“Michael, is what I’m hearing true?” my grandfather asked. “Tell me, son, is it true?”
I fidgeted in the chair and pretended not to understand him. “What are you talking about, Grandpa?”
He didn’t respond immediately. He sighed and took out his snuff bottle. “When I was your age, I thought all old people were zombies. Most of the times I was right. But on the occassions that I was wrong, it costed me a lot”
He put some snuff in his palm, took a pinch and rubbed it into his hairy nose. His mustache twitched but he didn’t sneeze. He had gotten used to the stuff. “I know you’re thinking the same thing about me right now. You may be right but if you’re wrong, it’ll cost you.”
He gave me time to think about it. “Now, tell me, is it true that you’re killing people? Innocent women and children?”
I wanted to deny. “Where are you getting all these reports, Grandpa?”
He looked away into the distance. “That’s not important.”
He explained to me that what mattered was whether the reports were true or not.
“Look here, Michael, I also used to have a grandfather. He was a despot. He made a lot of mistakes and my mistake was to try to build on those mistakes. Stealing cows, grabbing land, fighting over springs of water. But what did I gain in the end? Enemies? Graves upon graves of dead sons, grandsons and workers in my homestead? I would have done better with them alive. Now I’m struggling with life because they’re no more. I’m resolute not to let you make the same mistakes.”
I looked into his teary eyes and felt the pain and the concern. Here was an old man whose few bad choices had ruined life for others. I didn’t know whether to hate or love him. All I knew was that we had made the same mistake. Our foundation was the same. He was repenting; should I?
“Grandpa, it’s true,” I said truthfully. I could not let my children and my grandchildren end up with misery in their lives. I explained to him about a gang that I had gotten into only to realise that it was just an arm of a greater sect. I had been indocrinated into the sect on a do-or-die basis with over 500 other youth.
We had then been sent to our first assignment to kill a whole village of unsuspecting villagers as a form of revenge for our rich client, an MP who wanted to cause terror and blame it on his rival politicians. We had done a dirty job.
After that first assignment, life had never been the same again. I turned to alcoholism and substance abuse. The truth was too bitter to face. Cutting up children to pieces with their mothers wailing and pleading for mercy was the most traumatising experience.
I told Grandpa everything.
I had expected him to fall off his stool with shock or rage but he didn’t. He only gave an imperceptible nod and proceeded to rub more snuff in his nostrils.
“If you promise me to volunteer information about your gang to police, I’ll fight to keep you out of trouble.”
“Thanks, Grandpa, but I have already made my choice. I don’t care what the authorities will do to me. I’ll only need your help as far as contacting an intelligence officer is concerned.” I explained to him that the gang members were monitored. My movements were being watched. “They punish betrayal by death.”
Grandpa nodded and stood up. “I know an inspector who’ll help you. Take care of yourself. I’m going to talk to him.”
As he walked away, I felt peace settle over my soul. I knew there and then that I had made the right choice. It was going to be alright. Even if they drag me to the guillotine to pay for the innocent blood that I had shed, I would have peace.
Our foundation, what we build our futures on and the futures of those we love and care for, matters a lot in life. It’s the difference between a generation of scholars and gangsters. I was willing to uproot mine and start all over again.