Actually it was not a passionate kiss. It was more of a brushing of lips, a tentative probing, the unrestrained exploratory contact for assurance, yearning for a response. If Francine had returned it in any way, the fire within Roy would have raged out of control and consumed them, but his probing tongue met the rigid barrier of her clamped teeth, and his pleasure was centred on the tender outer lips of the woman.
Ted Bawa saw them, but by then he was in no position to distinguish between a lustful kiss and a gentle peck. He saw a man’s head bowed over his wife’s face, obviously in the grips of lust…and he went absolutely crazy. Despite his harsh treatments, Ted Bawa still loved his wife exceedingly. He himself did not acknowledge this fact. He had grown used to their mundane life and moribund bed culture, and taken her for granted. Ted felt he owned her just like he owned the land. He had paid for her, and she was his. Seeing her thus in a position he had never even remotely associated her with brought out the great love he felt for her and which had remained dormant within his soul for so long. And where there was love, jealousy was very close by, leashed or otherwise!
Ted Bawa’s jealousy, however, was a free spirit that had nothing to do with leashes. His body went rigid, and the rumbling of a great roar began somewhere deep in his stomach. He barrelled his way toward them, a great bull whose vision was suddenly blinded with red rage and bestial jealousy.
Roy Sampson’s sprained ankle was almost healed completely, and apart from a little painful twinge now and then he really had no problem with it. He had however continued to use his improvised crutch – which was fashioned out of a stout piece of wood – because he wanted to prolong the attentions of Francine, to have her dot over him for as long as he could keep up the charade. Unfortunately for him, the crutch was lying beside the bench, and as Ted’s rumbling became a full-throated roar his eyes cast around for a weapon, and having spied the crutch he bent in one swift motion, snapped it up and charged on the object of his hatred. The two on the bench broke apart at the sound of that roar, and Roy sprang to his feet with a little cry of fear. He was almost as big as his employer, but he was not a violent man. Truth was, he hated physical violence.
He saw Ted bringing the wooden crutch around in a powerful swing, and Roy ducked just in time, and the wooden club whistled over his head. If it had landed, Roy’s brains would have been scooped from the walls. Ted was carried forward by his own momentum, and tottered off-balance, eventually landing hard on the bench. Roy Sampson had no doubts about what was going to happen, but he realized that staying where he was could mean that the anger of Ted Bawa, once spent on him, could be redirected at Francine, and so Roy fled, hoping to offer a sole target to his enraged employer. He heard Ted’s bellows behind him as he came out of the main door and limped down the steps. Jamie and Ato Bawa, together with the other cowboys, were gathered in the main courtyard with looks of incomprehension on their faces.
Ted emerged from the house, saw Roy’s retreating back, and with another bellow of rage he hurled himself down the steps, swinging the huge crutch. It caught Roy Sampson hard between his shoulder blades, bringing out a horrible scream. Roy fell hard, crawled a few feet and scrambled to his feet. Ted Bawa, from a half-standing position, brought the club round viciously again across Roy’s shins. The cracks of broken shin bones were lost in the louder bellows of pain from the hapless man. Broken bones protruded through the legs of Roy’s trousers, and blood quickly soaked his legs. Still no one moved to help him; all of them knew how unwise that would be to life a hand to help the helpless man. Ted Bawa’s rage was legendary, and many a brave heart hesitated to incur it.
Roy writhed on the ground, gripping his knees, his face contorted in agony. There was a fiendish look on Ted Bawa’s face as he got to his feet slowly, still clutching his weapon. His lips were drawn back in a snarl, his breathing harsh.
“You little ugly stinking dog!” he hissed as he closed in on the man. “You dog! You dog!” He raised the club high. There was a horrible gasp from the onlookers.
“Lord, Pa, no!” Ato whispered, his hand half-raised. Jamie’s jaw was set tightly. He liked Roy very much, and considered him more than a friend. His great fear of his father, however, kept him rooted to the spot.
“NO!” the scream came from behind them. It was high, and it was passionate. It was Francine, and behind her was a white-faced Ruth. The scream momentarily arrested Ted with the club still poised over Roy’s head. Francine ran forward, as quick as a flash, and planted herself firmly between her husband and the screaming man on the ground.
“Get out of the way, whore!” Ted said through gritted teeth. “You have it coming bad, woman, that I promise you, but that will be after I deal with this stinking dog. Move away!” Francine faced her husband. She was shaking with terror, and her face reflected it, but she stood her ground, shaking her head as tears ran down her face freely.
“Leave him be, Ted!” she said in a trembling voice, and closed her eyes instantly, her body tensing for the blow she knew would come. With a grunt of unrestrained ferocity Ted Bawa back-handed his wife across the face, and the blow knocked her off her feet and deposited her hard at the feet of her two sons. The right side of her face became swollen and red almost immediately. She looked like a broken doll. Many of the cowboys clenched their fists, their jaws set with fury. Hitting a woman like that, that hard, was almost obscene, and it boiled the hearts of the more tender-hearted cowboys.
Jamie was trembling, and tears came instantly into Ato’s eyes. Her head buzzing with pain, Francine got to her feet groggily. She fixed her eyes on her husband, and for the first time in many years her eyes held not fear, but a total contempt and a complete disrespect that put a cold block in Ted’s veins even in his great anger.
“You bully!” Francine hissed, and held her chin up. This time she did not close her eyes, and she watched as her husband covered the distance between them with deliberate slowness. Ato could not take it any longer. He took a step forward between his parents.
“Pa, please,” he said in trembling voice. “Please, don’t!” Ted sank a hard fist into Ato’s midriff. It almost lifted his son off his feet. Ato doubled over in great agony, a grunt of pain blasting out of his mouth. He fell on his side in the foetal position, and began to cough. Ted’s eyes bored into his wife with cruel intentions. She had rebelled in his face in front of his boys, sending out the wrong message to all of them. That was an unpardonable affront, added to the great sin she had dared commit under his roof, on a bench he had constructed with his own hands. She had grown wings, and they needed to be clipped in the most painful way, to put her down where she belonged.
“You asked for it, woman!” he said as he stepped across his groaning second son. His right hand was a fist as he drew it back to smash his wife’s face to pulp. “Don’t!” the new voice said from somewhere behind the group of cowboys. At the sound of it the Francine let out a whoosh of a gasp, and her whole body went limp as her crippling fear ebbed out to be replaced with a bath of warmth and relief.
Chrissy! Her son was here! The group of men parted quickly to reveal young Chris Bawa moving forward slowly. He was wearing no gun, as usual, and his hands were hanging harmlessly beside him, but as he looked at his father there was menace in his stance. For a moment everything – even time – seemed to stand still.
Ted Bawa, fist still drawn back, gazed at his last child, and he knew deep in his guts that this was the night where unresolved issues between him and the boy would finally come to a head.
“This is between my wife and me, little man,” Ted Bawa said menacingly. “You better keep out of it!” Chris Bawa closed the space between them. His face was expressionless, but his eyes never left his father’s face.
“She may be your wife, sir,” he said with deliberate calmness. “But she is also my Ma. And nobody hurts my Ma. Nobody!”
“Stop me then, boy!” Ted Bawa hissed savagely, spat on the ground, and with one swift movement his right hand snaked out, landing with a sickening blast across his wife’s left cheek. The blow spun Francine round completely, and she would have fallen heavily, and maybe even fatally, had Chris not moved forward with the quickness of a panther and caught her. Blood trickled down the left corner of her lips. Her face was badly bruised and swollen from Ted’s heavy blows. Chris turned her round and shoved her gently against Jamie.
“Shield her!” he said softly. “Protect her! She’s your mother too, you bastard!” Young Chris Bawa was still calm, but in the depths of his eyes lurked that look, the terrible glint that would come to scare many a man, the one that some people were beginning to call ‘the stare of the devil’. Even at that age, he was slowly becoming El Diablo!
Chris swung round as he heard his father behind him, straight into a hard fist as Ted sought to take his youngest son by surprise. The blow moved Chris’s head savagely, and a hard uppercut from Ted followed, smashing under Chris’ chin and almost tearing his head off his neck. Chris fell down hard. The blows could have knocked any man out, because they had the power of Ted Bawa behind them.
Truth was, that had been Ted’s intention all along. He had wanted to move fast, to surprise the boy, and daze him. He was trembling with anticipation, and he realized, without much horror, that he wanted to really punish his son and cut him to pieces. Chris shook his head and began to get up. Ted waited until Chris was up on one knee, and then he moved in and landed a crushing blow to the point of the boy’s jaw. Again Chris crumpled heavily to the ground, and this time it looked as if he would not be able to get up again.
“Well, not looking so tough now, are you, little man?” Ted Bawa said with a curl to his lips, his swarthy face filled with savage cruelty.
Chris Bawa struggled to a sitting position, looked up at his father, and then he grinned. It was the devil’s own grin. It was a cold grin, filled with a diabolical intent. There was blood in his mouth, turning his teeth a demonic crimson, lending his grin a devilish aspect that was not quite right…or nice.
“As a son I deserved to be punished for daring to bust into your argument with your wife, sir,” Chris said through swollen lips, and he spat out a mouthful of bloody saliva. “I think you did mete out your punishment. Now, I owe you no respect. I’ll warn you only once. Don’t try to attack me again.” He was still sitting on the ground, hands limp beside him, an embodiment of harmless threat. Venom filled Ted’s face, and he moved forward with evil intention. His hard kick was aimed at Chris’s head, and it would have ended the fight had it landed, but suddenly Chris was moving, bounding to his feet with amazing agility, side-stepping and moving in so fast that Ted Bawa saw nothing but a blur. Chris’s fist homed in, but stopped just short of hitting his father. Ted felt the power of that halted blow on his face, and he knew with a sinking feeling that somehow, deep down, the boy still could not bring himself to hit his father and disgrace him. This could have broken the pride of many a father and ended the fight, but as had been pointed out, Ted Bawa was no ordinary father. Pity, in any form it took, was something his pride could not take; it infuriated him beyond measure.
With a grunt he attacked his son, swinging, kicking out, head-butting. But he hit nothing. Chris was like a ghost, a constantly changing amoeba, moving with fluid grace, a master of his arts. He did not throw a blow, and he did not retreat, but he was there, evading each attacking move from his father with ease, until Ted Bawa tripped over his own legs, and fell headlong into the dusty ground. Ted stared at his son, his chest heaving painfully, his body covered with sweat. He could barely breathe, and his eyes bored into his son with hatred.
This was the ultimate disgrace. To be treated like a harmless baby, by a tot from his own loins. It was blasphemous, a taboo, unacceptable, something against the rules of authority, and shouldn’t be entertained. Somehow, this was a great flaw that should be corrected, by any means necessary. His fury knew no bounds. He began to rise slowly.
“That is enough!” Chris said quietly. “Don’t push it…Pa!” Ted’s lips pulled back in a snarl. His hands snaked to his boots, and came back up holding two ugly knives. It was no secret that Ted carried the knives. Many stories had been told about those weapons, and it was known that no one had ever escaped from them. They had earned Ted Bawa a reputation in hand-to-hand fighting. “You come at me now with weapons that can kill me?” Chris asked quietly.
Ted was standing tall, the knives pointing downward. As he stared at his son, it hit both of them at once; this was the act that finally severed any bonds between them. He had drawn his knives out of fury, but now he coldly accepted the fact that it was all over. Of course the severing had begun that day the boy bit him for attacking his mother. It had only been a matter of time before the threads uncoiled. Ted had never really felt the young man in front of him was his son anyway, but now, having drawn the knives, he knew a primitive pain. It was the unknown bond that was always there, that would never really be broken. It was an ancient feeling, the love between a parent and child, a stubborn link that was as mysterious as it was strong. But now it was gone.
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As they gazed at each other, both of them admitted it silently. Father hated son for having always been a rebel, and forcing this moment. Son hated father for always being so abusive, and being the one to sever this link. This time, when Ted moved forward, Chris didn’t stand still…he closed in on his father. Ted knew that there would be no holding back again from Chris. He realized then that Chris had never hit back at him, even though he could have ended the fight a long time ago, because he still considered Ted as a father. With the knives out, Ted knew his son no longer had that respect. In some ways this knowledge hurt Ted Bawa, but he accepted it as something that was meant to be. That was why he also did not hold back. That was why, had he had his way, he would have killed his own son that evening. He pivoted, the knife in his left hand coming round in a savage arc meant to cut Chris’s stomach horizontally from rib to rib. He heard his wife and daughter screaming, but it had become something that was just a dull echo, an unreal phenomena in the real world around him. All images had fled, and all that remained was him, and the huge boy in front of him.
His attack had almost caught Chris by surprise, and although the young man leapt back, the tip of the knife still drew a thin superficial slice across his stomach, separating the material of his shirt, and drawing a line of blood across his stomach. Ted’s right hand came slashing upward, the knife held rigidly, meant to strike Chris at the base of his Adam’s apple. Chris’s hand came down, a rigid bunch of muscle that slashed across his father’s biceps, bruising muscles that would ache for a couple of weeks. The blow paralyzed Ted’s whole arm, and the knife dropped harmlessly to the ground. Ted’s hand was hanging uselessly beside him, a crushing wave of pain ripping through it, so sharp that it brought sudden tears to his eyes. He tried to bring his left hand up again to cut through Chris’s face, but again a crushing blow from Chris’s fist caught him flush on the joint between arm and shoulder, and again searing pain suffused Ted’s whole body. The knife dropped from his hand, and again that arm was rendered quite limp.
Chris spun round, and a flat hand slammed against Ted’s face, making him see a million lights. Ted moaned with pain as the force of the blow snapped his head almost off his neck. He tottered back on unsteady legs. Chris sent a crushing blow into his father’s stomach, and the older man this time groaned with pain. He didn’t see the back-handed blow that finally sent him crashing to the ground, his face squishing into the dust, and he found himself fighting to remain conscious. Ted heard screams of alarm, maybe from his two older sons, but he could barely make out the voices; they sounded so faint. He felt like an old man. Chris took a step toward the old man, the blood of fury still blinding him, but his mother moved to stand in front of him. She raised a hand, and she touched his right cheek…slowly, tenderly, lovingly.
“Chrissy,” she whispered in a small voice. “Enough.” It was as if ice had been poured on fire. It doused the wrath within the young man’s breast, and slowly his raised hand, with fingers bent like claws to shatter his father’s eyes, slowly dropped, and his head bowed. As his vision cleared slowly, Ted Bawa managed to turn himself unto his back, and then he sat up groggily. His arms were gripped from both sides, and although he felt excruciating pains in his arms, he gritted his teeth and refused to cry out.
His two older sons helped him to his feet. The three of them stood facing Chris Bawa, and their expressions held the same cold hatred. Ted’s head bowed, and for a brief moment all present saw a broken man. He looked suddenly frail and lost. All was quiet, except the low moans of Roy Sampson as pain still coursed through his shattered legs. Ted Bawa looked up finally, and his gaze rested on his youngest son.
“Get out, boy,” he said softly. “Don’t ever come back here again. You have lost a father, and you have lost a home. Don’t come back.” Chris nodded once, and his cold eyes never left the old man’s face.
“Fair enough. I don’t care what you do to Ato and Jamie, sir,” he said in an equally frozen voice. “But I have a mother and a sister here. If I hear they’ve lost even a single strand of hair, I’ll come back. You beat any of them ever, again, I’ll come back. Believe me, sir, you don’t want me to come back.” Ted Bawa nodded once. He understood. It was over. He knew that a warning had been issued, and knew that it wasn’t a mere message. Without another word he turned and trudged into his house.
Chris knelt beside the moaning Sampson and began to straighten the legs as he looked around for something he could use as splinters before sending him to the doctor. Some of the cowboys quickly hastened to help, but the majority of them, looking dazed and shaken, filed away in groups. Jamie and Ato looked at Chris, and there was no hiding the deep jealousy and hatred they felt for their younger brother. He had done what was expected of a man, what any child would do for a mother in distress. They knew that the portion of love their mother had for their brother had doubled that night, and knew also that to the men present Chris, the youngest son, would always be an icon of respect and an embodiment of manhood than the two of them.
In severing ties with their father, their younger brother had also taken a far greater part of their pride and dignity. He had humiliated his two older brothers. It was something they could not forgive, and it was something that would forever keep a fence between them and their younger brother. At that moment, Ato and Jamie Bawa hated their brother to the very core of their souls.