By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
He is four. Or, more accurately, pushing towards it. Because, that was June – or late May – when he was born. It was in the bite of winter, fingers frosting over the answer button on the cellphone, when he was born.
He has my head. Chiselled in the sides. Combing up as if to do that shape of that peak on Mulanje Mountain. You would not miss him if you know me – or any of my children.
Sometimes, mostly when that gamut of sadness embraces me, I think about him. A few times, I have had sleepless nights wondering: What does his mum say to him about me?
Because, at four the curiosity sets in. At four, you start to realise that families are made of mum and dad. At four, you have already noticed that you are either biologically shaped as your mum – if a daughter – or father, if a son.
Struck by curiosity, he must have asked his mum about me. Or, maybe, he constantly asks his mum about me.
The mum, ever patient, might have announced my death. Not in that brusque ‘your father is dead’ fashion. For you cannot expect four-year olds to understand death. But, she might have said that I went to heaven.
“You remember what they said at church about heaven, where there are winged creatures? Dad is there.”
That thought depresses me. Not because I am the most unlikely candidate for heaven. But, imagine being presented as dead while you are alive? It is a heavy burden.
Or, maybe, I am not killed in that fashion. It might be that there is just another man in her life, very likely. She is not a woman that would struggle to charm someone. Not just by her looks, more because of her personality.
She knows to start, and hold, a conversation. She is a great listener. A patient talker. A sly negotiator. She can sell you a fridge in winter; can market you a stone without your knowing that what you are to pay for is any other stone.
Most likely, she charmed another. And that man takes up my place. He might be, like me, with big arms. That he swoops my son in his big arms, kiss him on the cheeks and he giggles at dad. That impostor of a dad.
That, again, depresses me. Not because another man is playing dad with my son. Because it means that I also got killed, by her. My son might never come to know me.
It did not start this acrimoniously.
There was love at first. Or, so I thought. The pregnancy was something of a jest, from a stupid conversation.
“You sound like you have the genes I would want to carry…”
“Except, I am not ready to be a father again.”
“Who said me carrying your genes would make you a father?”
“Where in the world does a man who impregnates a woman remain not become a father? Even those who deny responsibility, in the books of heavens are still fathers…”
“Well, fatherhood isn’t just about biology. It is also responsibility. And, I would hardly want you anywhere near my child. With your drinking, the chaos you so much embrace in your personal affairs, and the…”
Her rumblings were interrupted. Somewhere that night, she conceived. As a joke. As a dare. Because, we were awesome together. Because we thought we might end up wife and husband. Mother and father.
A few times, we had discussed this. Or, now I realise, I had been discussing this in her presence. It was in those dark days of my life. Unemployed and struggling. I mostly said it as some way of shoring up her confidence in me.
“Don’t worry, some day things will be fine…”
“I know they will be. I never doubt it. I believe in you. You are destined for such dizzying heights, I can tell.”
There would always be conviction in her voice. Then, I would take over and paint the future. We would have two kids. A boy and a girl. We would go to Church together, the four of us (this was usually said on a Sunday if she would plod me to join her to church).
She would laugh at all this. For a good reason. She was not my wife. Or an actual girlfriend. She was, what you would say, a side dish.
I had a wife, and a kid, but had somehow veered off the track of marriage. As I have said, they were the worst of times. Things were almost falling apart at home. I needed somewhere to cool off the steam, someone who could look at me as a man. Not judge me by what I could provide – or not.
D, for I will just call her that, had smelled my sense of despair from ten days away. She came, fitted into my world, and our whirlwind of romance took off. She made me the man of her space, even if the money was entirely hers.
Where my wife was a constant nag, D was the ever thoughtful. Ever grateful. Ever encouraging.
Until, she got pregnant.
The first days, I said it was the hormones. I had seen all that before with the wife. However, when she kept shutting me out, I took a back seat. Then, it was around that same time I got the job, moved to another city.
That was it.
My efforts to visit D were fruitless. She moved out. Changed numbers. Blocked me from social media platforms.
Someday, after about 9 months, I got a call from a private number informing me the child with D was a boy. No, I could not celebrate. She did not want me in the life of the child.
Then, again, she went off the radar
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