At dawn, each day from my bedroom, I would hear my father muttering a prayer. Disturbed out of my sleep, and staring into the darkness hanging in my room, I would let my ears wander, and I would hear him mutter:
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thank you for this wonderful day you have granted me. Thank you for my wonderful four children and wife. Grant me the strength and the wisdom to provide for them. Guide my steps today. May your sun shine upon me and illuminate my paths.
And in unison with my mother, they would mutter a loud “Amen.”
Later, much later, I would wonder: why didn’t he pray, saying:
Murungu, God of Mumbi and the nine daughters; He who sits atop Mt. Kenya, thank you for this wonderful day. Thank you for my wonderful four children and wife. Grant me the wisdom and the strength to provide for them. Guide me through the valleys and up the hills. May your sun shine on my paths today, Amen.
I wondered why he didn’t pray to the God of our ancestors, and that would take me years until I realised that we had been forced to forget our African ways of worship.
After prayers, he would scurry to the door, unlock and twist the knob to open. He would, quite likely, head to the store which was more of an extension of the kitchen built outside the house and within the compound. He would don on his overall, gumboots and a water resistant raincoat on top. He would then wear a monkey face cap and head to the cowshed, carrying warm water for milking on one hand and milking salve, arimis, on the other. And his attention, focused on Wambui, our dairy cow, would go something like this:
“Wambui, it’s time,”
“Mooo” Wambui would acknowledge his presence.
“Wambui, be nice and get up. Time to head to the milking shed.
“Mooo,” Wambui would insist on greetings.
“Okay, good morning Wambui. Time for milking,” Pa would urge.
Wambui, the obedient cow, would rise from her comfortable leather mattress and walk to the milking shed, hitting hard the concrete with her hooves.
After milking, Pa would rush to the milk selling point, not far away from home. I would hear the Brookside milk lorry quarter an hour later, and I would know that Pa would be coming back in a short while. And sure enough, I would hear his boots hitting the compound hard, and I would step harder on my blanket and loathe what an adult life can be- how hostile waking up early to work in the bare cold could be like. Until I grew older.
If, during the day I asked Ma about Pa, she would answer with ease, “He went to look for unga.” Sure, after selling milk in the morning, Pa disappeared into the day as the rays of sun flashed through my bedroom window. He would reappear in the evening bearing a packet of soko unga on one hand, and a piece of sugarcane or passion fruit on the other. It helped that I am his last born, and all the nice things, like sugarcane and passion fruit, belonged to me. The following day, the routine would continue. My father, a man of routine, worked for the day to provide for us. That is one way to introduce him to the world. One way, which is that he was and has always been, an early riser.
Another way is by creating what I think is my father’s identity or the crises that have shaped him to be who I understand him to be. He was born in a relatively well-off family- of luxury and opulence going by many standards. His father- my paternal grandpa- was a teacher and the head of coffee cooperative societies in Kirinyaga District, what today is Kirinyaga County. They were among the first people to build mansions, five-bedroom brick houses in the village early in the day. My father, for some reason we have never been at ease to discuss, did not acquire higher education.
In his early adult life, he received a share of his land as inheritance, on which he picked tonnes of coffee annually. Coffee was pricey, only coming close to gold those days, unlike today when it is a symbol of struggle and hopelessness. It doesn’t cease to amaze how quickly a government can destroy its economy. Sighs.
Pa had another issue: together with his brother-in-law, he used to operate his father’s matatu business. They had two, if not three matatus. I was young, and the evidence I see is photographs, and stories that are told and retold to me. But there was a problem. For some reason, again, that I do not know and which is not told to me, the business relationship with his father- my grandpa- ended. He was left to work on his farms as the matatus were gone. So then he retired to his farms.
There was another problem. He had, recently, converted to Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and that decision- as if not made by an adult- did not sit well with his parents. They, being staunch Anglican members, vowed that no one in their compound would attend SDA. Thinking about the conflict today, the division that was created by a change in religious faction, I shudder at what ideological difference can do- compelling people to forget their social relations and human ties to please gods of the Western people.
That’s why I decided my religion is humanity, but never mind.
Pa remained steadfast in his new faith. But for him to do so, he had to suffer; he had to abandon his new two-bedroom permanent house that he had built in his father’s compound, and relocated to his farm to build his new house, a semi-permanent house which he would, not until 2015- replace with a three-bedroom brick house; when I was joining campus. He was resolute, determined, and focused. He still is. Another way to introduce him.
Whichever way I introduce him, it doesn’t matter to how he and I relate, or have related over the years. Or, how does it matter how I introduce him to our relationship? But it’s crucial that you know who he is, as that will help lay a foundation for this narrative.
Being his last born, I was born during the second crisis- when my parents had relocated to their farm to start afresh. My elder brother would soon join an international school- not because there was all the money, but because he qualified for it. And how else would they offer their firstborn the best education if not take him to the school he deserved? My sisters would follow suit. And my father, without a proper job, with the coffee industry declining and with a new start in life, would work his ass off to provide for his children. I received the least physical presence and attention from him.
From time to time, he would go to a new city, work on a contractual basis and return after three or so months. My mother would take me to visit him- or she would tag me along during her visits to Pa’s workplace- and we would return to the village in the slopes of Mt. Kenya after a week or two. Mostly, this happened during the school holidays.
When my father was not out working on contracts, he was traversing his two farms, on which he grew horticultural crops; mostly tomatoes on largescale, and coffee.
The only time- quite likely- we would get to meet, was when my mother reported my misdoings.
“He has been jumping up and down. I have spent a lot of time looking for him. He hasn’t even taken lunch today. Do ask him where he has been,” was my Ma’s way of reporting that I had been playing with no abandon in the village, and that I did not assist her in doing anything at home.
“Come here,” my tired father would call.
I would walk towards him trembling, as I knew there would be no way to acquit myself of the charges.
“You have decided that all you do is maraud through the whole village then come in the evening to ask for food,” he would declare, tightly gripping both my hands in his one hand, and holding a lash or a belt on the other. He would beat me up. And I would cry. And I would get stressed up, because I never understood why he had beaten me up.
I would grow up, seeing my father appear in my life mostly when he was punishing me for a misdemeanour which had been reported to him. I didn’t see him play with me, or introduce me to a new hobby, or sit to tell stories to entertain me. Not that I knew that should be part of what a father going an extra mile maybe ought to do- as they are things I see with others, or read, or imagine. But, I grew up, anyway, with a father who was present to correct my waywardness.
I think of myself as an introvert. I feel awkwardly uncomfortable in the company of more than two people. I cancel dates in the morning (Sorry, if you have to hate me for being this type). I love it when I accumulate my social capital without dishing. I am jealous of myself, and mean with my time. And words. So unless you read me, you might hardly get to hear from me. And I think I picked the personality from my father.
A quiet man, one who speaks in the company of his close friends, smiles in the company of acquaintances and is hardly seen in company of strangers, my dad is a one-word-guy. Mostly, he will use commanding words- the verbs- in his brief sentences.
“Come, I want to send you to buy…” that sentence has three main verbs, one auxiliary verb and two to-infinite linking verbs. And then, only two personal pronouns. That is my father, that is how he talks, and that is how he wants me to hear what he says; suggesting that I should always be doing. Doing what? Taking instructions. He is the epitome of “follow my example.” And I think that I like that, but not on my lazy days.
In the last one week, he has been calling me to remind me of his special function. He will be taking more dowry to his in-laws, and he wants all of us- his children- to be present. When I spoke to Ma earlier, I had hinted to her that I have a lot on my table and I wouldn’t confirm yet, that I would manage to show up for the occasion. She felt bad, I could tell by her incessant asking,
“Do you mean you won’t come?”
“I mean I will confirm if I will manage to squeeze time,” I would say, trying to avoid commitments. I have learned, and accepted, that my introverted personality- which I am not willing to do anything social about- pushes me to not commit to anything that involves a multitude, doesn’t matter it’s a family affair or a political roadshow.
“So you mean that you won’t come. Your brother will be coming. How about you ask him to pick you up?” she insisted.
Yes, I knew I would be picked up at convenience and would ride home at no cost. But am I willing? That’s too much social sacrifice, I imagine.
“Okay, mum. I hope I will find time to come. I also really wish to be there,” I said, to make her feel nice, and not exactly because I meant it.
The next thing I heard was my phone chiming. My dad was calling- after about three weeks since we had last spoken. And our brief convo went something like this:
“Hello Pa,” he calls me Pa, for being named after his father.
“I’m well dad,” respectfully.
“I hope you are aware that the event is on Thursday, next week,” he goes on to say.
“Yes, I’m aware,” I want to add, “but I’m not yet sure that I will be coming,” but I don’t. I’m afraid. Huh? Yes, I’m afraid to object.
“Let’s meet then for a catch up chat,” he adds, with a sense of command and finality. I breathe hard. My goose is cooked, I have to show up.
“Okay, dad. See you then,” I confirm my availability, unprovoked.
“Sawa, bye for now,” he’s done with sending his message. I will have to show up, in all likelihood.
“Bye dad,” I say, and place my phone on the table. I have to look at my schedule and see how I fix that command. It has to be done. I have to show up.
But I know one thing for sure: my mother reported my reluctance to my father. She said something like, “Martin (Oh! You didn’t know that’s my name too?) says he will not show up. Ebu talk to him,” and my dad heard something like, “He is disobeying, correct his bad manners,” and he did.
Oh, how times change, but things, seemingly, persist in a similar manner.
By: Muchira Gachenge.
We are taking a break from Dads’ Series till January. See you here soon, and enjoy your holidays. 🙂