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Just a longer route

BY MANKHOKWE NAMUSANYA

There were days when there was hope. Perhaps, just a little. Yet, still, some hope. Now, there are days when there are just memories.

And, those memories are cherished. And nurtured. And held on to tightly. Like they are a shadow that can go with the going of the sun.

Sometimes, it might be a song. Or an artist. Mostly, a hymn. Because, he was a religious person. He attended most – if not just all – events of the Church. Even that day, it was to a Church service that he went to.

The Wednesday night prayers, or something like that. But, it was a midweek service. He left with his Bible. And a hymn book. And his shoulders stooping. Like giving up because they had been met by age – that unkind friend.

Nobody saw him actually leave. It was imagined after noting what was not there, including him.

His wife, of old age too, was most likely in the kitchen. The kids, all grown, were all busy with their lives mostly in faraway cities. Their home had been for him and the wife and some grandchildren on some weekends.

He went, like the sun, except when the sun returned, he did not return with it.

The children were informed in the same night of course. A hysterical mother called one of her daughters:

“Your father is not here.”

That must have had been around 9. She was just knocking off from work so there was no need for alarm. She responded curtly:

“He will come, ma.”

She did not even bother to pass the message to her other siblings. She, actually, just forgot that whole episode and got swallowed into the demands of motherhood.

Around 11, she went to sleep. Her phone on silent that she missed the phone calls that kept coming through in the middle of the night.

In the morning, there were messages. He still had not returned.

She called her mother. She sounded off – and distant – like soulless. She did not even sound convinced that he had not come. But, she said it:

“Nobody has seen his around, no trace, nothing.”

It is a small village. If he had gone wayward, back to his old ways, and had decided to elope with one of the widows there, it could have been discovered in a few minutes. She got worried too.

Then, she informed her elder brother.

“Dad is missing?”

“Missing,” he sounded hysterical. “Since when?”

It was when he told him the day that he laughed. A huge you-must-be-joking laughter. Like one that must have made him fall off his chair.

“It has not been 24 hours yet and you are already filing a missing person’s report?” he asked.

“No, this sounds serious.”

“Serious by whose measure, since when have we all forgotten that dad has the capacity of doing that, like going missing and…?”

“Since he changed,” she just had to interrupt.

Because, there was a time when they were growing up that he would go missing. It was mostly around the end of the month. He would get his salary then, for a week, disappear. Just vanishing from the face of the earth.

The other time, when his son had an exam and had to follow him to his work place, he was not even there.

“He reported in sick, it has been days,” he was told.

Back home, dejected, he found him just arriving. In new clothes. Young yet still feeling a sense of responsibility, the son confronted him. How could he just leave without any warning, what did he want his family to think?

“Think nothing, what did you want to think?” he was reeking of beer.

“We were afraid you had gone missing,” it was her – the only daughter.

The father laughed, a similar laughter was to be made by his first born son years later, and said:

“A grown man does not go missing. He is either killed or, if he takes long to get home, then he just might have taken a longer route. But, missing, no he does not. A grown man can never go missing.”

It was that last line that the brother she had called quoted.

“But, this is serious. You know dad has not been living like that lately.”

He told her to calm down, go to work and wait for the news that he had found his way back home – maybe after a week. As usual.

“But mum is freaking out.”

“I will call her, I will have her rest easy.”

He talked to her, she thinks, but it never had her easy. Instead, the phone calls became persistent that they had to go – all the children (they are four) – that weekend. The first born, almost taking after the father, appeared drunk. He tried to have everyone calm but it was to no avail. This was unusual and certainly confusing.

It has been over a year now and he has yet to return. There have been no reports of sighting. No reports of a man found dead, head chopped or something terrible. There has been no report of other people missing from around the area that would make people think there is some rabid beast or a murderer on the loose.

They reported to authorities but, even them have not had much success.

The family has experienced a few losses, some successes, but there has been no sign of him.

“The last days,” she says, “he was beginning to show some signs of dementia, you know? Age. But it was not that worse. It did not even warrant a serious thought.”

“You think he is still alive?” I ask, on that polite tone.

“Sometimes, I hope so. Other times, I tell myself to be real: he cannot be.”

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