My most vivid memory of my father, is of me in a hospital bed and him in a chair seated beside me. It was a well-lit room, with walls colored a bright orange. The bed sheets had Mickey Mouse animations on them and someone had sprayed some fruity scent making the room smell like the cross breed of a water melon and a banana. Probably to counter the smell of disinfectant. I had food poisoning, probably from the nasty food I kept eating then. I threw up, and he cupped his hands, and let me throw up in them. He carried it into the toilet and deposited it there. In that moment, I knew he loved me. Of course he never said it. The men of his generation were stingy with their words, dishing them out only to lovers in the darkest nights. Perhaps this is why I have always loved to be loved. When they tell me they love me, I hear a part of my father’s voice in there. He loves me, he loves me.
My mind has always gone back to that moment in the years growing up. The milestones of my life associated with the moments I spent with my father. The result of growing up without him. My mind seeking out parallels, of what would have been had he been there.
I remember my first day in school. He walked me there, hand in hand. More of me swinging from his hand but those are unnecessary details. It was a public school about a kilometer from home. He dressed me that morning. And he was proud of me. I could tell from the way he brushed my little black shoes with a little more vigor than was necessary. The way he insisted after tying my tie that a man’s tie must always be above his belt. I felt handsome. We walked to school, and he stood with me as I got admitted. He stood there as I walked to class. I tried so much not to cry, even when the other kids cried bucket loads. He stood there until I disappeared into class, I am not sure who was more emotional that day. I would find him there that evening when it was time to go home. Every evening for the next 3 years I found him there. Even when mama said a little boy should walk himself home. I found him there. I think sometimes, that he knew his time was coming. Which is why he fought so hard to walk me to and from school. It was not in our fathers’ character to show emotion. But sometimes, his demeanor would crack. And in that moment, I saw him and he loved me.
It was 1997, the Moi era. When the World Bank decided Kenya could not be trusted to run its own affairs. So of course, our politicians being who they are, let the white man decide how to run black institutions. They decided that too many black men were employed. My father was laid off. My parents were expecting their first child then…me. They had been trying for ages with limited success. Something to do with lazy sperm. My mother became our breadwinner, and for my early years, I grew up knowing daddy was the one who took care of me. He died exactly 2,773 days after I was born.
You and I know that your parents will die. They are suffering from a terminal disease…. Life. Someone will call you some day. If they are kind they will find you and break it down face to face. You will listen intently, but you will hear nothing after the fact that they are, gone. You will break. Without dignity. Your god is gone, the universe will allow your world to dissipate. You will bury them. And you will exist in limbo for days, weeks or years. And no, they will not appear at night to tell you it is going be okay. That only happens in movies and psych wards.
I was 7 years when he died. My 8th birthday was almost with us. I had been badgering him to get me a bike. Every kid in my neighborhood had one back then. I desperately wanted to look just as cool with my bike. I did not quite grasp that my father was broke. Do kids ever understand these things? He got me one, and hid it in his room. I found it, after we came back from Shagz to bury him. I never rode it, it stayed in my room until I was too big for it. He had instead of using the money my mum gave him for his medication, he bought a bike. I never could quite shake off the feeling that I contributed somehow to him dying. I know, yes, that he got knocked down by a matatu. But somewhere in me, there is an illogical part that refuses to forgive myself.
In my house, it became a taboo to mention him. My mother would burst into tears for the next few months whenever something about him was mentioned. As for me, I became angry and generally a pain to be around. It was only when my mama sat me down and told me to cut it out that I came to terms with it. For years I have avoided conversations about him. I am tormented daily by the man he was. I lived in his constant shadow for years. Never having the courage to ask the people that knew him, who he was, to them at least. I was happy with the idea of the man he was. Perhaps afraid that the reality of the man would be disappointing. My mother has over the years tried to get me to learn more about my father. Insisting that a man must know where he comes from. I did not agree. But events in the past few months have made it necessary to ask these questions. I am sick.
The doctor tells me it is prostate cancer. My first question was whether it would affect my libido and my ability to engage in extra-curriculum activities, if you know what I mean. My mother smacked me. Apparently I am not too old for that. She had accompanied me to the doctor, to get that bump that refused to go away checked out. When your mother is the only family you have, it is difficult not to develop an unhealthy relationship.
Today is my second time getting chemotherapy treatment. I reacted badly the first time. Again, the movies lie. When they make it out to be the simplest thing ever. Where you sit there and have a read and a drink while the drugs make their way into your body. The reality is far worse. They literally pump poison into your system. Hoping that the shit kills the cancer before it kills you. After the session, you will smell death. Every time you puke your guts out, heaven will feel ever so closer, and the call to stop treatment and accept death ever so clearer. The hospital room looks similar to the room I was in years before with my father. Of course the bed is bigger, and the sheets less colorful. They assume that I am too old to appreciate having cartoons on my beddings.
We are waiting for the doctor. My mum seated in a chair beside me similar to the one my dad sat in decades ago. It is silent. There are no birds chirping, they know that the pain within these walls demand their silence. Or perhaps they migrated, we will never know. I ask my mum finally about my father. 20 years after he passed away, I ask her about him. I figure, if I will die, I might as well know something about the man I will meet. I ask her what she remembers most about him.
“He was a fighter.”
I ask her what she means by that. She explains that in his final years, life was not kind to him. It is never kind to men, but to the good ones, it is brutal. He lost his job and got sick, really sick. I am content to let it end at that. But you know mothers, always looking for an opportunity to deliver guidance through a thorough lecture. She tells me that all through his problems. He never gave up fighting for his family. Which is why he would walk me to school and come home to do the house chores. So that my mother did not have to deal with that when she came home from work. I can feel a lecture about us modern African men coming, so I divert the conversation. I ask her, what she valued most about him.
“He loved me.” She says.
In that tone that assures you she has no doubt about it. I think it is the way old people loved each other, deeply without question. Without the niceties but all depth. She tells me she misses him. Especially when she sees how much I resemble him. I ask her if she thinks I am as handsome as he was. She laughs, and heads out to call the doctor. Women….always avoiding questions. At the door she pauses, looks at me and says “If he was here, he would want you to fight to get well.” She runs out before I can say anything. It is her way of telling me to stay with her.
I guess, he would not want to see me this quickly.
Erokamano baba, sleep well.
Sorry we’ve been away for a bit. I hope you enjoyed this piece. If you did send it to your girls, girl friends and the brothers. Your shares, likes and reblogs make it worthwhile! Also, call your dads or father figures and wish them a Happy Father’s day 😉!