It was on a Friday in October, exactly 10 years ago. I remember it vividly because I did not go dancing that night – unusual for a 24-year-old me. I left my job at the Silicon Valley warehouse unusually tired. I went home and promised myself that I would wake up after a short nap to go dancing.
I did wake up at around 11p.m as I had promised myself. Before going dancing, I wanted to call home and see how you were doing. I know that sounds unusual considering that we hadn’t talked for quite a while. But the news from my uncle that you were “seriously sick” – as if some people get jokingly sick – had scared me and reminded me that I might lose you before we resolve our differences.
You might find it hard to believe this, but I have always loved you truly – always. Even as you tied me to the bougainvillea tree in front of our corrugated iron-roof mud hut and whipped me in ways that made Kunte Kinte’s ordeal in the movie “Roots” look like child play, I prayed that someday I would be able to sit on the same table with you without being admonished. I wished that one day when I’m as old as I am now I would sit down at a bar with you and laugh about the silly things you used to punish me for. I would have especially loved to hear from you why you always whacked me in the head for chewing with my mouth open when in fact you did that everyday. Talk about contradictions and hypocrisy!
The person who answered the phone told me that you had left – that I would never see you or speak to you again. By leaving so abruptly at the age of 53, you shattered my heart, which angered me even more. I vowed never to make peace with you and the nightmares began. In my dreams, I saw you scream, yell and spit at me just as you did when I was a child. Only this time I was an adult and I was not going to let you control me, so I yelled back. So disturbed was I that when I visited home in 2006 I refused to see you final resting place.
But last month, after 10 years of struggling to quell your demons, I returned home and asked Mama to show me where you were laid to rest. I stood on your grave and felt your aura from beneath suck all the anger out of my heart and replace it with the love I so craved as a child. It was great to hear you acknowledge your mistakes and say that you were only doing what you thought was right to get me to where I am today.
I forgave you.
I forgave you because I’m sure you realized that your violence only distanced me from you. What convinced me that you are sorry is the fact that you were easier on my siblings. Do you remember when I sent money home to pay for my brother’s college and he stole the money and went on a reckless drinking and shopping spree around the country? When he returned home six months later without a penny, you, who I thought was so vicious, welcomed him with love like the biblical prodigal son. I think you were glad to know my brother was safe. Although I was furious that he had gotten away with an offence worse than all my childhood “sins” combined, I was happy that you did not pick up a machete and hack him to death.
I forgave you because you loved my mother. You never hit her. You never called her a name. You rarely called her by her name. She was “my wife” or “daughter of Magoma,” a sign of utmost respect. You did not make any major decisions without consulting my mother. If she said, “Don’t do it,” you listened.
“If you fail to heed a wife’s warning, you may never come back alive,” you used to say. The idea of marrying a second wife never occurred to you, though by virtue of tradition you were at liberty to do so.
When I think of you now only joy comes to my mind. I think only about the things you did right. I see in our living room the small bookshelf — you liked to call it “the library” – without which I would not have developed a passion for books. I see you watching me play soccer, urging me in Ekegusii to play safe while at the same time saying in English: “Monene, if you miss the ball, don’t miss the leg.” I see you laughing hysterically as we walk home from the game because only Monene, your oldest son, understood English.
Every now and then, Dad, you visit me in my dreams. Rather than scream and yell at me as you had been in those nightmares that plagued my sleep, we’ve hugged and laughed a lot, and talked a little. You leave before I get a chance to tell you that I did all the things you wanted me to do. You leave my dreams before I tell you that I went to graduate school at a university more distinguished than Black Hills State College, that university in South Dakota you wanted me to attend because your brother had studied there. I think you already know.
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