By Priscilla Kanjirawaya
I slightly move the curtain and a bright light illuminates my room. The sun must have risen a few hours ago. It is no surprise though that the sun had risen and is shining before I woke up. I see no reason why I should be waking up at dawn when all I do is stay at home. It’s holiday time so I must rest. Of course, this day is an exception. Not because the sun is too bright for the month of January in which we expect the sun to be weak but because I have a mission. One that I have kept every member of my family away from. Even my mother is in the dark.
The same woman with whom I share stories, ideas as well as dreams. She knows all my dreams, my fears and she encourages me never to give up on any of them whenever I feel like quitting. She is a part of everything I do. A part of me actually, but of course, not on this mission. I just have to do this on my own and I will.
My grandmother’s words echo in my mind as I put the tin on the fire to warm my bathing water. “You will know him one day, that’s if you are willing to. Where there is a will, there is a way,” she said on one of our visits with mother at her place. Mother had gone to the neighbour’s place to see an old friend of hers. I took advantage of her absence and asked.
That day, I had asked her if she knew who my father was. I got surprised with her response. I did not expect her to respond that fast. She grinned and said “I knew this would come up one day”. It was not a smile that I saw. That was a grin, I was certain, it did not stay long. Like vapour, it was gone in seconds.
A few seconds later she was facing the other side, eyes glued on a mango tree that was the oldest on the compound. She gazed at it without blinking as if in search for answers. Like they used to do in the past, seeking answers from trees. She stayed like that for over five minutes, not a single part of her body moved; she was still, like a dead log in the forest, motionless. Then with a smile she turned to me and said, “If you want to know him, you will. Just be ready for the long journey that it shall be”.
I knew she was not joking from the way she emphasised each word. The smile was only plastered on the lips; the other part of the face did not shine the way it does when my granny smiles. This would really be a long journey but I was determined to take it. I had to know the man that was my father. The one my mother said nothing tangible about. Even after asking her for days, months and even years. She never said anything convincing, all she said was “he is a stranger”.
I was determined. I would stop at nothing until I found that “stranger”. Whichever means I would take, I had to do it.
I took advantage of mother’s absence one day to search in her room. I turned tables, and cartons, searched the drawers for clues… I found none. Then I remembered a certain carton she left in my bedroom. I had no idea why she left it in my room, with no instruction.
I rushed to my room. The carton was in the top-most drawer. I took it down from the drawer and put it on my bed. I took out things one by one, nothing seemed to be as I expected. All I could find were her secondary school reports.
I had searched for almost an hour when what seemed like a forgotten letter caught my attention. It was at the corner of the carton. It had lost its colour, it looked brown… the ink was faint but still I could read bits of it…
The letter had a name; one that resembled the one my grandmother had mentioned. The same name that I had heard in one of my mother’s conversation. The one she had with her best friend. The conversation that ended after they noticed my presence in the room.
I took my phone immediately and called my granny, she confirmed my suspicions. The name on that letter was the same name, the one that my “father” answered to. The man that I had never known my entire life, of seventeen years.
This was a breakthrough; it was a huge step towards my goal. It would simplify my journey. The journey to discover a long kept secrets. Yes, my mother’s secret.
With the name, it would not be too hard for me to search for him. My friends had pledged to help me with the search. I called two of my closest friends to tell them about my first discovery.
Michelle was the one I wanted to notify first but the network was not in our favour. We could not hear each other; I tried to call again a few minutes later. This time around, the network behaved and she heard all I said to her properly. She repeated the name to make sure she heard me correctly.
The very moment she repeated the name to me, I heard someone call her, she excused herself and hung up.
It did not take long before she called back; this time around, she had news for me. Her mother had heard her when she mentioned that name and wanted to know why she was talking about her workmate on the phone.
The news pierced my heart and it ached. This was meant to be a secret. It had to be kept even away from her mother. I was afraid she would think we were going out with married men if she did not know the truth. However, telling her the truth would make it even worse.
To my relief, Michelle had denied mentioning the name. Despite having a few doubts, her mother had believed it.
Then we came up with a plan; she would secretly check for his phone number in her mother’s cell phone. She definitely had it. Having the contacts of her workmates was not an option for the Human Resource Manager that she was.
It worked perfectly well.
It’s a few days later and I have all the necessary details for the man I have always wanted to see. I have already taken a bath, ready to go. I will meet him at his office now that I know where it is located. Another thought creeps in…
The journey has not been as I had thought it would be. This is a Miracle. Everything went so fast and so easy. All the mountains were levelled and bridges were built on the rivers. I walked on a flat land. The journey that would tear my shoes has not even torn my slippers.
I have the phone number and name of the most wanted man in my life. All I have to do is press the digits and speak, introduce myself or send a message. No need to surprise him at his office.
I opt for the message. In a few minutes, he responds. It’s not a message. It’s a call; I hear my phone ring until the song that is my ring tone comes to an end. I have missed the call. My heart is racing. The song starts again, he is calling, again. Can’t he just respond with a text? Can’t he just agree to my proposal? If he does not want us to meet, can’t he just say, “No”? What if he wants to shout at me? A thousand thoughts flood my mind. A million questions erupt.
But I have done nothing wrong, I only introduced myself and asked if we could meet. That was my simple proposal. Was a “Yes” or “No” so hard to write?
I am soaked in my thoughts when the last words of the song are heard. I decide to put it on silent. I have to compose myself. I must search myself. Am I ready for his voice? I am not sure anymore.
Minutes pass by, I pretend not to care, I lay on my bed, face up, the phone on my side. It’s on silent mode now, I can’t hear anything. I don’t know if he is still calling or not. I close my eyes, I must sleep. Maybe I will dream about how to react to his calls.
I can’t sleep. The questions keep coming. Was this a good idea? Do I really want to meet him? What will mother say when she finds out?
An hour later, I have not slept yet. I usually sleep in the afternoon, but, today is an exception. My sleep has taken flight. It is abroad.
I take my phone again, this time I go by Job 13:13 “let come what may”. I am finished already, I have to face it. He is my father, whether he shouts at me or not. Whether he agrees or not. I will accept the outcome. At least I know the name. The one that would have been my surname if he had not abandoned my mother during her last month of pregnancy.
I unlock it, for the first time since mother bought this phone for me, I have 20 missed calls. They are all from the same person. The “stranger”. I am lucky, he also sent a message. It reads: “meet me tomorrow at lunch, chose a comfortable place for yourself.”
Just after I finish reading the text, he calls, for the twenty-first time. This time around, I pick it, I am ready. His voice almost scares me off, it is very deep, can make his chair vibrate if he speaks while seated.
We agree to meet at the park the next day, 12 noon.
It’s Tuesday, the day I am to meet him. I am excited, I will see my father. I will speak to him. I will ask my questions. I will have answers as to why he left us.
Punctuality is a virtue that mother taught me. It is 11: 30 and I am at the park already.
I move around the pack, appreciating the scenic beauty. Creation is beautiful, the green grass, the orange flowers, the purple leaves, the red roses, all these blend very well. The blue sky adds flavour to the already beautiful day. It’s not a surprise that people come to the place for photo shooting.
Its 11: 50, I am becoming nervous, I remember mother’s words, “he is a stranger”. He is not needed in our lives, he chose to leave. He was not ready (that’s the excuse he gave). She told me this a few years ago when she got tired of my questions. She just said “do not worry about him, he was not ready” “he left a few weeks before you were born”. He could not be called a father at 21, he had said.
He must be 38 now, I calculate. Is he ready now? Even If he is, does it matter? Why should it matter anyway? Did he think he would remain 21? What did he think of mother? Was she really his beloved as he claimed in the letter I had found? Would he leave her for good if she was? Does he care as he claimed yesterday? If he does, why didn’t he search for me all along?
Anger is slowly taking over my excitement. This man left us when we needed him the most, why should I bother about him now?
I check the time, it’s 10 after 12 noon, he must be here, somewhere, I throw my eyes here and there. I see him, in the same clothes that he said he would be in. He looks young, younger than his age. He is slim, and tall, very tall actually. The voice I heard does not befit him. I imagined a giant, but he is not.
I take steps forward to where he is sitting, he is pressing the keys on his phone, perhaps, he wants to call.
On second thought, I choose not to proceed. This man betrayed us, why should I bother about him now?
I turn back, switch off my phone and return home.