When we lost papa, things got very hard very fast.
He was the strongest member of the family, both physically and mentally. He knew what he wanted and he knew how he could get it without ever having to do anything questionable or immoral. Unlike mama, who has always been nervous and slow, he had made decisions quickly and with undeniable confidence. Papa had been fit, healthy, able, and smart.
That had not made him a match for the speeding car that had come off the road on a tight bend and ploughed straight into him.
Once the shock and the horror of that terrible day had started to fade enough for mama to think straight, we had the funeral. After the funeral had taken place, we got the chance to look at our lives and see where we could go with what we had left. That was when we had come to the realisation that, despite how hard papa had worked throughout his life, we were going to run out of money in a short amount of time.
When that happened, we would have nothing.
Mama had raised three children and had not worked in over fifteen years, since my birth. I was the oldest, though still at school. My youngest sibling, my sister, was only three. Mama tried to find a job that would allow her to juggle family life too, but to no avail. So, I left school and lied about my age to do work for some shady guy who got me occasional jobs as long as I never asked him anything or appeared too interested. Sometimes, it would seem legitimate enough, like building and repair projects, but other times it was driving people to secret locations and delivering packages discreetly.
It was hard to make ends meet for the four of us, so after a while I started to accept more of the dodgy – and better paid – jobs. I had betrayed papa’s good reputation and honesty, but I had done it to protect the family that he would have wanted me to look after when he was gone, and that was what justified it for me.
Then came the day when my brother, two years younger than me, came to the realisation that we needed more money if we were going to remain in the home that papa had bought. My brother asked me to get him work of his own. I wish I had sent him away. I wish I had told him no. I wish I had decided I would be happy to starve if it would stop my brother from becoming life me. The problem was that I had started something that was going to start affecting the rest of my family – and I had not seen that until it was too late.
We all missed papa, but it was irrelevant that he would have wanted better for us. We knew nothing more than the scum and the villainy and the fear that we had become used to. Every single job could have been the last one, the one when the police had caught us or a rival gang had attacked us, and yet we kept making it home without a scratch. We were beyond lucky.
I would cuddle my sister at night and tell her stories about papa. I would tell her how good papa had been. I was convinced that if I could demonstrate how far her two brothers had drifted from his perfect behaviour, then she would grow up and see how wrong we were. I would whisper to her, when mama was not around, that she should run away.
When my sister grew up to hate me and what I had become, I loved her all the more. It broke mama’s heart to see her leave, but I was happy – she was the only one of us who managed to get out. The knowledge that my sister had a real chance to make positive changes in her life was the greatest feeling in the world.
Even though I had turned my back on the man who papa had been, something had still shone through the darkness that had grown within me. I had done what I could to lessen my betrayal of his memory.