By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
There is a fear. Palpable. That feeling at eighteen, new to the teenage years, and yet trusted by the whole community so your parents travel out of town and leave you alone to guard the house.
Invite friends? You muse and ponder, conclude in the negative. A night is just another time of the day. You will sleep through it. What is the worst that can happen? Maybe robbers; but you can always scream for the neighbours to hear. You will prove a point.
Then, lonely in the night, with the thoughts and fears of the night tucked away, comes a cough. As a teenager, you think it might have been you. As in, a person coughing and forgetting that they have coughed. So, you wish it away with heightened fear.
Then, when you are drowsy, uncertainly marching into the stillness of sleep comes another one. A loud, certain, and violent one with a 50-year-old sound. There, your fear becomes real. And gets a human body. One can feel it. As if the existence of Covid now. Where previously, meaning the first wave, a few reckless people could sneer at its existence, now nobody can: our neighbours, friends, acquaintances have been moving into the world of the unknown.
It was that fear he carried, the one you too are carrying. That things might never be again. The thing is: there were two people in their lives. Just the two of them: him and his mother.
That thing we used to sing in those imitation of weddings when we were young, that a marriage is two people and the third one is there to stir the waters? It was as if they were also sang to that song. It was just the two of them.
There are two, or maybe many, kinds of bad fathers. The first one, and it is me being ironical in saying this, are those who die when their children are so young – like mine. These ones, to be kind are not bad. They are made bad by circumstances. The second, and these are the vile ones, are those who know that you are their child yet in some way act as if the Biblical miracle of virgin birth is still happening in this sinful world. His father belonged in the latter category.
“I did not know him,” Junior says. I am calling him Junior because of that San B song: amake Junior.
The story he was told is that he was a fruit of childish play. The child being the mother. The moment she was pregnant and told the story to the responsible authority, he went mad then disappeared as if he had never laid in bed with her, making a baby.
“Had you been asking where your dad is, had the absence of a father been eating at you?” I am curious because as one in a similar situation, I do not remember sitting down someday and asking why all my friends had fathers and I did not – that stuff in fiction. I just pieced the titbits and concluded that life had been unkind to an otherwise well-meaning gentleman.
“No, my mother told me. She told me about everything. We were, now I realise, some kind of lovers.”
If we could do the cliché: nothing is supposed to beat a mother’s love. So, a mother loving their child is understandable, it is expected actually. If you belong to my generation, your mother might have beaten you to that point where the only thing you could do was wonder if that aunt you buried a few months ago was not your biological mother. However, at the end of the day you still have to understand that as love.
The love he talks about here appears to have transcended those limits. This being a callous world, I should be quick to disclaim: there was none of that incest.
“She just loved me as her child, also as a human – a man in her life…”
Or, maybe, a woman in her life.
Secrets? She told them to him. A terrible day at work? The story would end up on him as if he was some sort of spouse. Some men would try their luck on her – always unsuccessful – and she would come with that to him. He was a spouse without all those other fleshly entanglements. An emotional spouse.
His teenage years were the maddest. He was rebelling, starting to try to see others, and then that looming shadow of his mother would impose itself once more on him. Few times he wanted to get away from home, just to nowhere, like we all did when we were in those years of believing we know better than those advanced in years. With him, however, the plan was concrete. He wanted to start a new life, without that love he did not ask for.
He tried to leave but as we are all haunted by the oxymoron of kindness in toxic relationships, he returned to it. And lived content under its shadow of violence.
When the news of his mother’s passing came to him, he was devastated. Firstly, because she was the only world he had known. Secondly, due to the suddenness of it: she had just collapsed at work.
“I had actually felt my world come to an end. I know, every death is a loss. Magnanimous. But this was of the only reality I knew of…”
He went into a deep depression from which he found alcohol and God – in two different times. On the two, he is not sure what helped. But he slowly found his feet. Saw the beauties in the day, heard the silences in the night.
“That period was dark but somehow I made it. If you ask me what really helped me through, I would not be able to tell. But I just did make it.”
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