I remember that moment. That cruel and dark moment. I remember the struggle. The pain. The horror. I remember the darkness that clogged and seeped into my throat- compelling me to gag and retch in agony. I desperately seeked refuge in a glass of water but they were nothing more than mere gulps of hopelessness. That existential taste of pure evil still lingered in my mouth. My mind grew distorted as it struggled to process the madness and the shock to my nervous system. The lights in my parents bedroom dimmed and flickered haphazardly. The violent flashes of despair. My soul became cold and numb.
Nothing made sense. It was that moment I had lost my innocence as a child and I finally grasped that the world was a very very wicked place. It was that horror that consumed me forever. It was the horror of consuming a colon-cleasing tonic named Living Bitters.
I remember the gleeful sadism in my father’s eyes. ’til this day I refuse to forgive him for what he put me and my siblings through. No child deserved that.
However, I must digress and reflect. If one of the most truly horrifying things that could ever happen to me as a child was my dad giving me colon-cleansing tonic, then I really didn’t have it that bad.
In fact, I was a “Dada Bee.” I ate when I wanted because there was the “house girl” to cook jollof rice for me. The good kind. Ghanaian Jollof. Certainly, not Nigerian jollof.
I went were I wanted because there was the “Drivah” to drive me around to any of my friends’ houses. There was the “house boy” who cleaned and ironed my school uniform. Shit was done for me and I barely had to lift a finger, most of the time.
I was a spoiled child but on that dreadful day I was forced to become a man.
It was a brisk and dewy Saturday morning with all the things a well-loved and pampered kid could look forward to. A bowl of Kellog’s Frosties, Power Rangers, Sonic the Hedgehog, Malta Guiness and four-corner soccer with the street kids. They were often referred to as Kubolors.
Everything was going well as usual. I was the black Richie Rich bossing his minions, terrorizing lazy watchmen and insulting girls that didn’t want to talk to me and my entourage of kubolors. I mean, I had just bought the whole block of East Legon Fanta and Malta Guinness. I was the King of Accra.
But once my parents called me back to the house, the parade through my neighborhood was over. I might have been a spoiled young brat and a nuisance in my kingdom but never to my parents. I immediately hurried back home and conducted myself into my parents’ large bedroom. My two older siblings Kojo and Afriyie were there as well. I’ve known them to be the most confident and fearless people I’ve ever known but something wasn’t right as I walked into the room. That day I saw fear in their eyes.
They were cowering together using each other as human shields. As my father slowly walked towards them with a tablespoon and a dark bottle of what appeared to be thick and goopy sludge.
“You go first!” My oldest brother snapped at my sister in panic, “You know what they say. Ladies first!”
“NO! NO! NO! Don’t even try! I went last time! YOU ARE GOING!” she retorted with just as much of a scowl.
“What’s with all the commotion? Do we seriously have to go through this every time?” my father asked in a stern yet reasonable tone. “It doesn’t taste bad at all. It is good for you all. I will clean your insides right out. Come on, step up and be done with it.”
My father turned his attention to me. “Oh Kuuku, good you’re finally here. Before, I thought you were too young to have some of this medicine but after seeing what comes out of you in the toilet, I’ve had my concerns. You most certainly need this.”
A look of embarrassment came across my face.
“What’s this, daddy?” I asked, staring reluctantly at the tablespoon of black sludge. If I recall, It looked like part of the Venom Symbiote that usually corrupted Spider-Man.
“Living Bitters, it will make you stronger, faster and make you very smart. it will keep you sharp, my boy. Most importantly, it will exorcise those horrific demons inside you. And keep you from destroying my bathrooms. After this, be sure to eat all the oranges in the house. God knows you need it.”
“Kuuku, don’t take it. It’s so disgusting, you will die.” My brother warned.
“Swallow it as fast as you can. Don’t be scared.” My sister added.
“I’m not scared.”
“Oh, if you’re not scared? Then why don’t you go first?” My brother taunted.
“YES! YES! Kuuku go.” My sister said.
I sucked my teeth and looked right at my older siblings with defiance. I stepped up to my father. “Fine, let’s just get this over with.”
“Very good, Kuuku. I appreciate the pragmatism.”
“YOOOOoooooo, you just wait and see. You will suffer!”
And suffered I did.
But I could not give them that satisfaction. I could not give them the satisfaction of watching me wince and struggle like dying prey being mauled by a lion. In fact, I tried to be strong for the both of them.
I stood fast, braced myself and calmly walked up to my father without fear or emotion. I was calm, cool and collected.
“Okay, open your mouth.” My father said. I stepped up like a Catholic boy awaiting communion. But instead of consuming the blood of Jesus Christ, I consumed the blood of Satan Spawn. The moment it slimed onto my tongue and the roof of my mouth, There was nothing but bitterness festering and trickling in the small spongy crevices of my taste buds. This dark sludgy matter violated every part of my being. My soul left me. Waves of bitter disgust and filth raged in my mouth, It tasted like dead rotten plants, corrosive oil and corrupted honey. What came afterwards was unspeakable.
For the first time, I tasted hell. I was instantly transported into another dimension and trapped in my mind. Everything faded to black
I was in the woods by myself. staggering to my knees. I realized I was in a very dark and cold place. I saw angels with broken wings fall through the dimly lit sky. Demonic hands clawed from the earth. Dragging to me the depths of hell. I felt the sludge of living bitters fusing with my mouth and the rest of my body. Swallowing me whole from the inside.
Suddenly, Tyler Durden appeared. He Grasped my hand tightly, pulling me away from my nightmare. He calmly said, “Stay with the pain. Don’t shut this out”
“DEAR GOD! I WANT TO SPIT THIS OUT! I WANT TO VOMIT!” I pleaded.
Tyler Durden grabbed my hand more tightly. “Without pain, without sacrifice. We will have nothing.”
I tried not think of the words. Putrid, vomit, gaggi…
“STOP IT! This is your pain, this is your burning throat. It’s RIGHT HERE!”
“NOOOO!” Tyler said dismissively while yanking my hand towards him. “Don’t deal with the toils dead people do. Come on!”
“Please, make it stop!” I begged.
“What you’re feeling is pre-mature enlightenment.”
I tried to drift away from the bitter pain. I tried to picture Rashida Jones feeding me kenkey with fish.
Tyler gave me one big dirty slap! TSSSS!
“This is the greatest moment of your life and you’re off somewhere missing it!”
“No I’m not!” I said back.
Tyler went on to explain how our fathers were models for God but had betrayed and abandoned us. I started to believe that he was right. For how could my own father subject me to this cruelty? How could my own father give me Living Bitters. Tyler then asked me.
“What does that tell you about God?”
I whimpered and stuttered. Tyler gave me another dirty slap. TSSSSSSSS!
“LISTEN TO ME! you have to consider the fact that God doesn’t like you. He never wanted you. And in all probability, He hates you. That’s why he gave us Nigerian Jollof.”
Despair ran across my face. Not Nigerian jollof I thought.
“This’s not the worst thing that can happen.” he said.
“It isn’t?” I asked. Wondering what could have been worse than Living bitters and Nigerian jollof.
“WE DON’T NEED HIM! or Nigerian jollof for that matter.” Tyler said. “Fuck damnation, fuck redemption. Fuck Nigerian Jollof. We are God’s unwanted children. SO BE IT!”
“Okay, okay. Please just make it stop!”
“First, you have to give up. First, you have to know, not fear. Know that someday you’re going to die. It’s only that we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Tyler said calmly.
In that moment, I accepted Tyler’s cold hard truth. I accepted my fate and let the cleanse and the purge take place. That one must find comfort in the struggle and that life is not always a bowl of Kellog’s Frosties. I accepted that there was no God. I accepted that life is too short to be rude to the house help. What I was experiencing was growth. An evolve. I had gone through the cleansing fire and rose from the ashes a brand new man with a heart of gold and balls of steel. I had swallowed Living Bitters with perseverance and solidarity. And in that brief second my nightmare was over.
“Hey Kuuku, are you okay?” My mother asked with grave concern. She had probably noted the brief lifelessness in my eyes, that I did not seem myself or that I wasn’t here. I stood in the bedroom with no emotion on my face.
Suddenly, I looked around. Slightly confused. I was back in my parents room. I almost didn’t recognize my family for a second. I had to re-adjust with coming back to reality.
“Well, that’s it. See? No fuss. no struggle. I’m very proud of you. You took that like a man.” My father bellowed. He turned over to two my older siblings. They looked on in awe and confusion.
“You two can learn a lot from your little brother here. He didn’t even flinch once. Macho guy!”
My siblings looked at each other. Probably thinking to themselves what was wrong with me but I couldn’t help but notice how impressed and amazed they were at the same.
I calmly and quietly excused myself from my parent’s bedroom. My big brother gave me a high five as I walked out. “You’re one weird kid.” He said.
“Good job, Kuuku.” My mom said. “I’m proud of you. I thought you would spit it out.”
I shook my head slowly and barely said. “No, I’m ok. ”
I went to my room and started playing Street Fighter. I sat and reflected on my recent experience. I might have appeared calm and brave during that moment but my family would never know the internal and emotional turmoil I was experiencing in that split second. That I was forever a changed man. Either way, I survived.
I wondered what new struggles would come my way and how I could overcome them. But with my newfound toughness in life. I wasn’t so concerned. If a little kid like me could swallow a whole tablespoon of living bitters, then there wasn’t much I couldn’t do. I smiled finally.
I also drank a shit ton of Malta Guinness afterwards.