23rd, March, 2007
Time: 8am or thereabout
All of a sudden, I feel this emptiness in my heart; it’s like a part of it has been taken away. I suddenly feel tired. The assembly is taking way too much time than I had expected and the standing is wearing me down. I can’t wait to get back to class.
The headmaster is speaking. He is talking about something to do with class eights being the engines of the school. But I am not really listening; my head is everywhere but here.
Time 8:30 am or thereabout
The assembly finally comes to an end; I am the first to get to class and head over to my desk. As I am taking my seat the rest of the class streams in. “kwani Allan you didn’t go to the assembly?” some ask. I just stare at them with nothing much to say. There is this vacuum inside of me that has rendered me dumb. Or maybe I don’t feel like I owe anyone an explanation. I still don’t know why I am feeling this way.
The time table reads English as the first lesson of the day; and it’s a double. God help us because Mrs. Okore, our teacher of English, might decide to give us a composition (or two) to write. I hate writing compositions (the irony). She is a huge woman, Mrs. Okore, with Yana tyres for a waist, She is light for her age, has tiny eyes with a tiny nose and a full mouth. She is medium in height. Her hair is grazing her shoulders; they are long for an African woman’s hair. She has arms the size of my thigh. She has this goldish watch that I really like. At the face it has a picture of a blue Nike sport shoe. I think it’s pretty cool.
Mrs. Okore is a household name at Arya primary school. She is mostly known for giving out too many compositions and her infamous heavyweight slaps. Pupils revere and fear her in equal measures. She is very good at her job, and she does it with so much passion; that’s respectable. But she is also feared for her slaps. She would tilt your face at an angle, then lift her heavy hand… and let the force of gravity do the rest. When it landed on your cheek, you would see a quick flash then darkness. The slaps would make you forget who you are for a split second, where you are, heck you even forgot your mother’s name! All you saw was darkness followed by a ringing sound in your ear. The slaps struck like lightening.
8:40 am or thereabout
Today we are revising a certain past paper. Thank goodness there is no composition writing. I am seated at the window, looking at this pretty Indian girl; petite with long black hair flowing from her head like a river and falling delicately on her shoulder like a waterfall. She is going about her business oblivious of the creep staring at her from a window at the first floor of this old building that acts as a classroom.
9:00 am or thereabout
I, all of a sudden, hear a voice call my name from a distance. I can’t really place the voice, though it sounds so familiar. But with the third call and a tap on my shoulder, I am brought back to the land of the living. Everyone in class is staring at me. Why is everyone staring at me?
“Allan, could you come out here please?” Mrs. Okore calls out to me. She is standing at the door with Mrs. Phelistas, our CRE teacher. Turns out, they have been standing there for a while talking. I get up shaking like a certain chameleon on a feeble twig that we keep singing about in class. Everyone is still staring at me; some with pity and others with evil grins plastered on their faces, “leo umepatikana”, Steve mouths at me. We all know that I am going to get a dose of those slaps. I mean, why else would Mrs. Okore call me out? Certainly not to give me a cookie for daydreaming in class. The room was ominously quiet, that horror movie deathly silence.
Once I reach where they are, eons later, they ask me to follow them to the staffroom. My heart is beating so fast, it’s like it’s trying to break free from this cage that it has been prisoner for the last 13 years. God, is this how people get a heart attack?
The staffroom too is on the first floor though it is not part of the class eight block. The staffroom is connected to the class eight block with something like a bridge, if I may call it that. The ground floor of the staffroom is a hall; it is yet to be completedthough. Before we reach the staffroom, we part ways with Mrs. Phelistas. She takes the stairs down leading to the class seven block.
Upon reaching the staffroom, whose face do I see staring back at me? Ochieng. I’m taken aback. What the hell is Ochieng’ doing here? Shouldn’t he be at the hospital looking after dad? wait, or dad is too happy that he is finally out of the hospital that he couldn’t wait to tell his children so he sends Ochieng over to tell us!? No no, that’s so unlike dad. Something is wrong.
Being a senior teacher, Mrs. Okore, she has her own office; a tiny room overlooking the canteen, with only four chairs and a table. Yet to be marked composition papers neatly arranged at the far end of the table against the wall.
But what disturbs me is the look I saw on Ochieng’s face as Mrs. Okore led me to her office. There was some sadness written all over it. Something must have definitely happened. But I think to myself, you worry too much Allan. This worry will be your undoing. Chill dude.
I chill. At least, I try to.
She asks me to sit, I do. then an awkward silence settles in the room; I was wondering what this was all about, if I’m to be caned, let’s get it over with, I’ m ready. But she doesn’t do that, all she does is stare at me awkwardly. I on the other hand was trying as much as possible to avoid her peering gaze. But now I think she was wondering where or how to start. I mean, how do you tell a 13 year old kid that you’ve just recieved news that his father is dead?
Minutes later, I hear a commotion at the door followed by a knock. In comes my brother being ushered in by Mrs. Phelistas. He has confusion written all over his face as well. I bet he saw Ochieng on his way to this office and the same questions that are running in my head are running in his too.
Then the “interview” begins. I am calling it an interview because it felt like one; for a position I am not sure I applied for; The Junior Position Of Fatherlessness.
“Where does your mom work?”
“What does your dad do?”
All along I am wondering where they are headed with all these questions. Fear of the unknown starts creeping in; and let me tell you this for free people, it is the worst kind of fear. Its better you fear something that you know; fearing something that you don’t know is like finding yourself in a dark forest all alone. Not knowing what might be lurking behind the bushes.
The questions cease, finally! Mrs. Okore then goes on a spiel how this (I still don’t know what ‘this’ is) should not interfere with our studies. “You know Brian, you are one of our best students.” Auuuchhhh!!
She then lets out a sad sigh. She looks at us both with a look I had never seen on her before. Heck, I never knew she could even pull that look off! Mrs. Okore is an iron lady whose face never show emotion. Well until today. A look of melancholy sat on her face, and it was at that moment that I knew. But I kept on denying it in my head.
Come on he can’t be dead… I mean Mom told me yesterday that he, dad, will be discharged today. Or did she lie? She knew he was going to die and she lied. No, Allan, you are being too dramatic, she was so happy; she couldn’t have faked that spark in her eyes now could she? Dad can’t be dea…
I lost my train of thought when I heard the word dead.
“I’m sorry what?” a squeaky voice I didn’t recognize asked. I didn’t think the voice belonged to me until I saw everyone turn and look at me.
“Your father is dead Allan. I am so sorry… but you know, this is not the end of th…”
Everything slows down. I look at my brother and I could see him fighting back tears, and failing miserably at it. I look at Mrs. Okore, she is still talking. I can’t really hear what she is saying. I look at Madam Phelistas, she has the look of loss. It is like she was the one who had lost someone. She looked like she was about to cry. I feel sorry for her, when it should be the other way round. Then I look back at my brother, we both lock eyes and we think the same thing; he is really dead
For a second the world spins and I see darkness. Almost immediately before I could fall down unconscious, I regain control. Then I start to cry. I let the tears flow. Flow flow tears, knock yourselves out
Sure, my father had his faults; a womanizer, an alcoholic, an abusive father, an abusive husband…nobody’s perfect. He had his faults just like every other human being. Mistakes are to human. But he didn’t deserve to die, at least not now.
I get so angry all of a sudden; angry at God for letting dad die despite my prayers. Despite mom’s prayers. you watched Satan win, God, you let that lowlife piece of shit win! you just sat there and did nothing! were you sleeping on the job? I get angry at dad, for giving up on us too soon. I get angry at mom, for lying. I get angry at Ochieng’ for no reason whatsoever. I get angry at the two teachers seated in front of me, for being the bearers of bad news. I get angry at the world, at life, at every freaking thing that exists. Except my brother. I feel a certain bond; that which is brought about by grief. We are in this together
10:00am or thereabout
I cry on my way back to class. it is break time, which means people are out, which means they are staring. I don’t really care. let them stare.
Amidst the sobs, it hits me that I actually loved that old bugger. Despite everything that he put us through. Or maybe I am crying out of pity, you know? Good riddance. But as I look back now, ten years later, it wasn’t pity, I cried out of pain; pain that only comes about when you lose something/ someone that you love. He had his faults, but he was still my father.
I get to class, there’s only one girl in; the rest of the class is out eating mandazis not having a care in the world. The girl looks at me and she sees tears. I know I looked a mess. I bet she thought that I had received some really good beating in the staffroom. I see surprise pop on her face when she sees me take my bag, stuff it with my books, lock my locker and head out. She is probably wondering what the hell is going on, but I am in no mood to talk. She can see that so she doesn’t ask any questions. All along I am crying… I cry an ocean, and this ocean will take a very long time to build a bridge over and move on, if that’s even possible.
I meet Ochieng and Brian at the school gate where they have been waiting for me. We get out of the school together, board a matatu and head home.
As we near the hospital that dad’s lifeless body lay, I resist the urge to jump out of the matatu and ran to where he is and ask him why; why he had to make mom a widow at a very young age. Why he had to leave all the burden of raising us to her. Why he had to go so soon. Why he couldn’t fight for his life a little fervently. Why did you have to go so freaking soon dad???!!! But all I do is watch the building as it ominously stood, silent, in all its splendor looking down at me mockingly. The building that houses the remains of my father.
10:45 am or thereabout
We reach Corner Mbuta, our last stop, we alight and start walking home. As we are walking, people who used to know my dad are telling us how sorry they are. This is making me feel even more sorry for myself and I cry some more. I don’t need your sympathy, I find myself saying in my head. Nothing is compared to the pain of losing a father. The pain is unbearable. I cannot even begin to imagine growing up without him. How?
11:00 am or thereabout
I get home pissed off at mom for lying to us that dad was coming back home today. I want to confront her but the minute I lay my eyes on her all the anger vanishes. She looks distraught. All along I had been thinking of myself not thinking of what my mother must be going through. How selfish. When she saw us, she ran over to us and took us in her arms. We all cried in each others arms for what seemed like forever. None of us was willing to let go.
He died a few minutes past 8; around the time I felt the emptiness in my heart. He died, and with it a piece of me died too and a vacuum was created; an unfillable void.
Dad had changed. He even promised to quit alcohol, though we all knew that was the sickness talking. Mom loved him despite his faults. He tried as a father; took us to good schools, bought us anything that we needed; ensured that we ate healthy. In short we never lacked, he made sure of that. And that was why mom was willing to put up with him. Plus he never abused her anymore. He could come home drunk as a skunk, but he would never raise a hand on her. That was change. But now he was gone. Never to return.
Later on I will learn that he wanted mom to bring him pineapples come the following day when she went to visit. So when she received a call from him on that day at around 8:20 am, she says she smiled and thought, aii kwani how bad does this guy want these pineapples? Only, it wasn’t dad on the other end of the line.
I will also later learn that on that fateful day, he woke up as usual at around 7. When the nurses came to change the sheets at around 7:30, he said hi to them, excused himself and went to bask at the balcony. He stood there leaning on the railing of the balcony for a whole 30minutes, watching the world below move on without him. He took it all in, the sun, the noise, the people going about their activities… I am picturing him closing his eyes and taking a deep breath savoring the moment; like he knew he was seeing all this for the last time.
When he feels like he has had enough, he comes back in and takes his porridge; the last meal he took on this earth. It makes me wonder, what will my last meal be before I die? He then pukes all of it before he is even done. And there my friends, there is where death who has been lurking somewhere in the room impatiently waiting for him to be done with the porridge before he took him away, says “you know what? Fuck it!” Then he moves in for the kill.
I can’t help but wonder what he was thinking as life escaped his body. Was it mom? His wife? Was it his children? His three beautiful boys? Or was it all of us combined? Or his whole life just flushed before him, regretting some of the choices that he made in life wishing he did some things differently but knowing all too well that it was too late for that now? Was it painful as death squeezed the life out of him? Did he put up a fight? You know, not going down without a fight and all? Or did he accept the fact that his time was up, and like a lamb that is about to be slain, he sat there and let death get it over and done with?
I will never have the answers to those questions I guess. Unless there is hell after all, and we find ourselves there, only then will I ask him.
The funny part is that I cannot really remember the date he got buried. I know it was a Saturday though because most Luos tend to bury their on that day. The only thing I can remember is being relieved that we were over and done with it. Because the hubbub of the funeral service was weighing me down, it was all I could do not to shoot myself in the head.
We miss you so much dad. I know our lives would have turned out so differently had you been around. The other day mom and i were talking about you, how probably we would have been at a better place with you around. There was so much sadness in her voice and the therapist in me had to make her feel better;
“Everything happens for a reason mom,” I said.
I always hate it when someone tells me that everything happens for a reason, such a cliché. not all things happen for a reason, some just happen. but I guess that’s what she needed to hear at the time, or maybe not
Bye dad. This is the last article I’m writing of you. I’m letting you go. The bridge has been built, it has take 10 years, but it is done. I am crossing it now. The last full stop will mean that I have crossed to the other side.