SHORT STORY: Death of an absent father

Saturday February 11 2017

And that afternoon as he sat on his tattered

And that afternoon as he sat on his tattered mattress in his single room his thoughts turned to his mother — the woman who had struggled to bring him up. Then he mourned the father he never knew, the only way he knew how, by smoking bhang. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Sharon Mutua

He sank into the last seat on the bus and sighed heavily. It was not his favourite seat but he had little choice. Outside, the rain poured down heavily and he sighed again. It was 5 am.

The unexpected rains in January, although a welcome surprise, had turned the market centre into a pit of confusion and chaos. He looked down at his suit, the only one he had and shook his head. He was drenched, and the cheap fabric’s colour had run onto his only white shirt.

He lifted his leg to look at his shoes, the shoes he had taken 15 minutes to polish and give a spit shine, and he felt his shoulders droop. 

Today was not going to be a good day, but even he was not prepared for the torrential rainfall that would dampen his already terrible mood. 

“At least I will be on time,” he thought to himself. He had planned to meet his friend at the next stop, and together they would proceed to the homestead. He could not handle this day alone — he needed someone who would be there for him, especially given the eyes that would be on him. 

He reached into his pocket for his phone; to tell this friend that the bus was just about to leave and would be at the next stop in an hour. A small sweat broke out on his forehead. His most prized possession was not in his pocket.

He felt the inside of this coat — nothing. He got up and looked around. He retraced his steps mentally — he had left the house with his phone — that he was sure of. Someone must have stolen it in the commotion to board the bus. He looked around at the other people on the bus to see whose face would betray them; nothing. 

Not today of all days. When it rains, it pours. He tried to remember his friend’s number but he did not know it off the top of his head. He hoped that his friend would keep time and meet him at the stop. 

The bus was old and rickety. The brakes were worn, and every time the driver applied them, the sound of metal grinding against metal rent the cabin.

It was the only bus in his village and made four trips into the city every day. He had ridden it more times than he could remember. In happier days when his mother was still alive, they would ride the bus into the city for a day of fun at the park.

But those memories were now a sad reminder of his life — the reality that he was powerless and that when death came to collect, it did no one any favours. He shook his head wildly as if wishing away a bad dream. 

The news shattered what had been a beautiful afternoon. He had just eaten to his heart’s content and was settling down for an afternoon nap in his single room. It had been a beautiful afternoon, mainly because for the first time in almost two months, his meal had had meat in it.

As he washed his food down with warm water, he thought that better days lay ahead. His phone rang and the shrill tone assaulted his ears. 

The number was not programmed into his phone. He wondered who it was and remembered that he had dropped his CV at various offices in the past two weeks. He sat up and composed himself.

The person on the other end introduced himself as his aunt, his father’s sister. She had gone to great lengths, she said, to get his number and had some news for him. After what seemed like an eternity, she dropped the bombshell on him — his father had died, found in the bathroom of his mansion by the day help. 

He did not hear what she said next. The news shook him to his core even though he did not know why. His father had not been there for him in any way.

He had waded through life wondering why he was unwanted, and why his father, though rich and powerful, had wanted nothing to do with him or his mother. At times he doubted that the man knew about his existence. Sometimes he would walk by the local bar and catch a glimpse of the man his mother had told him was his father.

He seemed intelligent, well-to-do, and important. And yet it baffled him why a man as powerful and well-connected as his father would abandon them. He had another family, one he showed off in public. Although he had made peace with this fact, he still grappled with his identity and wondered what it would be like to have a father present in his life. 

And that afternoon as he sat on his tattered mattress in his single room his thoughts turned to his mother — the woman who had struggled to bring him up.
Then he mourned the father he never knew, the only way he knew how, by smoking bhang.

His aunt called later, telling him his father had been an important person in the community and begging him not to show up and cause a scene. She asked how much money he wanted to stay away from the homestead and public glare, and the young man thought he had never heard a more offensive question.

He had nothing to lose. The last of his possessions — his phone — had just been taken away from him, like everything else in his life. His mother had died because she could not afford healthcare, and he had been angry. His father should have helped.

And so he decided to fight back. It was not his fault he had been born. If anything, he had been the victim. And he was tired of taking things lying down. He would attend the funeral and when the children of the deceased would be called up to be photographed and give their tribute, he would be right there with his brothers and sisters.

He knew the trouble that would cause, but he didn’t care. He was the son of a wealthy man and deserved his share of the estate. He only wished he looked better, but the dirty suit and muddy shoes would have to do. 

They neared the stop. The sun’s rays peered behind the clouds. It might not turn out to be such a bad day after all. As he looked outside the window, he saw his friend wave at him, his black suit immaculate. And he knew maybe, just maybe, his day had come.