The last day I will see you, you will call me into your bedroom, and I will ensure I am wearing the torn blue and white striped shirt, and worn out shoes. It always throws you into a fit when your children dress like ragamuffins. But I will wear these because I know they will make your skin crawl, and I want new clothes. Mom knows my closet. She knows I have better clothes, and will see right through my trickery.
Today will be that day. I will be fourteen years old in 2005.
I will walk into your bedroom and find you lying there shirtless. The mosquito net will be hanging above the centre of your bed, tied into a neat knot. A glass of uji will be sitting languidly on the table at the side of your bed. The curtains will be drawn, the afternoon sunlight washing the room white.
“Come, my father, sit here next to me,” you will say, and then gingerly pat the side of your bed. I will see the transparent pipe running from the side of your stomach, weaving its way through the bed sheets, then end up onto a transparent plastic bag on the floor.
The plastic bag is filled with your urine. Mom empties it every morning, evening and night. She scrubs her hands thoroughly as if sanctifying them for a holy ritual before separating the tube from the bag, emptying the yellow urine into the toilet, and then attaches a new, cleaner plastic bag at the end of the tube.
Sometimes, when mom is not around, I have seen Nimrod do it. Once I have offered to change your bag, but you refused. I tried to ask mom behind your back if I could do it, she refused too. You two conspired against me. Ati that is business for adults.
She also said that about watching The Bold and The Beautiful, yet every time she misses an episode, she comes to me for updates. Updates on whether Ridge Forrester and Taylor Hayes ate each other’s mouths tonight.
I will walk and climb into bed with you. We will talk about a lot of things. Like whether I would want to accept my invitation letter to join Kisumu Boys, or if I would rather wait for mom to secure the Maranda deal. I will choose Maranda. Because that is where Alphonce is, and you will run your hands over my head and say “Good choice, my father. It’s good to go to where your brother is. He will help you.”
Our reasons for choosing Maranda are different. While you think I should go there because it’s where my brother studies, I only want to go there for the visiting day food. Over the past year, I have watched mom cook her heart out when going to visit Alphonce at school. Chapos, samosa, mandazi, pop corn, chicken fry, chips, rice, beans, juice and nyama choma. All that food for him, and I have never been allowed to even touch it.
I will choose Maranda because I also want to be visited with tinfuls of foods.
Then I will look up to you and ask,
“Daddy, are you also celebrating Valentines?”
You will look at me with squinted eyes, and a furrowed wrinkled forehead the same way they did that day when I was six, I think. When we lay in the maroon sofa set watching wrestling, and in the middle of a commercial break I asked you if you also use Always. Alphonce and the others laughed so hard, but you simply shook your head and said “No, my father. That is for girls only.” Then I nestled close to you, put my head on your hairy chest, and dozed off. When I woke up, I had peed on you and the sofa.
“Oh, its Valentines already?” you will ask.
“Yeah. It’s 14th February.”
“Do you have a date?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes. Your mother.”
You will reach for the mug of uji and take a slurp.
“But she is at work. By the time she comes back, Valentines will be over.”
“So will you be my date?”
My face will light up like a phone receiving good news.
“Yeah. Let’s go out.”
I will rush to change from the rags that, sadly, you didn’t notice. We will call a taxi that will take us to that hotel in town whose name I have now forgotten. We will walk in, me holding your index finger, looking around the restaurant, amazed at the red and white décor. The place will be alive with couples sitting across each other, separated by vases of flowers in between them. The men, most of them in suits blacker than midnight, and the ladies, most of them in red dresses, will turn to see this old man and a boy scouring the room for a table.
A waiter will find us a place next to the counter. You will ask me to choose something new on the menu. That since it is a special day, I am forbidden to order the usual chips, sausage and soda. I will run my eyes up and down, confused by the options.
“Just close your eyes and point at anything,” you will say.
My finger will land on a strange word. Pizza. Never heard it before. Never tasted it. For a drink, my finger will fall on something even stranger. Milkshake.
We will share my meal. Once in a while, I will look aside and spot a man kneeling at the side of a woman, holding a little black box. And the woman will be crying. I will ask you why in Gods good name people who are in love like to cry a lot. Especially women. Like Taylor in The Bold and the Beautiful.
That evening, by the time we get back to the house, mom will not be back from work yet. Night will be creeping in. You will call me into the bedroom, sit me down on the bed, and then tell me that you have to leave. Work calls. Being a taxman is not easy. You will say that the Customs jeep is already on its way to pick you and take you to Malaba.
But before you go, you will count twenty eight thousand shillings, put them in my hands and remind me not to give it to any other person except mom.
“Can I trust you to do that for me?”
I will nod.
You will receive a phone call, heave yourself from the bed, grab your walking stick and leave. I will come to the gate to see you off. The white jeep outside will come to life the moment you step out of the gate. I will not notice you getting into it. The twenty eight thousand in my side pocket suddenly making me feel rich and inattentive.
I do not think I will bother saying goodbye. I am sure I will wave when the red tail lights blink as the jeep takes a corner and disappears into the darkness. But I am sure that as soon as you leave I will show the money to my friend who stays the next door and brag at just how wealthy you are.
Later that night mom will come home, waving a letter with Maranda’s logo. She will say that the money you left behind is partly for my Form One shopping and partly for my fees.
One week later, Alphonce will receive me in front of Maranda’s Deputy Principal’s office.
You will never visit me in my new school. You will never see me in high school uniform. You will only come in a brief dream that I will not remember. They will wheel you into Mater’s ICU, where they will wire you to a monitor that just won’t shut the fuck up. Your kidneys will give up on you. The bell will toll. And you will die two days after my admission to Maranda, even before the first visiting day.
Then you will be buried on 12th March. My birthday.
In between your brother beating up mom for your inheritance, and the landlord kicking us out of the house over a measly 2000 bob, the rain will start beating us. Hard. A thick wedge will be driven into your family. Soon brothers will become step brothers, sisters step sisters, and mom will become mama wa kambo.
Shit will hit the fan a good one.
Ten years will fly past so fast, but I will always remember the Valentines of 2005. The last day I saw you. A whole decade will wipe your face from my memory. I will not be able to recollect the image of your face however much I try. The burning in my chest degenerate me into a wimp with nothing loose screws and unhinged doors that try to hold on to a long gone memory.
Salty tears will scald my eyes red every time I regret not offering a goodbye to you ten years ago when I had the chance.
It is Valentines again, daddy. I think of you a lot. My heart is skinned and my emotions, undisciplined. I really long to talk to you. To walk with you, holding your index finger once more. To cheer on the evening sun as it completes its long curved sojourn across the sky. To sit and watch old age kiss your face, and share another box of pizza with you one more time.
I can’t wait to see you again, even though I know this past decade may have reduced you to bones and humus.
I know I have to wait and see if I will ever see you again. But daddy, the heaviness in my chest is almost getting the best of me. Nothing can shield me from the humiliation of this pathetic emotional stasis. This fucked up inability to accept and move on. Not even my manhood.
It sucks, daddy. So bad it is that on days like these, when I decide to write to you, my paper bleeds.
So I will keep it short and say the one thing I should have said ten years ago;
Chunya pek, baba. Kora rama. Ngima na kionge lit to ok chwer remo.
*In memory of my father, (the taxman pictured above); William Oduor Okango. Happy Valentines, wuod Alego*