I was ten when it happened.
I hadn’t been asleep for long when the noise and clattering began.
It crawled into my subconsciousness, lingered distantly until it finally tugged me out of sleep, and I laid there, half-asleep in my yellow pajamas, besides my sister, who had marked her fifth year in the world just that week.
She slumbered deeply, oblivious to these noises I had edgily become accustomed to. It died down in the past, it always did, and the next day or hours later, they were back in each other’s suitable braces: laughing and being cordial.
Those were the lull moments in our household; they made me happy, comfortable, and carefree, but tonight, tonight, the argument seemed to go on eternal.
I rose from the bed and trudged towards the door – they always left it half open to hear us from their room.
The light from the corridor was reflecting past the open doorway. I quietly reduced the opening into a crack and hid behind the door, out of sight, with only my eyes peeking through the gap.
Mum was wearing a pair of jeans and a blouse, and I wondered why she was dressed in her outing attire at that time of the night: she usually wore her long nightgown.
I could see bags on the floor: two matching bright yellow suitcases, the same ones she had carried on our last Christmas trip to her mama’s house.
Mum and dad began struggling over the bags. Their angry and heated words rented the air at the same time that their hands scuffled over the suitcases.
Dad was trying to stop her, but mum maintained her grip, constantly slapping dad’s hand away from the bag’s handle and kicking her legs at him.
“Ifeoma, don’t do this,” he pleaded this time, his hands still wrestling, “you cannot do this to us, please don’t leave us.”
“I can’t live this life anymore!” my mother cried, convulsing with emotion, “let me go!”
When he still wouldn’t let her leave, she kicked him in the groin, and I watched my father’s hands fly down between his thighs. He cupped the area, and his body hunched forward in pain.
Mother hastily snatched the second suitcase and dragged it hurriedly after herself.
She paused when our eyes met. She looked at me, and I stared back at her, iced to my spot. She didn’t seem surprised to see me; she just looked sad.
Her eyes were red from crying, and snot lingered down her nose. And even though I didn’t quite understand why at the time, a deep sense of sadness enveloped me, and tears escaped down my cheeks.
It felt like the end.
“Ifeoma!” my father called, recovering from his blow, and mother broke her gaze away from me and charged towards the front door.
My presence stopped my father as he sped past my door – disappointed to find me standing there yet too determined to run after my mother, he breezed onwards, hollering her name repeatedly.
The front door banged shut; I didn’t know who slammed it, but I slowly closed mine and walked back to the bed. I climbed onto the mattress and wrapped my arm around my sleeping sister.
I had closed the door. Our mother always warned us never to close our door, we were mandated to leave it open at all times, but that night, for the first time, I shut the door.
“Ese,” I whispered to my sleeping sister amidst warm cascading tears, “I shut the door.”
It felt like the end.
I woke up to the smell of Akara.
It was Saturday, and we always had Akara with pap every Saturday morning – there would be no Akara if mum were gone, so I smiled gleefully to myself, realizing that yesterday was a dream after all!
I looked to my side; it was empty; Ese was up before me. I jumped down from the bed to go find Ese, mother, and father.
I knew they would be in the kitchen, so I began to hop down the corridor leading to our kitchen. Flashes of what I thought I had seen on that corridor visited my mind, but I pushed those thoughts aside; mum was in the kitchen, frying Akara, just like she always did every Saturday morning.
I found Ese at the table, busy with her crayons and sketchbooks, with our father standing by the gas cooker, turning Akara in the frying pan, “Good morning Imoni!” He always called me Imoni for short of Iminiovwerha.
I looked around, feeling like something was amiss, “Where is mummy?” I asked hopefully.
“Why don’t you take a seat at the table,” he gestured with the silver frying spoon in his grip. He was smiling, relaxed in his usual way, yet his eyes looked puffy like he had been crying.
“Imoni see, see my thing!” went Ese, holding up a painted sketched airplane to my face. “We will fly far, far away-yy!” her voice rang energetically.
I took the seat like a zombie, allowing my mind to replay the events I witnessed on that corridor last night…
“How do you want your pap Imoni?” father’s voice tried to distract my thoughts, “with lots of milk or with little milk?”
“Lots of milk!!!” Ese chanted, rushing to speak before me, as was usual.
“Lots of milk it is then, for my two beautiful princesses,” he said bubbly, reaching his hand to grab the milk container from the upper cabinet.
I remembered mother’s eyes, how we had gazed at each other last night…
It was not a dream!!!
The joy I had felt waking up disappeared, and in its place dwelled confusion and sadness. I looked at father; he was whistling a nursery rhythm, much to the excitement and giggling of Ese as he stirred our pap.
I watched Ese obliviously laughing and clapping to father’s singing, and I wondered when mother would return.
A calendar hung up on the wall in my room; it had been a gift from my mother.
“With this, I will teach you how to count the days of the month and months of the year,” she had said to me, and together, we hung it on the wall. I remembered repeating after her as she pronounced the months and taught me how many days they were in each month.
We crossed out each new day to remind me that, that particular day was the day we were in.
After breakfast that Saturday morning, I went to my room and picked up a pencil. I circled the present day: it was January 5th, 2002.
I would circle each day until our mother returned.
My father was a Lawyer and a very busy Lawyer.
When our mother was around, he drove us to school and picked us up from school every day. Then he would drop us at home and drive back to work to return only when the sun had gone down.
But on that Monday morning, when he dropped us at home, he did not return to work. Instead, he stayed to give Ese and me a bath, then he cooked us a meal and watched us eat. Afterward, he saw to it that we observed our siesta.
We woke up from our nap to find him working on the dining table, papers spread out on the entire table – which was unusual as he barely worked when he was home with all of us.
“Where is my mummy?” Ese asked for the umpteenth time since Sunday. “I want my mummy,” she repeated, rubbing her right eye with her fist.
Father rose from the chair to where we stood and lifted Ese into his arms. He reached his free hand down to me, I took it, and he walked with us to the sofa. He placed Ese on the couch and lifted me to sit beside her. He squatted in front of us and said, “Mummy has gone on a journey, very far away—“
“Like my airplane?” chipped Ese.
Father smiled and touched her chin, “Yes, like your airplane.”
“But I want to go with my mummy,” Ese said insistently, “I want my mummy to come and carry me,” wiggling her tiny legs persistently against the sofa’s cushion.
“Is she coming back?” I finally asked father before he could cook up an answer for Ese.
He looked at me thoughtfully, and with sadness in his eyes, he nodded and said, “I hope she does.”
“I want my mummy, I want my mummy!!!” Ese began to chant, almost tearfully. Father and I stared at each other in silence. He broke his gaze to lift Ese back into his arms and straightened up on his feet.
He spun her around, tickled her stomach, and she laughed impulsively, forgetting her desire for mother at that moment.
They were laughing and goofing around that I, too, instinctively chuckled.
Dad’s aged mother came to live with us in the days that followed. During that time, father told us he was reconstructing an old building attached to our house into an office.
“Why?” I remember asking him.
“Because I want to be closer to you girls.”
“Is mummy not coming back?” I had asked, even though afraid of what his answer would be.
“I don’t know my dear,” he had responded, brushing Ese’s hair, and I picked up my pencil and made a circle around the date, which read January 15th, 2002.
Dad started to work at his new building next to our house, and so did his staff.
I don’t know how he quite did it, but he was always there for Ese and me.
Grandma was old and constantly coughing, but she kept an eye on us alright, always chasing sluggishly after us with her slipper.
Dad would come home frequently to check on Ese and me. He still assisted us in bathing and drove us to school every day. He cooked our meals and woke up late at night to iron our clothes and do our laundry.
He took us to the salon to braid our hair and went to the market to buy our clothes and shoes. He helped us with our assignments and took us to the park every Saturday evening.
Dad would ask me to watch everything he did around the house. When he swept, I was there. When he dusted and mopped, I was there. When he cooked, I was there; when he did the dishes, I was still there – watching, learning, and helping out.
When I clocked eleven that November, I could cook simple meals, clean the house, and help a lot with Ese. Dad even taught me how to use a needle and a thread.
I circled December 31st, and the dates on my calendar became exhausted; nothing was left to circle. “I’ll save that for you,” father said to me when he took down the calendar.
He never replaced it, and I, too, stopped counting the days to our mother’s return.
Ese and I returned from school one day to find grandma gone. She had been asleep as usual when our father drove us to school that morning.
Father said she had gone to heaven in her sleep.
After grandma passed, father created a room for us in his office. The room held a big twin sofa, a table, and a TV with an adjourning bathroom. We went there every day after school and returned home with him.
Even though our house shared the same fence with his office, he couldn’t bear to let us out of sight.
I got admission into secondary school and went to live in a boarding house, leaving our father with Ese. They came to see me during visiting days in my school, and Ese would tell me all about how doting father was over her.
He even bought her a puppy.
Mother never returned.
I do not remember her calling on our birthdays either. She was gone, but father did his best to fill her space in our lives.
He taught us the things we needed to know as good human beings and the feminine stuff he could not teach us; he always employed someone.
He was our friend, our teacher, and most importantly, our father. And although his hair grew grey beyond his peers, and his eyes were tired, and the skin on his face grew soft and wrinkled, like that of a man thrice his age, he never stopped caring for us.
…Today, as I scooch by his gravestone, twenty-five years later, placing a rose to celebrate my third father’s day without him in this world, I am reminded that Ese and I turned out to be fine women because of him…
I felt my husband’s hand lovingly squeeze my shoulder out of my memories. I looked up at him and smiled sadly.
He nodded understandingly, and I dropped my gaze back to the still new-looking headstone. I kissed my fingers and touched the tombstone, then rose to my feet and allowed my husband to wrap my arm in his.
Side by side, in comforting silence, we walked back to our car.
We will deliver a speech at a Pediatrics conference in less than two hours. I made a mental note to ring Ese afterward: she should be done representing her client in Court by then.
Dedicated to all present and loving single fathers all around the world.
9 thoughts on “It Was My Father.”
We need more dads like this.
Expecting a book from you someday.
Aw, thanks so much.
It’s good to have you back. Being a father myself, this is quite refreshing and a departure from the stereotypes gradually forming about laissez-faire dads. Thanks for telling the other side.
🙂 you’re welcome.
It truly puzzles me where the thought of such write up…flows from…..I wish I am this gifted…
You are beyond gifted. I pray you never get writers block. This is your gift from heaven.
🙂 thanks so much.