Promise in the Dark
There was only a week remaining to my grade twelve final exams and the thought of spending the
rest of my life behind bars made me feel like I was losing my mind. I wondered how my baby sister
Happy would fair out there in the world alone with two parents that didn’t care about her existence;
a drunkard father and a talkative lethal promiscuous mother. I was the only one Happy had, the
only one she could count on and just like everyone else, I too had let her down.
I was not surprised to see Juliet come to see me with some food the next morning. She had come
with a gentleman we had befriended and gotten close to from the market. He sold freezits and ice
blocks on the stand next to mine. His name was Makasa, a very humble and friendly guy with a
background no different from mine. We clicked the very first day we met and he helped me secure
my spot in the market.
Juliet couldn’t stop crying when she saw me behind bars and for the first time I saw her for the
child that she really was. All these years she had been acting like an adult and I had grown
accustomed to thinking of her as one but that morning I saw her for the twelve year old that she
was. Makasa put his arm around her shoulder and tried to calm her down. I was desperately
fighting back my own tears because I was ashamed and disappointed in myself.
“Hey kiddo,” I passed my hand through the bars and raffled it through her kinky short hair, my
bravest face on as I silently choked on my unshed tears.
“Are you okay?” She asked me.
“Of course am fine.” I lied. The place smelled like something out of a pig’s bottom, there were
blood thirsty mosquitoes everywhere and I hadn’t slept a wink, not that I could if I wanted to, there
was hardly enough room for one to stretch his leg or hand.
“I will get you out of here?” Juliet stated with such conviction for a twelve year old. The kid was
very ambitious, always acting like an adult even when it was understandable for her to act her age.
I think somewhere in that small twisted head of hers she actually believed she was my keeper.
She should have been born a man because she certainly had firmer balls on her than I could ever
“How?” I asked, looking down to avoid her seeing my broken state.
There was no hope for me. There was no one who was going to get me out of that dump. It was
the curse of the poor folk, convicted or not, I was done for. There was no adult that was going to
fight for me, even if it was my very first crime. I really felt like breaking down in that moment but
somehow I managed to hold it together.
“Just trust me, okay?” Juliet said in her usual no-nonsense tone.
I didn’t want to argue with her. Those were the only words of encouragement I was ever going to
hear from anyone and I was ready to accept them even if I knew they would not bear fruit.
Four days later, I was surprised to see Juliet come through with a man I had never seen before.
“Is this the young man?” The officer that had escorted them in asked the man.
The man looked at Juliet for confirmation. She nodded.
“Yes my good officer, this is my dear nephew.” The man said.
The officer quickly unlocked the cell and told me to get out. “You are free to go Sir!” He said,
saluting to me. Sir? What was happening?
Juliet threw her arms around me before I could ask any questions and the man turned and started
walking out of the police station.
“Who is he?” I whispered to Juliet.
“My father.” She said.
“Huh?” I had never seen her father before. I don’t think anyone in the neighbourhood had ever
seen the man. He was a giant man with a deep menacing voice that spoke of man used to
throwing about commands. Everything about him looked untouchable.
“Get in,” the man held the door open for Juliet the moment we were outside and motioned for me
to get in the back. “I will drop you off at the taxi rank and you can get a taxi home.” He said as he
got behind the wheel and drove off.
“Yes,” Came Juliet’s short response. She had that innocent timid look about her that appeared
foreign to me. Was she that afraid of her own dad? I had never once heard her talk about him and
every time I tried to bring up the subject, she quickly changed it. It soon became clear he was not
a topic she wanted to discuss and so I stopped asking.
“Remember your promise Juliet, not a word of this to your mother. She will kill us both.” The man
“Yes.” Another auto pilot response from Juliet.
Juliet’s father removed a stash of cash from his pocket and handed it to Juliet when we arrived at
the taxi rank. Juliet took it without saying a word of gratitude, something that again seemed out of
“I will see you next week.” He said to her and then turned to me, “Young man, you better stay out
of trouble.” He said. “You have no idea what my girl here sacrificed to get you out of there.”
What did he mean sacrificed? I was looking at Juliet with a puzzled expression on my face but she
quickly got out of the car and went to sit the first available cab at the rank.
“Thank you very much sir.” I said to the man. “I promise not to get in trouble again. Thank you for
getting me out of there.”
“Don’t thank me, thank her.” Juliet’s father said with a cryptic smile on his face that made me feel
all kinds of uncomfortable.
“What’s going on Juliet?” I asked her as we sat in the back of the taxi heading home. She had this
faraway look in her eyes and she appeared tired and withdrawn.
“Just promise me that you won’t do anything stupid again Jack.” She said, crying.
“I am sorry Juliet.” It was all I could say. “I am very sorry.”
She was silent the whole way home. When we arrived, she stepped out first and I had to rush to
catch up to her by the gate. She stopped, removed the whole bundle of cash her father had given
her and put it in my hand. I was about to say something but she gave me a look that froze me into
“Buy some food and everything else you need to prepare for the exam.” She said. “I gave Happy
some past papers and books for you to go through, Mrs Bangweta said those things are likely to
come in the exam.”
She opened the gate and left before I could say anything. I had a billion questions running through
my mind and Juliet’s strange behaviour was not helping things at all.
I was about to turn and head home when the gate suddenly opened again and Juliet’s head
popped out. A huge smile on her face that instantly took me aback.
“Don’t get all crazy ideas running through your head fool.” She said. It was as if she had read my
mind. “I am just a little mad at you…well, maybe not a little,” she laughed like her usual old self.
“You know you are a fool right?” She asked.
I was the one laughing now. “Yes, I know.” I said without shame.
“Good you know now go and study and stop thinking about stuff that has nothing to do with
school.” She said and went back inside.
I could finally breathe properly. I felt like I was suffocating there for a while.
I managed to write all my exam papers without a hitch thanks to Juliet. I was so grateful to her that
immediately after my last paper, I went straight to her home and knocked on the front door,
something I had never dared to do before. I wanted to take her out to the mall and buy her
whatever she wanted just to say thank you to her. I had kept aside some of the money she had
last given me and paid Happy’s fess with the rest. Even though it would be her own money buying
whatever she wanted, at least she was still getting something because I had not seen her buy
anything for herself ever since we became close. Any money she got from her folks she gave to
either me or Happy while her other rich kids bought all sorts of girly things for themselves.
“What do you want?” It was Alice that answered the door.
We had neither spoken nor seen each other ever since the incident at the store and I had vowed
to never speak to her again. I was done being her puppet.
“Is Juliet around?” I asked.
“She’s studying,” she said in a very rude and dismissive tone.
“Just tell her it will only take a sec,” I said.
“You couldn’t bang the sister so now you are on to the younger one ah?” She said.
I didn’t even want to qualify her stupidity with a response.
“Do you even know what she had to do to get you out of there?” She asked to fill the silence,
seeing as I was not in the least bit interested in having a conversation with her.
She finally won my attention. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Tsk tsk tsk,” she pursed her lips in disgust. “Ask yourself why a girl that fears her father like the
pits of hell would suddenly run to him for help. What do you think she had to sacrifice to get him to
help you?” She slammed the door shut and walked back into the house.
I wasn’t sure whether to leave or not. Couldn’t tell if she went and informed Juliet of my presence
or not. It appeared she did because Juliet opened the door a few minutes later.
“Jack, what are you doing here?” She was looking behind her, obviously to check if her mother
was in sight. She quickly stepped out of the house and carefully shut the door behind her.
“We need to talk.” I took her hand and led her out of the yard to our usual hanging out spot not far
“What’s going on?” She asked me for the umpteenth time.
“You tell me.” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“What about my dad?”
“Your sister told me that the two of you are not close.”
That seemed to surprise her. “Why would Alice tell you that? What else did she tell you?”
I went out on a limp and said something I had been suspecting ever since meeting the man in
question. “That he is not your real father.”
The fear that instantly spread all over Juliet’s face told me everything I needed to know. I was
“Why would Alice tell you that?” She was on the verge of crying, obviously hurt by the betrayal.
“To be honest, she didn’t.” I confessed. “You just did, your reaction.”
She was ready to run away but I caught her hand before she could see herself through her
thoughts. “What’s going on Juliet? I saw how terrified you were of him. Why are you so afraid of
“Who said am afraid of him? I can protect myself.” She said without thinking and immediately
regretted it. “I meant-“
“What do you mean you can protect yourself?” I asked, growing more concerned now.
“I didn’t mean it like that-“
“Does he abuse you Juliet?” I asked.
Her face instantly flashed red. “Of course not!” She answered a little too quickly. “Just because he
isn’t my biological father doesn’t mean he abuses me. He is Alice’s father and my mother had me
with another man behind his back so am not exactly his favourite kid.”
“Is that all?”
“Why aren’t you being honest with me? What did you have to do to make him help you out with my
“Why do you care about all that when it’s all in the past?” She asked. “Aren’t you happy you are
out? Would you have rather been there forever?”
“You know that’s not what I mean please don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’m not changing the subject. You’re the one who’s insisting on talking about things that no longer
matter.” She was desperately avoiding eye contact and acting all fidgety all of a sudden. She was
shaking and sweating.
It finally hit me.
To this day, that moment of realization stands as the worst day of my life. How could I not have
seen it? Dear God how could I not have seen it?
“He’s sexually abusing you isn’t he?” My hands where placed hard on Juliet’s shoulders forcing
her to maintain contact with me. I needed her to look me in the eye and tell me I was just being
paranoid. I had to be wrong. There was no way…I just had to be wrong.
“Juliet!” I cried out.
She said nothing in return, just kept shaking her head slowly as tears rolled down her eyes.
Heavens what have I done? What did I do? How could I not have seen it?
To be continued…
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