By Vincent Kipchumba.
We all sat down, ears perched on the small squeaky sonny radio that was daddy’s. Normally, if he was here, he would be sitting on this table clutching onto it as if to dear life, anyone who dared even cough would be sent out of the house with a stream of abuses, it was as though the only thing that mattered to papa, other than his bottle, was news.
Mama, my brother Timo and I nervously waited for the announcement just like we had for the last three years; we looked hard at each other as the radio presenter read out the names slowly. Each of us held their breath, hoping that daddy’s name would be called out, well at least my Mama and brother hoped.
I on the other hand was indifferent. It didn’t matter whether he was here or not, after all, we never talked, so I didn’t even miss him at all.
In the first year after daddy was gone, I have to admit that I missed him abit, just a little bit, you know, like when you are playing with your friends and they tell you what their father bought them for Christmas and you want to say the same, whether its true or not, well like that, I had almost hoped that his name would be called out but when it didn’t happen I completely stopped hoping. Mama was a staunch believer, she always said that we should hope against all odds, she also expected us to follow the bible word perfect. Never mind I didn’t even know many words from it except the psalms she had continuously made us memorize when we were younger and more obedient.
Mama’s eyes burnt brightly with hope of my dad’s return that she even forgot this was the very same day I was born, maybe this was partly the reason I didn’t care much if daddy came home or not, after all who likes spending their birthday in front of a blaring piece of technology?
‘Your papa will soon be home’, she said ,as if I didn’t know that already, clutching onto her little worn out black and red bible, ‘he will be here today,’ she repeated rather absent mindedly more to herself than to us. Little Peter played with his toy car, once or twice gazing at us curiously although basically lost in his child world.
‘’ninety, ninety one…’’my brother Timo counted on fervently as the presenter called out the names ,The mention of daddy’s name turned the house into a bizarre place whirling with excitement .Mama danced round the house, singing and making short grateful prayers, I thought she was being too dramatic.
Timo was less dramatic, though from his face I could tell that he was very excited, he had always dreamed of being daddy’s ideal boy and so he got up and announced that he was going to shave his hair, I wondered where he had gotten the cash because just yesterday, I had asked him for five shillings to buy an onion and he had sworn that he didn’t have.
I stood up and went to the kitchen, knowing very well that mama would expect nothing less than a sparkling house from me; I went round the house, pouring water on the dusty earth to make the dust settle before I swept it clean, the ground smelled so good I wanted to eat it, just like when it rains.
The kitchen which doubly served as my brothers’ bedroom and chicken house was the hardest to clean because of the droppings and soot from our Maika, mama stood outside, smirk on her face, eye fixed on me, ‘clean it Teresa, I can still smell the muck, here have some omo,’she called out throwing a 500g sachet at me, ‘you know your father doesn’t like dirt’ she added with a glint in her eyes.
My eyes were burning with tears, the acrid smell of smoke would have been my excuse, but I also knew that mama’s aggravation was back. She tried too hard to please my father and ended up hurting me in the process.
Daddy was too hard to please, just like my math teacher, why didn’t she get that?
My mind drifted back to the night when Daddy had been taken away. He had come home, early and sober, called my brother outside and held his shoulder, I, never wanting to be left behind, had followed them secretly and hid behind the kitchen, my ever drunk father was sober, I had to find out why.
Daddy then tried to chat with my brother but it was so bizarre, he couldn’t look him in the eye, the usually harsh guy was speaking so softly I could hardly hear him, and he cleared his throat which had been made raspy by his endless drinking. ‘ Son, I want you to take good care of your mother and siblings, I might be away for a bit, but I will definitely be back, please be here for your mama, you know how heartrending she can be, I trust you, my eldest son.’
This was all my brother needed to hear, he continuously nodded, eager to please his hard to please dad. I found his credulity most infuriating, he didn’t even bother to ask daddy where he would be going.
Less than thirty minutes later, the area chief arrived with two police officers; they called mama and daddy outside and after speaking for awhile, handcuffed my father and led him to the waiting range rover. Mama looked on as the car drove off, too stunned to speak, lips bitten in what I assumed was an effort to keep from screaming, she walked back into the house, got into her room and locked the door.
Mama never talked about daddy’s going away ever since that day.
We only gathered tidbits of information and slowly by slowly, began patching up the story. Apparently, during one of his drinking sprees, daddy had begun elatedly talking about this ‘girl’ he had met a week back.
On describing her, it then occurred that the said ‘girl’ was also another man’s wife. The husband, furious and greatly humiliated had immediately thrown a blow at daddy, my father, a time bomb himself, produced a knife from his jacket and stabbed the poor half drunk man, who unfortunately was hospitalized the next day because of the wound.
My thoughts were interrupted by the pungent smell of mama’s cheap perfume and I turned and saw her staring at me. She had gone through the trouble of making herself beautiful, the best way she knew how, for her husband whom we expected to come home today.
‘Teresa, once you are done sweeping, put some water on the Maika and make your father some brown ugali, I am going to see if Mzee Kibera can loan me a kilo of meat and wheat floor, also make sure those children are bathed and clean, your father might arrive anytime, after all Kamiti is just twenty minutes from here. ‘She went on; oblivious of whether I was or wasn’t listening.
I didn’t answer mama, not that she wanted an answer; she scuttled off, singing in her high pitched soprano.
I felt tears stinging my eyes and tried unsuccessfully to keep them away, Mama was so unfair, and she didn’t even see that my back was already aching from the enormous workload she was heaping on me? Just because daddy was coming didn’t mean my back had to break, and after all, it was not like he was coming from abroad with money, no, the guy was an ex-convict who was supposed to rot in prison for the rest of his life but had been granted presidential reprieve.
I could already smell Daddy’s alcoholic stench as he staggered along the narrow path that led from the ‘Yokozuna Clinic’ to the semi-permanent half mud half cement structure I called home. Years ago, I had promised myself that I would not sit there and watch Dad beat up mom anymore, and I knew for sure that today would be a replay of four years ago, only the main character would be a reformed’ prisoner (I doubt’).
I stood up tall and stared at my shadow, this girl was fifteen, and even if no one sang her songs they were bound to find that out today.
I ran into the house and stuffed my few belongings into an old college bag that was a hand down from my cousin Eliza, I then climbed to the bedroom roof and carefully removed the mabati saving box Timo had made for him and I to use. I broke it and counted the shillings and coins inside. They amounted to two thousand, three hundred and seven shillings, I stuffed it all in my college bag, praying that Timo would understand that I had to do this. Armed with this; I got out through the back door and ran for my life.