got a chance to be witness a fifteen-year olds break-down in all its lurid and obscene, blow-by-blow detail. My father looked across at me but didn’t say a word. He spoke to my mother in Yoruba. She said something back and soon they began to argue. My knowledge of Yoruba wasn’t great, but I understood enough to know they weren’t celebrating a win in the National Lottery. Every so often I heard my name come up and I could only imagine what they were saying. None of it good…And it as getting harder and harder to just sit there and play dumb, knowing that at some point soon, they’d stop talking and then the crushing down and rebuilding would begin. I decided to make myself scarce. I left the room and ran up stairs to the bathroom, where I sat on the edge of the bath contemplating my fate. Just sit it out, I told myself. And hopefully by the time they’re done talking, the food will be on the table and everything will be forgotten. I sat there staring at a piece of chipped plaster on the ceiling and listened to the sound of muted voices coming from the living room below. Then after two or three minutes I heard the sound of footsteps thumping up the stairs. Wole! I recognised the voice. It was my younger brother Lade. I ignored him. Wole! Yeah what d’you want? Daddy wants you downstairs in the garden. Tell him I’m coming. I’m on the toilet. I went over to the sink, washed my hands and splashed cold water over my face. I stretched out my arms and checked my hands. My hands were shaking, badly. I felt sick. My shoulders were trembling. I considered climbing out the bathroom window. I went over to take a look but the drop seemed a long way down, so I changed my mind. I turned back and stared at my reflection in the mirror. I leaned forward. Then I noticed that there was a solitary long thin strand of black hair on chin. That was odd. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was my first hair! I was impressed. You’re a man, I thought. Just remember that. I walked out into the garden. My father was standing near the back walking up and down, bent over slightly and staring at the ground like he was looking for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I walked towards with my hands behind my back with my head held high. Your mum told me you burnt the beans, said my father. He wasn’t looking at me. He was still looking at the ground. He kicked something with his slipper and went on looking. Yes, I said. Why? he asked. I was watching something on TV and I forgot, I said. I looked my father straight in the eye when I said it. You’re a man, I thought. Stand up for yourself. You forgot, said my father. You have the nerve to tell me you forgot again? Now he was looking at me, and that look made me nervous. I felt it was grossly unfair. So what if I burnt the beans? What was that in the grand scheme of things? The beans didn’t think. The beans didn’t feel. The beans weren’t petrified to death about their GSCE mocks. The beans weren't haunted by the pressure of failure. OK, well I’m going to have to punish you. I want you to help me find a stick. There was a large tree at the back of the garden and some of the branches had either simply fallen off or been cut down. There were also bits of wood left over from some previous building work that had never been thrown away. So there we were, my father and I walking around the garden looking for a piece of wood with which to thrash me with. And with all the deliberation and calmness of two people on an excavation dig searching for the remains of some primitive and antiquated culture. Suddenly I spotted what I was looking for. I picked it up and carried it over to where my father was standing. It was a plank of wood almost twice the length of my arm and about six inches in width. Maybe if I’m lucky he’ll break my arm, I thought. He’ll break my arm and then they’ll both be sorry. I was almost smiling. My father shook his head. Not that one, he said. Disappointed, I began searching for another. Then my father bent forward and when he stood up he was holding a plank of wood about a foot shorter than the one I’d originally brought him. I gulped. Come here, said my father. I walked calmly towards him, chewing my bottom lip. My father was a couple of inches shorter than I and as he tried to lift the plank I noted some difficulty. I looked into his eyes. He still looked tired. In fact he looked as if half of his mind was somewhere else. Maybe he was still at work, where it was peaceful. No wives, no kids, no inter-family bickering, just the sound of machinery and jibes from the other male work colleagues. I wanted to tell him a beating wasn’t necessary. I wanted to tell him that beating with the wood wouldn’t change a thing. That maybe we could chalk it up to bad judgement. I even thought that I could sense some reluctance on his part, though I suspect that had more to do with my own wishful thinking. For God’s sake. I’m not a baby, I thought. I’m practically an adult. I’m fifteen-years old. I held out my hand and as my father swung the plank of wood, he stumbled to one side and missed me by a mile. I felt like laughing. I could feel it shaking in my belly. I could feel it swilling around my insides and tickling my ribs. What’s so funny? asked my father. It’s my stomach, I said thinking quickly. I think I have trapped wind. Get rid of it, said my father standing there, testing the weight of the plank of wood in his out stretched arm. I step away. Pretended to fart and trotted back. My father tried again. This time he had a much better grip and he brought the plank down, hard. He brought the plank down like he was trying to chop my arm off. There was a loud thwacking sound and then a horrible stinging pain all the way up to my shoulder. My eyes opened wide and I could feel my wrist and hand throbbing. I began shuffling my feet, rolling my eyes and gritting my teeth in an effort to overcome the terrible pain. It’s not fair, I thought. I don’t deserve this. They act like I burnt the beans on purpose. But I didn’t. It was a mistake. Anyone can make a mistake. Even the Queen makes mistakes. Even the Pope, and the Prime Minister make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Judge not, least you be Judge. To err is human, to forget is…WHACK! The plank landed again. I felt the full force of it. I was close to screaming. The whole of my arm went numb. My arm was so numb I could barely move it. It’s so unjust, I thought. I’m not a dog. I’m a human being. All of a sudden my self-pity turned to rage. As the plank came down a third time I jerked my arm upwards and tried to smash the thing in two. All I got for my effort was more nauseating pain. I grit my teeth and braced myself for how ever many more blows there were to come. By now I was sweating quite profusely. I could feel sweat pouring down my face and dribbling down my sides, underneath my T-shirt. I was shaking so much that I could no longer keep my arm, my wrist or my hand steady. And straining and trembling, I leaned to the side and ached my back, so as not to let my arm fall. I stared into my father’s eyes, daring him to hit me again, wanting him to and at the same time, not wanting him to. When he swung the plank of wood again, I thought I would faint. Sadly I didn’t. I’m going to cry, I thought…Come on who are you kidding? You’re going cry. I kept opening and closing my eyes. My throat was tightening. I could fear the tears welling up and the **** about to burst…No I wasn’t going to cry. I swore on the tree and the sky and the clouds that I wouldn’t. Remember you’re a man, I thought. And big men don’t cry. My father looked at me. Then he dropped the plank of wood, stared at the ground and mumbled something about the mess in the garden. Now go and say sorry to you mum, he said. Then he turned and walked away. Just like that. Like the beating had been as commonplace as going to the toilet. I walked into the kitchen holding my arm and apologised to my mother. Some apology. I really laid it on. You’d have thought my father had just baptised me in the garden instead of trying to kill me. But of course I was lying. I didn’t feel guilty in the least. On the contrary I hated my mother. I had one thought on my mind. And that was revenge. I could never seem to do anything right. I was growing up and I sensed my mother and father didn’t like it. I was no longer the son who would acquiesce to their every wish, or the son who would agree with their sentiments believing them to be all seeing, all knowing deities. There was very little we agreed on. All I knew was that I had my own opinions about life and it seemed very important to me to get them across to other people. I couldn’t help myself. I’d open my mouth and the stuff would just come out. I had absolutely no control over it. I was a growing up and I always seemed to think I knew more about the world than everyone else. True I was doing badly at school. But I didn’t see that that precluded me from drawing my own genius conclusions. That’s Ok, said my mother. All the previous harshness had gone out of her voice. Now help me set the table, she said. I went over to the drawers and took out the cutlery. My arm still felt numb and ached like mad. The whole time I didn’t look at my mother. I came back to the kitchen and stood by the door with my left arm pulled stiffly down by my side, while my mother ladled food onto one of the plates. Is this enough for you darling? asked my mother, holding out one of the plates. I had to fight to keep my voice even. It’s too much, I said quietly. My mother removed some of the beans. Could you take some more off please? I asked, fighting back the tears. Are you sure that’s enough? she asked. It’s fine, I responded, looking down at the minuscule amount on my plate like it was mashed-up poison. I began walking into the dinning room. I ate in silence. I could see my two brothers watching me, giving me furtive glances. My mother and my father were sitting at the table. See that’s what we do to naughty boys, said my father shoving food into his mouth and grinning at my brothers. Yes, said my mother. You brother was bad so you’re daddy had to punish him. So you better be good or you know what will happen. Daddy will smack me, said my youngest brother. That’s right, said my father. He grabbed my little brother’s arm and pretended to Karate chop him across the neck. My little brother and my other brother started giggling and then they both grinned at me from across the table. That’s right kids laugh it up, I thought. Laugh it up while you’ve still got the opportunity, because as sure as eggs are eggs, one of you will be next. I finished long before every one else, mainly because there was so little on my plate. Then I excused myself from the table and went up to my room. I lay on my bunk bed nursing my hand, and turning it over and over like I was looking at a precious gem. After a while I began to notice that I wasn’t angry with my mother and father any more. My arm ached too much to think of anger. I sat up and chewed my nails feeling sorry for myself. Then I simply sat there staring into space and all at once my jaw began to shake. You’re a man. You’re a man. You’re a man, I told myself And then I heard footsteps on the stairs, and a moment later my father’s bedroom door opening and then I heard the usual hum coming from the radio news. That’s when it finally happened. I could sense the dam was bursting. I had lost the fight. Sucking in my breath I turned and faced the wall and felt the first solitary tear rolling slowly down my cheek.