If I close my eyes, I can see him. He is running through the tea farms of Kapchorua. His little legs scurrying quickly away from trouble. He no doubt started it. He stops momentarily to look behind him. And at this moment you can see it. The tea factory smoking in the distance. The smoke slowly bellowing from the giant furnaces within. Sometimes when the wind blows this way, the air smells like a tea bag thrown into an open fire. It is delicious. The boy does not stop for long. The sight that meets him is threatening. His mother running full speed after him. She is surprisingly agile, her legs carrying her large frame with a gracefulness unexpected for a woman of her age. At forty, she is long past her prime. But her last born was born with a mischievousness that has brought back some youth into her bones. It is welcome. She, however, does not show it. Nor does she show the love that she feels for her last born son. If the beatings that she doles out were an indicator of a parent’s love. I would not be desirous of such a love.
She will not catch him. At least for today. He will avoid coming home for the whole day and will only come in the evening. He will be hungry, she will no longer be angry. He will say he is sorry. He is not. She will forgive him.
We are seated at that nifty little restaurant in Hurlingham, Salbaa. They have excellent outdoor seating. Beautifully crafted sofas, with covers that scream Made In Africa. The air is surprisingly fresh. Perhaps the trees planted here were called into a meeting with management. Promised a hefty bonus, if they kept bad gases away. It makes you feel like you are somewhere in Laikipia at a resort where Mzungus frequent. Where you need to show proof of having 10,000 dollars in your checking account before admittance. My friends Omondi, Chege, Waiyaki and myself were supposed to be having a conversation on investments. Grown men have to have something serious things to talk about when they meet. We can’t just meet to enjoy each other’s company and discuss our wives, children and our not so secret desires to elope with our wives sisters (who they did not let us meet before we married them). Instead, we found ourselves discussing the new curriculum. They all have kids in school and they hate having to do homework with them. They are always too tired after work. They just want to sit, eat, drink some tea and if the missus lets them, fuck. Instead, they are being forced to teach their kids Math!
I ask them what they expected when they had unprotected sex? Suddenly I am the bad guy.
“Wewe ngoja siku utazalisha ndio utajua!” Waiyaki quips.
With that, the conversation turns to fatherhood. What fatherhood means for each of us. How our fathers color who we are as men, husbands and human beings. They asked me to swear not to write about it. Of course, I refused. It’s like asking a Nairobi man not to hit on his girlfriend’s busty friend. It is impossible. They, however, insisted that I do not name names. I hastily agreed to that, why would I tell total strangers that Omondi has never been told I love you by a man?
“What image comes into your mind when your dad is mentioned. ” I ask.
They pretend to be thinking. You can hear the gears turning in their minds working to figure out a way to avoid this question. Chege insists that since I asked the question, I should answer it first. To give them an understanding of how to answer it. He has always been the smart one.
I remember how we used to react when dad came home. We were young, I was 3 yrs old with my oldest sister at 9 yrs. He would always open the door with a shout. It was his way of announcing he was home. Mum hated it. We loved it. We would always scurry towards him, struggling to be the first to reach him. This was quite difficult for me noting that I was younger with small legs competing with my sisters who were born warriors. I almost always lost. He would grab all 3 of us. Hugging us first then hoisting each of us in the air one by one. I was the last born, he always hoisted me last, and for longer. Then he would struggle carrying all of us into the sitting room where mum was. My sisters through this would be shouting, “baaaba, baaaba, baaaba!” My mother for the moment relegated to be an onlooker in a love story she couldn’t participate it. When he finally plopped into the couch, we would let him go and rush back to whatever we were doing. Mum, would then have him until next time.
The second image I have is of a story my dad’s mum told us. How he was always mischievous and she would have to chase him through tea farms just to dole out beatings. Her success rate at catching him was remarkably low.
“You use the past tense when talking about him. Is he still alive?” Waiyaki asks.
Of course not. Good men don’t live long lives. He crashed his car into the back of a semi-trailer with my mum next to him.
“Do you think that maybe that is why you don’t want kids? You are afraid to die and leave them without you?”
No one wants to think of his child growing up without him. Maybe that’s why I choose to leave like this. If I die, there are fewer people to disappoint. Just my wife and sisters who I am sure won’t have to explain to their peers the reason their parents don’t show up for visiting. I know I am being unfair but… It is Waiyaki’s turn now. How does he remember his father? Waiyaki tells us his story, quite boring I should add. Of how his father was always there through everything. How his father provided everything for them. He does not notice that I have zoned out. I think of baba, his laughter, his charisma and the way he loved mum.
If I close my eyes now, I can see him. Me, seated on the floor of our apartment. Waiting for 7 pm. The sound of the metal shutter opening on our door. A dark hand inserted through the opening, fiddling with the bolt lock, opening it. He tries to push the door open. It budges, but it won’t open fully.
“Daddy, uko hapo?” He asks
Of course, I am.
I remove the chair I had blocked the door with. He enters, drops his bag on the floor and stretches his arms. But I refuse to be bribed with a hug.
“Dayyi, ulisema hutaniacha leo asubuhi.” I stand there my hands across my chest. My tone accusing him.
He nods. He remembers his promise.
“Na kwanini uliniacha?”
He patiently explains that he had to go to work really early today.
“Ungeamka kukiwa na giza?” He asks. I shake my head. I hate waking up early.
“Kesho nikikupeleka Uhuru Park utanisamehe?” I nodded foolishly. And somehow I was hugging him. Making him promise to buy Ice Cream, Sodas, and Scones when we went to “Uhuyu Park.”
“Dayyi, na kama uko na pesa unaweza ninulia chips? He nods. I insist that he doesn’t have to buy my sisters chips. He laughs sneakily, then whispers that he will only buy them for him and I. We will eat them in hiding, somewhere they can’t find us. In his room, when mum is not around.
“Lakini tunaweza wapea Sosej ndio wasilie?” Of course, we can. He appoints me as director of the sausage sharing committee.
He lifts me up now, snuggles his face into mine, his beard scraping my chin. For the moment everything is forgiven. I love it. He calls out, “MMEPIKA NINI?” My sisters come out of the kitchen screaming “baaaaba, baaaaba, baaaaba!”
For that day at least, I won the race into his arms.
PC: Pexels – Biova Nakou
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